The Serious Eats All-Star Sandwich Festival

I’m not one to complain about the weather. To my mind, there’s nothing less interesting than talking about the weather; and yet, these past few days in New York, that’s all I could talk about. I mean REALLY, New York, have you ever offered up a summer that was steamier, stickier, or more suffocating? Is this your revenge because I’m moving to California? Or is this your way of helping me along; whispering in my ear, “Get out while you can!”?

Regardless of your motivations, New York City, your hot breath on Saturday had me seriously considering not showing up to Serious Eats’s All-Star Sandwich Festival on Governor’s Island. The idea of leaving my apartment at all was completely unappealing, and the idea of taking a ferry to a hot island and eating meaty sandwiches sounded even worse.

But I was meeting my friend Patty at 11:45 AM at the Governor’s Island Ferry and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to value being a man of my word. It’s not in me any more to cancel at the last minute.

So meet Patty I did and we boarded the Ferry to Governor’s Island. Patty, of course, was great company and by the time the boat got to the island (it took less than five minutes; it’s just a straight shoot across the water) I was actually excited to disembark and eat:


(That’s the view from inside the boat once we docked.)

We were greeted, off the boat, by the man in the sandwich board (get it?) that you see at the top of the post. We followed the sign to the patch of land where all the tents were set up for the sandwiches. Thank God, they were in the shade.

At the entrance, Ed Levine and Erin Zimmer were passing out this focaccia with tomatoes on top:


I missed hearing where it was from, but it was a tasty way to start off the experience. (And it was nice to see Ed and Erin right there in the front.)

Once inside, Patty and I surveyed the scene quickly. We saw a very long line and decided to head for it first. (The long line didn’t deter us because we were guests of Serious Eats and had V.I.P. bracelets…wahahahahahaha!)

Turns out the line was for Kenji’s sliders:


If you don’t read Kenji’s Food Lab column on Serious Eats, you’re really missing out. The man is a methodical mad genius, deconstructing recipes to get at the root of what makes them tick. And that’s precisely what he did here, at the Sandwich Festival, with In-N-Out’s “Animal-style” burger. (Only he made sliders.)

Here’s a picture of Kenji at work:


And here’s a window into his process; he puts dollops of mustard directly on the grill:


Then he cooks the meat (which came, according to Twitter, from New York’s best meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda) directly on top. The result was a very winning slider:


It didn’t have the crusty exterior of a traditional burger, but that’s not what Kenji was going for. Instead it had lots of intense flavor and the meat itself was really the star.

Our next stop was probably the most instructive in terms of learning the art of sandwich making: we visited Torrisi Italian Specialties for their turkey hero.


This is a very famous sandwich–people rave about it who’ve visited Torrisi for lunch (I’ve only been for dinner)–and being here at the festival, I was able to document their sandwich-making process in great detail. Observe.

Step one: a beautifully roasted turkey breast.


That, just by itself, would taste good. I imagine they cook it low and slow with lots of fat basted on top? (Just a theory.)

Then there’s the bread, which you can see gathered up in this picture:


Those are big crusty French loaves.

Then the following happens. The loaves are sliced in half. Mayo is slathered on one side and on the other side, a secret, spicy sauce:


If we can figure out what that sauce is (tomato-based? pepper-based?) we can crack the Torrisi sandwich code. Because the rest, as you’ll see, is pretty straight forward. Turkey gets piled on top of the red sauce:


A dressing made with olive oil and vinegar (you can see it in the squeeze bottle) gets squirted on top:


Then shredded lettuce and thinly sliced onions:


And, finally, one more squeeze of dressing:


Behold, the Torrisi Turkey Sandwich:


That’s one KILLER sandwich; the kind of thing you can probably make at home, but you’d have to work really hard to achieve it (well, you’d have to roast your own turkey and make that red sauce and the dressing. So not that hard.)

Locanda Verde served up lamb meatball sliders:


Which you can see here:


And they were indeed very tasty, but sort of ergonomically challenged. That round meat ball didn’t want to stay on that flat bun as it made its way into my mouth:


Also, on a miserably hot day, I’m not sure that a fatty, dense meatball is the thing you want to eat. (Good thing I didn’t go to Meatopia!)

My favorite sandwich of the day, though, came from The Gramercy Tavern:


Here she is up close:


That’s a ham and cheese sandwich but it was oh so much more. The ham had a great smoky flavor; it was undoubtedly cooked at Gramercy using some sophisticated technique. But two things really took it over the top: the bread, which was grilled slightly so it was warm and toasty; and the pickled vegetables inside, which almost made it like a banh mi. That was one fantastic sandwich.

At this point, we were sandwiched out and decided to visit my friends Doug and Bryan at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck:


What a perfect finale to a surprisingly fun day on Governor’s Island. Here’s a Bea Arthur (with dulche de leche, rolled in Nilla wafers) up close:


And here’s Patty with hers almost gone:


As we made our way back to the ferry, I realized for a happy hour, I wasn’t thinking any more about the weather. But as soon as I got on that boat, I was back to my old complaining ways. “Ugh! This is so miserable,” I groused. But Patty was only half-listening. She was still blissing out on Serious Eats sandwich memories; which is probably for the best.

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