Last year, there was an episode of 30 Rock that got our mouths watering. It was titled “Sandwich Day” and the plot centered around the Teamsters bringing the most tantalizingly delicious subs, hoagies, grinders, heros, what-have-you, to the office, sending the writers’, actors’ and crew’s heads into a flavor-induced tailspin. In the episode’s climactic final scene, Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon chooses to devour the entire sandwich at an airport security checkpoint, rather than part with it and it’s special gravy. Watching it, you got the sense that this scenario was based on reality. The details were too perfect: Teamsters, secret outer-borough location (the Teamsters would not tell anyone where the sandwich was from, and only brought them to the office once a year) and, the dead giveaway: a dipping sauce so good you want to drink it.
We made it our mission to find out where this place was and eat all of their sandwiches.
If you troll around the interweb, you’ll read a lot of people theorizing that it’s Defonte’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which now has a location on Third Avenue in Manhattan. But in a happy and one might say, karmic, coincidence, I happen to have a very good friend who’s husband works on the set of 30 Rock. And because we don’t want to put the affable husband in the middle of some sort of angry Teamster sandwich, we have agreed to a veil of confidentiality, and my friend will henceforth be known as M and her husband as, The Husband.
Soon after seeing the 30 Rock episode in question, I contacted M and asked her if The Husband knew anything about this sandwich, whether it was in fact something that was shared with the cast and crew, and if so, had he tasted it and its accompanying sauce. At first, The Husband was cagey in response to our requests—a sure sign that we were onto something. But M applied all of her wifely skills of seduction and trickery to get The Husband to spill The Details. There was a sandwich! And it came with a side of gravy! He had eaten it. It was indeed the kind of sandwich you would stuff down your maw rather than surrender it at La Guardia airport security. And it hailed from…Hoboken! Home of Frank Sinatra, baseball, and people who like to look at Manhattan, but not live there. The place is called Fiore’s:
So our journey to the ‘boken (being born and raised in NJ, I can call it that) has two parts. For the first, we set out via PATH train and foot: Leslie, myself, M and M’s adorably chubby baby spawn. The Husband had informed us that the sandwich to get was made on a long Italian loaf, and contained roast beef made in-house, fresh mozzarella made in-house, roasted red peppers, and came with a side of gravy made from the roast beef’s drippings that you dunked the sandwich into…my lord. Although they have many other tasty offerings, like the Italian combo, this was the sandwich which had inspired an episode of prime-time television comedy. When we arrived at Fiore’s, we were all pretty excited. Inside was the perfectly outfitted New Jersey Italian deli, down to the mysterious gentleman reading a newspaper in the back kitchen:
There were two dudes behind the counter who seemed to be waiting there just to make us the best sandwiches of our lives. That is until they informed us that the gravy was only made on Thursday and Saturdays…and we were there on a Friday. I didn’t cry. (Although I could have, if I thought it might help these guys produce some gravy.) I just started making desperate requests like: “Don’t you keep any gravy in the freezer?” They do not. I could only blame myself for not doing the proper research. But, even without the gravy, we decided to have some sandwiches: one whole roast beef and another Italian combo, which contained all manner of Italian cold cuts, peppers, and mozzarella (which is also worth the trip).
And here’s the spread of peppers and other delights that you can also get on your sandwich:
Leslie: On Saturday, I was having brunch with two very lovely, funny friends of mine, Joanna and Josh. I was describing to them in rapturous fashion, the sandwich shop, the salty mozzerella, the roast beef sandwich and the tragedy that there was no gravy the day we went, when all of the sudden, Josh deemed it imperative that we go to The Jerz and get that darn sandwich. Who was I to say no?
We piled into his Mini Cooper and headed toward the Holland Tunnel. The epicurian gods must have been smiling because we sailed through to the ‘boken in 15 minutes flat. Parked right in front of Fiore’s. Ordered the roast beef with gravy. (Still scarred by there not being any gravy the day before, I timidly asked, “So, you have gravy today, right?” The guy behind the counter, “Of course we do! It’s Saturday!”)
Bless him. After slicing the bright pink roast beef and mozzerella and arranging on the bottom slice of bread, the man took the top slice behind the counter to an aluminum pan. Grabbed a spoon and proceeded to splash this brown liquid gold all over the bread and then, as if sensing that he was putting on a show for Joanna and I, dropped the top slice in the pan and bobbed it around.
Joanna audibly gasped.
All I can say is that this was the best damn roast beef sandwich I have ever had in my life. Magically, the bread didn’t even get soggy from the gravy. It was heaven. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but still.
So thank you, Tina, Teamsters and The Husband for showing us the way to this wonderful sandwich. And next time you’re heading to Newark International or A.C., take a detour to the ‘boken. Just be sure it’s a Thursday or Saturday.