Baristaville has an abundance of great sandwich places, from humble delis to sophisticated gourmet shoppes. Recently, I embarked on a sandwich tour of our area. Reader, it was delicious. Here is part one, which covers sandwich standouts in SOMA. Next up will be Montclair and environs (let me know if there is a place I absolutely cannot miss.)
Town Hall Deli: No serious discussion of sandwiches in New Jersey is complete without the Sloppy Joe. This uniquely Garden State creation can be found throughout Baristaville, but the place where it all started nearly eighty years ago is South Orange’s Town Hall Deli.
A classic joe consists of ham, tongue, and Swiss cheese, topped with cole slaw and Russian dressing, piled on three layers of thinly-sliced Pullman rye bread. This is a sandwich for sharing – just one can feed two or three people (and costs almost twenty bucks).
“On an average day we make about 80 Sloppy Joes,” said Wonski, “but on New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve and Superbowl Sunday we make around 800.” That is a lot of sandwiches, especially since it takes about ten minutes to carefully construct each one.
What makes Town Hall’s the best? “We make all the ingredients here, the bread is fresh and we make our own dressing with our secret recipe,” said Wonski.
Town Hall ships sandwiches several times a week to such far-flung places as Florida and California, for New Jersey expats who can’t do without their joe fix.
Maplewood Deli and Grille: After the sloppy joe, the Golf Tee is the most popular choice at this cozy, classic deli on Maplewood Avenue. This sub combines roast beef, turkey, Swiss, lettuce and tomato, onion, oil and vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper.
What makes it so delectable? “I think it’s the way we dress them,” said Mike Helfrecht, who expertly made me a Golf Tee in record time. “Plus, the Russian gives it an extra kick – and the portion size helps too!”
“We make everything in house,” said owner Sean Flood, “including the roast beef and dressing.” It shows in the sandwiches, which are perfectly made and completely delicious.
How did this sandwich get its unusual name? “The golf tee was invented right here in Maplewood,” said Flood. Who knew?
Crane’s Deli and Cheese Shoppe: With such a well-curated selection of sandwiches on the menu here, it is tough to choose just one standout. My many favorites include the mozzarella and basil with sundried tomato pesto (I like it grilled), the tangy pan bagnat and the grilled chicken with roasted chile peppers. The BLT, made with roasted tomatoes and herb mayo, is a standout in its genre.
But according to owner Steve Crane, the most consistently popular choice for customers is the BBQ Pork Sandwich. The menu describes is as “slow cooked pulled pork with North Carolina style barbecue sauce, topped with homemade coleslaw on a soft roll” – but I would simply describe it as finger-licking good.
“It’s our own secret recipe barbecue sauce, and we make the slaw with red and green cabbage, mayo and a little bit of sugar,” said Crane. “It’s kind of our go-to sandwich.”
Millburn Deli: If you’ve never had a sandwich order accompanied by bell-ringing and horn-honking, you haven’t lived. At the Millburn Deli, that’s what happens when customers order the signature creation known as The Gobbler.
The sandwich itself, a Thanksgiving dinner redux, is an addictive mélange of roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayo served on a soft white bread.
But then there’s the fanfare. When a customer orders one, the sandwich maker rings a bell, honks a horn and yells out in a voice that can be heard throughout the deli: “Gobbler!” The staff responds with a chorus of Gobbler cries and cheers – to the amusement, bafflement and occasional embarrassment of the unsuspecting patron.
How did this odd but endearing tradition take hold? “When we first created the sandwich in 1994, we needed a way to signal the staff to heat up the stuffing as soon as an order came in,” said Andrew Morgan, whose family has owned the deli since 1991. “Whoever took the order would call out “Gobbler!” so the staff could hear, and it kind of grew from there.”
Customers in the know sometimes will call ahead with their Gobbler order and specifically request that the staff hold the entertainment. But most people love it. “Seventy five percent of our customers think it’s hysterical and get upset if we don’t do it,” said Morgan.
Mia Famiglia: This first-rate Italian deli and grocery store has already been praised on Baristanet. The signature sandwich here is the eggplant wedge: lightly fried balsamic-marinated eggplant, smoked mozzarella, roasted pepper and arugula. It’s served on “pitza” bread from Nicolo’s in Montclair.
Owner Manny Licitra speculated on the sandwich’s popularity. “I think because it’s vegetarian, but it has the meaty taste of the smoked mozzarella,” he said. It also is perfectly balanced, with the crispy eggplant playing nicely off the pleasantly bitter arugula and the rich and creamy cheese.
Licitra, who has owned Mia Famiglia for 15 years along with wife Sharon, urged me to come back to try the piadina: fresh ricotta, prosciutto and arugula on a multigrain flatbread. “It’s really unique,” he said.
ItalMart: This tidy and unassuming place in West Orange looks like a basic, almost bare-bones deli. A friend tipped me off to the specialty that reveals the ItalMart’s true Italian spirit: the Signature Chicken Cutlet Sandwich. Made with thin, perfectly fried chicken cutlets, fresh mozzarella, garlicky housemade roasted peppers and fresh arugula, dressing with balsamic and served on crusty bread, this is a sandwich to crave.
Owner Joe Vece bought the place from a friend just nine months ago, and he plans to change the name to Giuseppe Caterers. “That’s the name of my catering business, which is 80% of what I do,” said the friendly and culinarily skilled Vece.
So far, he has expanded the menu and plans to add even more dishes. “I make everything fresh, to keep it old-school Italian.” The deli draws a lot of neighborhood regulars who keep coming back for those fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers, among other items.
Town Hall Deli
60 Valley Street, South Orange
Maplewood Deli & Grille
149 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood
Crane’s Deli and Cheese Shoppe
175 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood
328 Millburn Avenue, Millburn
277 Main Street, Millburn
156 South Valley Road, West Orange