November 2, 2005 3:00 AM | By Adam Roberts | 14 Comments

Do You Like American Cuisine? I Like American Cuisine: Eisenberg's Sandwich & Philly Slim's

My brain and I have a healthy relationship. I give him books and avoid drugs more serious than Flinstone vitamins and he rewards me with pretty constant inspiration. Take the idea I had today: what if I had cultural weeks here at the Amateur Gourmet? Like on different weeks I'd be like: "It's Korean Week!" and then I'd cook Korean food and eat at Korean restaurants for a week. See: isn't my brain generous? My brain likes Koreans.

So let's say today was the first day of American Week. It's not, but play along. Then the two meals I ate today would be in complete conformity with American Week. Let's begin with Eisenberg's Sandwich:


Eisenberg's is located right close to me on 5th Ave. I've walked past it many times. I've read the blurbs on the window. I read about it in Robert Sietsema's book. It's listed under Sandwiches and Comfort Food (but could very well be filed under American.) He writes: "Step into the past, when sandwiches weren't made with faddish ingredients like arugula, pesto and ciabattas. In 1929 when Eisenberg's was founded, New York City was paved with these places. A lonely presence on this stretch of 5th Avenue among fast-food emporia and pita palaces, it steadfastly retains the standard lunch menu of soups, sandwiches and sour pickles. Their egg salad is creamy and clean tasting and only slightly salty. Order it on rye, and strike a blow for heirloom eating. Add bacon and find nirvana."

Strong advice! So how could I not heed it?


Nirvana? I'm not sure about that. But deeply comforting, yes. And a terrific fusion of all America has to offer. From purple mountains majesty to bacon crisped on eggs---these are the foods of the farmer on the bread of the Jew. (Did Jews invent rye? Probably not. But we sure make good use of it in our delis.) And Eisenberg (who must be Jewish, with a name like that) makes good use of it with his egg salad. The best way to describe the sandwich is subtle with hitns of aggression: the egg salad, as Sietsema says, is "only slightly salty" and therefore doesn't bop you over the head. Instead it's a creamy base for that crunchy salty piggy bacon. Ah bacon. On the bread of the Jew. The Talmud might not approve, but the Constitution says it's A-OK. And this sandwich makes me proud to be an American.

Wow: that last paragraph is an embarassing mess. But that's my new philosophy as a writer: spectacular messes are better than drab perfection. Don't you agree? [The ghost of E.B. White says: "Get a broom and clean up this pigsty!" "Pigsty, did someone say pigsty?" "Quiet Wilbur."]

Anyhoo, a write-up of Eisenberg's would not be complete without a description of the environment. So behold the environment:


It's like a movie set, isn't it? An old time diner with the swivel stools and the hanging lamps and the paper hats and the old lady with her mouth open. This is what America is: a cramped room with narrow passageways and diverse groups of people eating egg salad near the Flatiron building. "I hear America singing," wrote Whitman, but perhaps he meant eating. Egg salad with bacon makes a distinct crunch that might inspire epic poetry. Aren't you enjoying America week?

Let us segue, for a moment then, to another token of the American experience: corporate greed!

My friend John--Generous John, we shall now call him, for his intense generosity--invited me to join him tonight for not one but two theatrical events. The first was a preview of the new musical "Lestat" based on the Anne Rice books with music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin. The preview took place in the Winter Garden theater and Warner Brothers, which is producing the show, gave out little gift bags with Lestat diaries and copies of "The Vampire Lestat." When the lights dimmed, out came a Warner Brothers executive, the show's director (I forget his name), Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Anne Rice, the costume designer and the set designer. Here they all are leaving the stage in an impossible to see picture:


If you look REALLY close you can see Anne Rice by herself exiting and in front of her is Elton and then Bernie. The music from the show (they played five songs) was pretty catchy but all in all it felt like a corporate endeavor: a paint-by-numbers assemblage of crowd-pleasing content that had less depth than the heel on Elton John's shoe.

The crowd seemed to like it though. Well, mostly. The girl in front of us fell asleep. Afterwards, at a Starbucks, a woman approached us with a cane and spied our gift bags.

"I gave away my book," she told us. "Because I've already been a victim of the dark arts."

"Oh ya? What happened?" asked John. I skidded my chair away from the looney.

"Someone psychically attacked me," she told us matter-of-factly. "I knew a secret about him and so he told me I knew too much and when I was walking up the aisle of a theater he waved his hand over my head and I fell and had extreme pain in my leg. The muscles are all in knots now. Even the doctors say someone must have attacked me."

Where am I going with this? It's a slice of life. American life. You love it.

But let's get to the food. The second theatrical event of the evening was one I was truly looking forward to: the first preview of "The Color Purple." So John and I made our way over to 9th Avenue to grab something fast. We spotted a place selling cheesesteaks--Philly Slim's--and decided to go in.

The menu at Philly Slim's is very straightforward. To wit: it's cheesesteak, with few permutations. And so John and I both ordered cheesesteaks with few permutations.

Here's John with his:


And here's mine up close:


It looks like greasy heaven. And that's what America is for many people: a greasy heaven. (Boy I'm stretching this America thing way too far, aren't I.)

Here's what New York magazine says about Philly Slim's: "Despite this joint’s spirited devotion to the City of Brotherly Love and its various foodstuffs—Hank’s sodas and Tastykakes are on display—the cheesesteak came up short: bland meat, flavorless onions, and a stingy hand with the Whiz."

I don't fully agree with that. I didn't think the meat was bland and I didn't find the onions flavorless. But I would agree that it wasn't spectacular: it was just a happy greasefest on a bun. Our arteries were properly clogged and that's what we wanted. The fries, though, truly sucked.

"The Color Purple" (and I should disclose that the book of the musical is written by my masters thesis teacher) is truly awesome. I hope it's a big hit---the crowd seemed to love it. And I've had the title song stuck in my head since I left the theater

Boy, this was quite a journey we took in this post. I included peripheral non-food information to provide joyous content for your day at work tomorrow. I have a theory: most people read me because they're bored at work. That theory comes from my brain and my brain thanks you for indulging the first cultural week experiment. Should this experiment yield a bonafide concept, you'll be the first to know. In the meantime: God bless America.


I am bored at work no longer.

Don't tell anyone I spend the work hours on your blog, that might not be allowed. He he he, like I care!!!

"spectacular messes are better than drab perfection"

Which is a pretty American thing anyway.

I expect Japanese week to be writtenly entirely in haiku...

I like Adam because he makes me laugh. (And then my co-workers wonder what is so funny.) God bless Adam.

I say, if "American Week" gives you a theme upon which to hang your post offerings, then American Week it is!

I salute you.

You'll be glad to know I read this while goofing off at work AND simultaneously eating leftover Brazilian Chicken with Olives. I don't envy you those sandwiches, but two Broadway previews is totally unfair! Ann is on the warpath this week, she'll be in Atlanta Friday to sign her new book.

It isn't just people bored at work - its also undergrads procrastinating from writing their papers on the anthropology of the middle east by reading your blog and wishing that they had an actual kitchen full of gadgets instead of just a closet in a dorm room with a double boiler and a fondue pot they found at a garage sale. Keep up the good work!

I'm an Anne Rice junkie. I'm so jealous you got to see her. And Bernie Taupin AND Elton John... sheesh I believe seeing just one of them would have done me in. Maybe it's a good thing I wasn't there.

The woman was psychically attacked? Did you ask her if that was the reason she needed the cane? If it could happen to her, maybe it could happen to you, Adam. You should do some mental push-ups, just in case.

Liz is right, your readers are also most definately undergrads... avoiding reading... and writing papers... and work in general :)
Thanks for the amusing blog to keep me distracted! Now I'm off to the dorm's kitchenette!

Cultural Week is a great idea!

I'd always heard, from friends who grew up in Philly, that the authentic Cheesesteak was made with white American Cheese. But, in the past week I've seen two places that mentioned Cheez Whiz (is that how you spell it). Is that a non-Philly permutation?

Actually, according to a Food Network special on the Philly Cheesesteak, cheez whiz is one of the essential ingredients. There's that one superfamous location (I forget the name, but it's the one with all the pics of celebrities and they send you to the back of the line if you hesitate when you order) which only uses cheez whiz.

as good food and friends
so culture week and haiku
should join adam's blog

You keep me from all the boring work I have at work! I like the idea of cultural week too!

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