May 15, 2021
Lunch: This was always my favorite time of the day; even as far as way back to my elementary school days. Back then, my mother gave me lunch money to buy the hot school lunch. Ah, what joyous memories I have of standing in line in the hall, waiting for my turn at picking up the school lunch tray, sliding it along the chrome rails and selecting my meal for the day. Every year seemed slightly different as the group of friends that I sat with at lunch changed from year to year. Of course, the teachers changed too, some were better at making sure you had your monthly lunch schedule. You needed the lunch schedule in your hand so you could choose what to eat in advance. It was good if you needed to bring lunch in case you knew that the hot lunch was going to be terrible. Most things, luckily, were okay to eat at school on the lunch menu.
Particularly popular on the menu, even back then, was pizza! It was usually served on a Friday and if you had an extra 25 cents, you could get an extra slice of this tasty lunchtime treat. It was a rectangular slice of pizza that looked like Ellio’s pizza but the slices were much bigger and better tasting. They also had more cheese on them. I found a box of frozen pizza once in a supermarket that was made in Brooklyn. It tasted exactly like that old elementary school pizza and all those memories came flooding back. I think the manufacturer was called Bazzino’s or something. I just remember that it was my favorite meal at school.
Another good one was the meatball sub. Don’t ask me why, but those crappy meatballs in the sauce when compared to a lot of other things were delicious. I even enjoyed the bread, which was a six or eight inch long roll that was surprisingly fresh and tasty when all covered in sauce. I even had that sandwich again at one of the schools I worked in many years ago. It smelled and tasted EXACTLY like the original and I felt like I was ten years old again, if only for a moment. The lunch woman that day was very nice when I told her my elementary school lunchroom experiences and she insisted that now I should try her meatball sub. I am very grateful to her for that.
The elementary school meal was not without its pit falls. For starters, the pizza was not always cooked to perfection. It varied in quality depending on where you were in line some days. Sometimes the pizza was overcooked for my liking. If the pizza was totally brown (and some days it was) it was not very good. It may still be edible but I was not going to waste the extra quarter for a second slice only to throw it away, I saved it for ice cream or candy. There were other meals that were not as tasty as pizza but were edible. Hamburger day was not bad and if I remember it correctly, it did come with some kind of weird French fry item that you could cover in ketchup and eat. Next down in line was grilled cheese day. This was also a Friday food item served probably in the weeks leading up to the Easter break. If the grilled cheese was in the oven keeping warm too long, it was hard as a rock and inedible. The worse meal by far was the dreaded TUNA MELT served on good Friday! There was nothing good about Good Friday during lunch. The meal was tuna fish served in a hot dog bun that had melted American cheese on top. Then the whole thing was warmed up in the pizza oven to melt the cheese and make the bun hard as a brick…YIKES! I went hungry that day! To this day, I can’t eat hot tuna melts (shudder)!
The lunch room also ALWAYS sold chocolate milk and ice-cream to help save us from complete starvation when the pizza was burnt to a crisp. I do recall one year as being perfect however! Thanks to a very caring teacher who always remembered to give us the lunch menu just before we went home, so it didn’t get shoved into the back of my desk with all the other various other papers. It actually made it home! There I handed it to my mom who taped it up on my bedroom door. Then every day I knew EXACTLY what was for lunch and whether I needed that extra quarter or not! If it was a really bad lunch menu day (as the hot-tuna-day-chill runs down my spine), I could have my mom make a sandwich for me to bring. Then I could buy chocolate milk and an ice cream bar to eat on the playground. God, I was a foodie even back then! Critiquing the school lunch ladies and talking s$%&# of how I could do it better probably.
The glorious memories of food as a child. I spent much of my childhood, especially summer days, at various friend’s houses. Since we are discussing lunch, I remember my friend Frank’s house well, and one particular lunch I loved. Frank’s mom made me a ham on toast (white bread) with mayo and lettuce. Now you might say, “What is so damn special about that?” Well, I grew up in an Irish house with my mother who used to use butter for everything but when making tuna fish. My mom was a good cook and cared about what we ate very much. SO all my sandwiches were on buttered rolls, buttered bread and buttered toast etc. The whole mayonnaise idea on a sandwich was a NEW concept to me! This was an amazing revelation. To this day, I credit this wonderful woman (Frank’s mom) for introducing me to this marvelous sandwich and to the world of mayonnaise. I still make this sandwich to this day and it brings back warm memories of my childhood and my good friend Frank (AKA Frankie to all of us who knew him way back when). Franks’ mom also made me my first bowl of lentil soup! It is still as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I was sitting at his dining room table, on plastic covered chairs, enjoying my sandwich when she asked: “Russ, do you want some lentil soup to go with your sandwich?”
Me: “What’s lentil soup?”
Frankie: “You’re lucky if you’ve never had to eat it. It’s gross!”
Frank’s mom: “Stop that! Its delicious! Russ, try it, and if you like it, I can give you more, and if you don’t like it you don’t have to finish it.”
I replied with enthusiasm, “Sure! I’ll try it!”
I’m sure Frank had said more disparaging remarks that were funny back then, but I can no longer remember all those details. I do remember that I did love that soup and sandwich! I have been eating lentil soup ever since and never fail to thank her for introducing me to those two things.
So, when it comes to lunchtime foods I consider myself a bit of an expert now. I think back on all the foods I have been asked to try at my friends houses. I guess that’s one of the benefits of growing up back when you could walk all over the neighborhood to make friends and just hang out with anyone.
One other such item was introduced to me in my own house, and it was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My sister in-law Judy could not believe I had never eaten it and even questioned my mother as to the veracity of my statement. “Peanut and Jelly, ewe” I scowled. My only previous experience with the stuff was in the school cafeteria, in third grade, when one of my friends ate the same thing. It was peanut butter and jelly on white bread. It was wrapped in aluminum foil all day and when he opened it up at lunch the jelly had always seeped through the bread enough to make the sandwich look disgusting but he loved it. He ate that every day no matter what we said about it.
That brings me to today and making sandwiches for lunch. Here on Long Island and in the City of New York we have some of the best and most famous delicatessens in America. They are also probably the most expensive! These delicatessens include: Katz’s, Carnegie’s, Ben’s Kosher Deli, and for me Pastrami and Friends located right here on Long Island. Shush! Don’t tell people about the last one or it will get too crowded and I will never get in again!
Since these places are just too crowded or excessively overpriced, I made an art out of making my own sandwiches for lunch. It all starts with the bread. Growing up I had a local bakery by me that was within walking (or bicycle) distance. My mom went there every Saturday morning (she drove her car) and waited in line with number to get things like: hard rolls also called Kaiser Rolls (6 with poppy seeds and 2 unseeded for my sister). She purchased rye bread (one seeded and one unseeded). Then there was the pastries. What she purchased in pastries always changed, but it often included, the black and white cookie, the chocolate sprinkle cookie, maybe an éclair or two, a doughnut or a chocolate pretzel!
God, those pretzels were good! These pretzels did not include any traditional pretzel inside but were made strictly of pastry. They are hard to explain now how they were made but they were very similar to a chocolate cigar only thinner and shaped into a pretzel. Yum! Then as you went though the bags there was also apple turnovers or butter cookies or just so much stuff that was all oh so good. The bakeries moto was (if you can believe this) “Everything tastes better with butter”. I have to take breathe now, as I’m getting all choked up. Mom (aka Grams) did this trip every weekend. She did it all fifty-two weeks a year. This was not the only stop in her shopping adventure but usually her last stop!
My mother always went to a “special” deli or two. At one deli, she may get all the cold cuts sliced to order and all sliced paper-thin. There was ham, bologna, ham bologna (that Boards Head Brand© no longer makes), salami, corned beef or pastrami and something for herself called Tailor ham. Then she was off to the second deli where she would purchase the potato salad, macaroni salad and cold slaw. Next, if need be, was a trip to the super market when needed potato chips (both wavy and plain) from Lays© or Wise©. Charles chips © no longer delivers its classic tin can of potato chips directly to houses. She also came home with a huge selection of condiments like Land of Lakes salted butter, Heinz© ketchup, two or three kinds of mustard (Guldens©, Kosciusko©, Batampte© or some kind of mustard with horse radish in it). When she finally got home Saturday morning from her shopping adventure she went to work wrapped everything up in Handi-Wrap© and Ziploc© bags so it would all stay fresh. My brothers, my sister and I would just be waking up now and beginning to cook. Each making our own special sandwiches for breakfast or lunch that were each unique. On the side of all our plates was always one of the pickles we pick up at a “pickle store”, which we went to once a month and stocked up. The store was called Sterns Pickles. Sadly, since then they have gone out of business. What a shame too, as they were some of the best pickles and I have ever eaten.
Now with all that information in mind I think I have had some experience making a wide verity sandwiches that I would like to impart to you. Even my wife, I don’t believe, has eaten all my sandwich concoctions. She does have her favorites and we will discuss them all starting now. Just like my mom, let’s start with some of our BREADS: White (Wonder bread), Rye (seedless or unseeded), Hard rolls (seedless or unseeded), Hero’s or Italian Bread, Wraps or Flour Tortillas.
COLD CUTS: Boiled Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef, Pastrami, Corned Beef, Chicken or Buffalo Chicken, Genoa Salami, and maybe Peperoni
CHEESES: Swiss, Provolone, American cheese, Mozzarella, and/or Munster
TOPPINGS: Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Cold slaw, Pickles or maybe even roasted red peppers
DRESSINGS: Mayo, Mustard, Ketchup, Horseradish sauce, Thousand Island, Barbeque sauce, Ranch, Italian Vinaigrette
Here is my short list of sandwiches from the above ingredients:
- White bread Toast: Deli ham, Lettuce, Mayo Served with lentil soup
- Hard roll, Rye or white bread; Ham, Bologna, Turkey or roast beef; with Swiss, American or Muster cheese; butter, mayo or mustard
- Roast beef on a Kaiser roll with tomato, onion, mayo salt and pepper
- Roast beef and turkey on a hero with cold slaw
- Hot Pastrami or corned beef (micro wave twenty seconds) on rye with mustard
- Buffalo Chicken on a Tortilla, provolone, (heat in microwave until cheese melts) Add lettuce tomato and ranch dressing
- Roast beef on a Kaiser roll with Horseradish sauce lettuce and tomato
- Buttered toasted white bread with Salami
- Ham on a hero or Italian bread with Swiss and Mustard (heat for 30 second in microwave until hot)
- Grilled Cheese – White bread and American cheese (ham optional)
Cook until golden brown in 8 inch pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Then flip over add more butter to pan. Serve with soup.
- Cuban – Ham, turkey or chicken, provolone, pickles in a wrap and heated up in a sandwich press in a pan with butter, cook on two sides.
- Pastrami on grilled rye with Swiss, cold slaw, mustard and thousand island dressing. (Follow grilled cheese procedure)
- The classic Rubin: Corned beef on grilled rye with Swiss, sauerkraut or cold slaw, mustard and thousand island dressing
- The Italian – Salami, Deli ham (or Cappy ham), peperoni, and provolone and lettuce, tomato, onion, roasted red pepper and vinaigrette on Italian bread
- Garlic bread (remember that?) – Roast beef, mozzarella cheese, Place under broiler until cheese is good and melted (add beef gravy if you have it!)
These are but a few of the yummy simpler lunch sandwiches. I will have to continue next week with part two: The Weekend Special Sandwiches. I hope this article was not too long. I hope you continue to come back and read my blog. I hope you find it entertaining as well as informative. What’s for my lunch today? If you can believe it its Tuna fish (cold) on white bread with lettuce and mayo. Tuna salad is in next week’s post. Yum.
That’s all for now until tomorrow, Stay Healthy, Be Happy, and Eat Well!
The Drunken Chef (Russ)