Sep 7th, 2007 by Jonathan
Regular readers of this blog, and we still believe there are some, though we use the term regular advisedly, might be under the mistaken impression that we are firmly anti-sandwich after reading several of the “At the desk gourmet” posts in which we spoke somewhat derogatorily of “soggy, $8” sandwiches that had spent the day sweating in desk drawers. So here this post comes scurrying to defend, not only the noble sandwich, but also our good name, that we fear may be besmirched with the moniker “sandwich-hater.”
You see, we are as open-minded as the next person, perhaps more so, on the subject of sandwiches and their various forms – rolls, sliced-bread, open-faced, toasted/untoasted, buttered or not, hot/cold fillings, etc., and the point we were trying to make in previous posts was that there are a lot of bad or average, overpriced sandwiches around that pale in comparison to a hearty lunch of last night’s leftovers. However, we admit that point may have been made clumsily or, indeed, not at all. Great sandwiches abound in America, which while is not the “dish’s” birthplace, is arguably the country in which one can find the most variety of fillings, and is definitely the place for the sandwiches’ two most famous incarnations, the hamburger and the hotdog.
Living in the north-east US there are a great variety of sandwiches, breads and fillings to choose from, even if we’re just talking about typical local foods and not those imported from other areas of the country or from overseas. In the last six months, my wife and I have hit several of the sandwich high-spots in our part of the world, eating lobster rolls in Rhode Island, Pat’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and most recently, the giant Italian and meatball subs at the famous White House in Atlantic City, and we know there are many more great sandwiches out there to try.
Instant gratification may be the watchword in Atlantic City where the simple pull of a one-armed bandit or roll of a dice can yield unimaginable joy, but White House is clearly the exception to this rule. There it seems, the customer has to wait for their enjoyment. It is a widely held belief that if it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for, and indeed, after spending most of an hour in line watching sandwich after sandwich being made, we were slavering at the prospect of finally sinking out teeth into one of these famous subs. So much so, in fact, that when we were told that the sausage-parmiggiano sandwich we had ordered would take 15-20 minutes to prepare, we caved in and switched our order to the much more speedy hot meatball sub instead – see above.
Quite apart from the wait to order, allowing you to figure out who many of the local and national celebrities are in the pictures lining the wall (check out the price of a sub in 1946 – 50cents! In fact, today they range from $5 to $7 for a over-stuffed “half”), there is a methodical process in the construction of a White House sub that was simultaneously fascinating and frustrating to watch. The careful layering of cold meats, cheeses and tomato slices on the more than 2 foot long Italian sub, followed by the practiced art of turning the edges of the fillings in on themselves with a long, flat knife, before cutting and wrapping was a sight to behold (and should be copied by every deli where as soon as you bite into the sandwich all the filling shoots out the other side!) but the pace of it was agonizing!
During our time in line, we discovered that even people who rang in their orders over the phone to collect later were told that there was at least a two hour wait, which probably would have been even more infuriating than showing up and having to queue. That said, the wait was quite enjoyable. There was a general sense of bonhomie present, as we all eagerly awaited our sandwiches. People in line were joking with each other and making fun of the celebrity hairstyles from the 80s and 90s, and comparing notes on how long they had to wait last time, while all the time glancing jealously at those people already enjoying their subs at one of the handful of booths.
When we finally got our sandwiches we were mightily impressed. Not only were they a far cry from the pre-made and soggy filth that is so prevalent in the city, but they were a gourmet treat, in their own way. The bread had more in common with a standard French baguette than with much of the soft, sweet, doughy long rolls that pass for “Italian bread” in American, being, as it was, firm and chewy. The mayonnaise was light and not overdone and the cold cuts were fresh, unbelievably plentiful, and filling, while not overwhelming the flavor and texture of the bread. Even the lettuce, which was the traditional iceberg variety, was well done. It wasn’t shredded like in normal delis but torn into crescent, half-moon shapes that fit perfectly, yet artfully, into the roll, and required the eater to bite them rather than suck them up as is the norm. All in all, a very fine sandwich, which lasted a wopping three days, and would have put many more recently-made subs to shame even in its final hour.
Then came the meatball sub. I have a very soft spot for warm, gooey, saucey sandwiches, and so had been very excited at the prospect of the sausage-parm sub. I was therefore dismayed upon learning that we’d have to wait even longer to get one, but if this meatball sub was my second choice that day, it would certainly be my choice for champion of the meatball sandwiches I’ve eaten. It was cheesy enough, but not too much so that it was stringy and too rich. The sauce was sweet without being sugary, and still retained some texture of the tomatoes in it. The meatballs were light and fell apart in your mouth, and weren’t held together by anything but meat, unlike the very mealy, floury meatballs you often find in subs. The sauce had soaked into the bread and, was, frankly, a beautiful thing, especially as we enjoyed it in sight of the architectural wonder that is the Trump Plaza!
Altogether, the atmosphere of the hallowed White House, combined with the anticipation, would have been a fine experience by itself, but the quality of the sandwiches really made it all worth it. I would encourage anyone passing through AC to visit the White House and sample any of their several enormous sandwiches, but to be aware that they close at 10:00p.m. on the nail every night — we’ve missed out before because of that curfew, so make sure you visit before you go gambling. For more details on the White House, it’s location, and some very appetizing pics, click here.
Next time we go, we’re going out of season (hopefully reducing the wait) and will try to remain patient enough to finally get the sausage parm sub. Also on the menu will be the White House cheesesteak, supposedly the best anywhere outside of South Philly.