It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.
Anyone who frolicked in Manhattan in the 1980s will remember all the Irish bars with “Blarney” in the name. There was Blarney Castle, Blarney Stone, Blarney Cove, and Blarney Rock, each representing a chain that was mainly located in commercial parts of the city, commemorating a southern Irish castle exceedingly popular with American tourists. This was way before Irish publicans began opening gastropubs in every neighborhood, with menus of burgers, nachos, and Caesar salads.
These old Blarney places, of which few remain, fed the public with a steam table in their back rooms, from which fragrant meat odors arose. Typically, you could traverse their lengths and pick up a carved-to-order sandwich of hot pastrami, hot corned beef, or hot brisket, in addition to beef stew, corned beef and cabbage, meat loaf, and shepherd’s pie. Vegetables other than cabbage were in short supply. The roast brisket sandwich on either rye or a Kaiser roll came with a generous moistening of brown gravy. Where did the gravy come from? Who knew, though many suspected it came from a can. In those days, though, you could request that fabulous brown gravy be poured over almost anything.
I recently visited one of Manhattan’s last two remaining Blarney Stones near Wall Street at the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The barroom was ancient, and behind that a small lunchroom with a steam table lurked. A chalkboard listed more meats than I was expecting. I ordered the brisket sandwich on rye with gravy and saw the steam table attendant cut it on the usual circular-bladed carver, pausing occasionally to survey his work, but then beginning again to pile on an almost obscene quantity of meat.
Then he unstintingly poured on the gravy with a ladle from a receptacle brimming with it. The sandwich came with a pickle and fork. I ate the pickle and threw away the fork. Part of the fun of a lush sandwich like this is figuring out how to eat it without getting gravy all over your shirtfront and sleeves. The sandwich was a bargain at $11.50, and so good I force-fed myself the whole thing. 11 Trinity Place, between Morris and Rector streets, FiDi