A Lebanese Sandwich at Porchetta and Pretzel Fries at Shopsin’s

I want to tell you about a sandwich. It’s a very special sandwich. You get it at a place famous for another special sandwich, but we’re not going to talk about that other special sandwich. We’re going to talk about the original sandwich I was trying to talk to you about earlier. Seriously, will you stop changing the subject?

At Porchetta, one of New York’s most loved hole-in-the-wall gems, Chef Sara Jenkins (who I once interviewed on a webcam) is serving up a sandwich that is described thusly:


The sandwich itself had been getting some buzz–on EaterNY, The Village Voice–and I knew, the second that I read about it, that I’d have to try it.

And wow, what a sandwich. Let’s zoom in for a closer look:


You have this crispy bread that’s pressed so it’s warm and compact and crunchy; then this incredibly tender, incredibly flavorful chicken. But the key to it all is the “toum,” that mixture of garlic, olive oil and salt. It’s like a punch in the head that’s amplified by all the lemon flavor in the chicken. If you’re trying to ward off vampires, or you’re so sexually attractive you want people to stop trying to kiss you, this is the sandwich to eat. After I left the shop, people in my path would move to the other side of the street to get out of my breath-zone.

But it was totally worth it: if you’re in the East Village and looking for a sandwich that’ll knock your socks off, this is the one. Then you can hop over to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop for dessert.

On a different day, either before or after this sandwich day, I can’t quite remember, I did something very scary: I took a picture of the food at Shopsin’s.

If you know anything about Shopsin’s and its lore, you know that’s a terrifying prospect; that Kenny Shopsin might come flying out of the kitchen and whack you over the head with a frying pan.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to Netflix streaming right now and load up the documentary “I Like Killing Flies.” I’ve watched it several times now; it’s all about Kenny, a mad food genius, and his restaurant, where the menu contains over 900 items, any of which Kenny will make for you in a kitchen no bigger than the bathroom on a train.

The food is always fascinating, often delicious, and has been championed by my food writing hero, Calvin Trillin, in an essay that’s probably one of Trillin’s best.

The big takeaway from both the film and the essay: there are rules. The biggest rule is “no parties of 5.” As Trillin writes, “Pretending to be a party of three that happened to have come in with a party of two is a very bad idea.”

So imagine my fear when I took out my camera and attempted to capture, for a fleeting moment, this plate of Pretzel Fries served with a side of Hatch chiles:


My heart was beating double time, but I knew you’d want to know what pretzel fries look like. And now you’re probably wondering: what are pretzel fries?

As Kenny explained to us, they’re pieces of ciabatta bread soaked in an egg mixture, coated in broken up pretzels and then deep-fried before being garnished with a final sprinkling of salt.

They’re definitely too salty, but somehow it’s not a problem. You eat one after the other, without really thinking about it, scooping on some of the Hatch chiles which offer up good acidity, and a bit of a bite.

They’re the kind of thing you couldn’t possibly think of making yourself, but once you eat them you wonder why no one’s made something like them before. (I had a similar reaction to Kenny’s burrito French toast back in 2006; that was almost 7 years ago, and I still remember that dish as if I had it yesterday.)

Now let’s duck our heads and sneak away so we don’t get caught having taken a picture at Shopsin’s. I don’t want him to write a new rule: “No food bloggers.”

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