Sandwich of the Week

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A local go-to, here gone to.

The sandwich: The Sacramento Rancher from Au Jus, a takeout spot with three locations in New York City. The original is on 92nd and 1st in Manhattan, right near where I live, and there’s also now one on Washington and Prospect in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, right near where I used to live. The third is in East Harlem, not especially close to anywhere I’ve lived, but still sort of close to where I currently live.

The construction: Roast beef, bacon, avocado, cucumbers, lettuce, and horseradish sauce.

I get mine with fontina cheese, always. There are options for other cheeses when you order online, but I chose fontina the first time I had this sandwich and thereupon concluded that fontina is the correct cheese here. I have had this sandwich dozens of times, and I don’t think I’ve ever even considered another cheese. Delicious cheddar? Bah! This sandwich is for fontina.

Important background information: My neighborhood keeps losing great dining options. I assume it’s that the rent is too damn high. My preferred bodega closed just after the 2nd Avenue subway opened in 2017, and the space remains empty. In the past year, a beloved local Chinese restaurant, a favorite neighborhood pub, a delicious Thai soup spot, and a swanky (for the area) Cajun place I enjoyed — all within a couple blocks of my apartment — all closed or had kitchen fires and never reopened. Even the Instagrammed-up Filipino fusion spot run by a Kardashian associate went out of business.

Like most of New York City, the neighborhood always sees a lot of storefront turnover, but the recent rash of closings appears too big and too widespread to be happenstance. It seems like something’s probably broken. All these places were well-trafficked and none of them were especially cheap. Whatever the issue, it sucks. The whole point of living in the city is to be able to have a million delicious food options in walking distance, and now it feels like there are only 500,000.

Au Jus has become a mooring buoy in these turbulent culinary waters, as reliable and delicious a takeout option as exists in the neighborhood. The Sacramento Rancher is not their only excellent sandwich, but it’s the one to which I keep returning, and the one I crave fortnightly. I don’t know why it’s called the Sacramento Rancher. The top Google return for “Sacramento rancher” is this sandwich.

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: I haven’t mapped this all out yet, but if you were to do a whole big sandwich taxonomy, I think, you’d have an entire phylum of what I’d call the Lunchmeat Sandwiches — those, like this one, built around a thinly sliced pile of some meat that is prepared for just such purposes.

And while there are obvious exceptions, I think that in the majority of the Lunchmeat Sandwiches, the lunchmeat itself is sort of secondary to the sandwich accoutrement: the cheese, the vegetables, the sauce, the (if applicable) bacon. Right? You’re never thinking, “oh man, that sliced turkey really made the turkey, bacon and cheese hero phenomenal.” The turkey is there, laying an important foundation, but it’s the cheese and bacon you really notice.

The roast beef at Au Jus is a showpiece lunchmeat that could carry a sandwich on its own. The rest of the stuff is great — and I’ll get to it — but they could just put the roast beef on a decent roll with some butter and I’d call it a Hall of Famer. Honestly, they could just wrap a big pile of this meat in butcher paper and tell me it’s a sandwich and I’d call it a Hall of Famer. It’s somehow always rare, which baffles me as a former deli man, and it’s so moist and tender and beefy that it feels closer to carpaccio than anything you’re taking home by the pound from the supermarket.

But then also there’s the other stuff, and the other stuff, here, is downright inspired. The bacon adds crunchiness, saltiness and smokiness. The fontina presents itself with creaminess and flavor but does not overpower, the avocados make the whole thing mushy and moist, the cucumbers add a little sweetness and texture.

Even the lettuce is dope. And the horseradish cream ties it together with tanginess and a hint of peppery, back-of-the-mouth spice. The bread is hearty but soft, perfectly crafted to teeter on the brink of messy sandwich destruction without ever actually falling apart.

Eat this sandwich, friends. Maybe — hey, here’s a nice day out! — take the Q train up to ol’ Yorkville, pick up some sandwiches at Au Jus, and have a little picnic on the southbound ferry from 91st Street while you take in spectacular views of the east side of Manhattan. Have you been on the ferry? It’s unbelievable. You get to ride on a boat for $2.75. Feels like cheating.

What it costs: $14. It’s a full meal.

Hall of Fame? Yup. There may be a run of Hall of Famers in the coming weeks, as I’ve had some time to bank them.

Sandwich of the Week

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As promised. Here we go.

The sandwich: Smoked turkey, bacon and mozzarella from Faicco’s in Manhattan’s West Village. The combination happens to be listed as an option on a whiteboard above the deli counter, but I feel fairly confident that Faicco’s is the type of place that would still dutifully and masterfully pile those (or any other) sandwich components on a hero even if they weren’t listed together on the menu anywhere. Which is to say: It’s a good type of place. More on that soon.

The construction: The above listed ingredients, plus lettuce and tomato. I have had this sandwich four times, twice with hot peppers. Every time, I got it with oil and vinegar as a dressing. Once, while feeling fancy, I specifically requested oil and balsamic vinegar. It comes on Italian bread, sometimes with sesame seeds.

Important background information: I’m not really moved to do any more whining about my old job in this space, so I’ll spare you some utterly un-salacious details here. But I’ll note that I had been reviewing sandwiches and food fairly regularly at For The Win until last August, when, dumb story short, I stopped doing that. Again, I don’t really want to get into it except to say that I found myself in a weird and uncomfortable position with regards to sandwich writing, which I recognize is a ridiculous thing to say.

Every time I ask readers what it is about my work that they enjoy, roughly half of the respondents reference sandwich reviews. It’s amazing and hilarious and appreciated, and it has always felt like an online identity worth cultivating because it, like so much else of what I write about, is part of my actual, analog identity.

This may be a performance of sorts, but it isn’t an act. I really do love sandwiches, folks.

The first time I went into Faicco’s, I did so with the intent of acquiring a sandwich to discuss in some forum. I found myself briefly, pathetically paralyzed by the notion of the forthcoming sandwich as #content, worrying about which option on the menu board would best lend itself to photographs, which might best grab readers’ attention, and whether it should be within my rights as an upstanding sandwich man of great integrity to take so bold a step as requesting hot peppers atop a sandwich that does not normally include them.

The point is — and I’m embarrassed to admit this — I let these motherf-ers complicate sandwiches. Heartbreaking stuff, I know. But really, in this case, all the fault lied with me and my vanity.

Then, after a few moments of agony staring at the menu board, I looked around the store and realized that, though I’d never been there before, I’d been there a thousand times before.

Except not even. Faicco’s isn’t a typical New York-area Italian deli and butcher shop so much as it is the apotheosis of the New York-area Italian deli and butcher shop, brilliantly clean and impeccably appointed, with one counter framing a beautiful store-length refrigerator lush with red meat and another guarding a dizzying cornucopia of charcuterie. It’s perfect.

What am I thinking? Why am I thinking? I know what to do in this place. I am a full-blown expert in what to do in this place. Faicco’s is a flat, belt-high, 88-mph fastball down the heart of the plate, and I am Barry Lamar Freakin’ Bonds standing in the batter’s box worried he can’t hit it. Get ahold of yourself, guy.

So I let instinct take over.

“Gimme a turkey, mutzuhrella and bacon, please,” I said, letting slip the Long Island Deli Guy accent I try to tone down on TV. “And lemme get some hot peppers on that with, uhh, oyy-uhl and vin-uh-guh.”

What it looks like: 

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How it tastes: I giggled.

After the first bite of the sandwich, eaten alone on a park bench a block away from the shop, I actually giggled. Had I really allowed myself to climb so far up my own ass that I doubted my ability to choose the right sandwich at the place that made this sandwich? This sandwich, it’s… spectacular.

And yeah, it’s but a humble combination hero of turkey, bacon and cheese, forms of which can be found practically everywhere. But it’s the perfect version of that. This is the Faicco’s of turkey, bacon and cheese sandwiches.

The turkey is sliced impossibly thin and piled high, but carefully distributed so there’s no single bite of the sandwich that’s overwhelmed by the quantity of turkey or that meat’s inherent dryness. The homemade mozzarella is fresh and creamy, the tomatoes are sweet and juicy, the lettuce is fresh, the dressing adds the acidic sting of vinegar and keeps everything moist, and the peppers, when added, provide enough heat to amplify all the other flavors.

The bacon deserves its own paragraph. I never confirmed whether the bacon they use is house bacon, but it’s so good and so flavorful that I will assume as much. It’s thick, but cooked evenly, and thoroughly crunchy without being burnt. It’s the type of bacon that makes you want to renounce the lousy, plastic-wrapped supermarket bacon you’ve been purchasing for home use and commit to buying butcher bacon from that point forward.

If it seems like a simple sandwich, it’s because you haven’t had one yet. I ate half of one on a gorgeous afternoon last week while my kid climbed on a nearby playground, and the sandwich conjured memories of carefree summer block parties or barbecues at the beach, with the subtle hint of smoke flavor from the turkey peeking through. I ate the second half alone in the narrow living room of my cave-like apartment, and the sandwich seemed moodier and more complex.

This sandwich contains multitudes. This sandwich rules.

What it costs: It’s a $15 sandwich, which sounds expensive until you hold it in your hands and realize that the thing probably weighs two pounds. I can eat a lot, but it’s difficult to fathom how someone could eat an entire Faicco’s sandwich in one sitting. Just half of one is a full meal, and when you look at it that way — $7.50 for lunch, another $7.50 for dinner — it seems like a downright bargain. I really don’t know of anywhere in Manhattan where one might find as much food of this quality for less money.

Hall of Fame? Yes. Hell yes.

I lost on Jeopardy!

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Here’s what didn’t happen: I did not win a bunch of games on Jeopardy! and triumphantly quit my job in a mid-game interview.

That’s obviously not why I went on the show. I went on the show because it was a lifelong dream, and I took the test this year in particular because it was important to me to get on there while Alex Trebek is still hosting. But the notion of using my Jeopardy! appearance to burn all my workplace bridges was nonetheless something I fantasized about in down time between writing flashcards about famous operas and European rivers.

I had it all mapped out: Roughly six or seven wins deep, Trebek opens his banter, “our champion, Ted, is a sportswriter-”

“Former sportswriter, Alex,” I reply. “I quit. I’m a 93-thousandaire now, and I don’t want to work at that job anymore.”

My own Magic Johnson moment, to be punctuated in this case by some awesome and inimitable Trebek quip. I even had the title in mind for the freelance piece I’d inevitably be able to sell once my long and storied run finally came to its conclusion: “I won 27 episodes on Jeopardy! to spite the USA Today.”

And from there? Who knows! Maybe I become a celebrated social critic, penning a widely renowned weekly column for some reputable outlet. TV hosting gigs, with this hair of mine. My headshot on the wall at Wo Hop. A rundown of my Sunday routine in the New York Times’ Metropolitan section. All the trappings of Jeopardy! immortality, and then some.

Alas.

Here’s what did happen: I hit a Daily Double in the first round and entered Double Jeopardy with a lead. In the second round, a $2000 answer to which I knew the correct question — “What is the Federalist Party?” — seemed too easy for its position on the board, and, seeing how I was up against an 18-time champion who ran away with the previous two games that filmed that morning, I checked the scores and decided not to risk it. Jason Zuffranieri — in my household, “The Nicholas Cage Guy” — maintained control of the board, and on the very next clue hit a Daily Double that let him put the game out of reach.

The Nicholas Cage Guy, for what it’s worth, is an extremely nice dude who had pretty well mastered the buzzer by that point. They tell you to wait for a light at the side of the game board to turn on before you click, but if you really wait to see the light, you have practically no chance of getting in first. You have to anticipate the light, and I falsely thought my musician’s rhythm and childhood video-game experience would help me more in that area than it did.

My man was lightning on that thing. Then, when I joked about how there were no categories about the 1988 Mets, Zuffranieri was like, “I loved the 1988 Mets!” And I recognized that if I had to lose, it might as well be to a 19-game winner who knew my sadness.

Obviously I ran into some bum luck, both for going up against a longstanding champion and for landing in a match with two dudes who seemed to have fairly similar bases of knowledge — how often are there three sports fans on an episode with a stadiums category?

Still, the Federalist Party will haunt me forever. I’ve also spent too much time considering piece-of-steak scenarios: What if I’d eaten a bigger breakfast? What if he green room hadn’t run out of coffee before my episode? What if I deferred my appearance until after my then-ongoing work drama had concluded, instead of making my appearance right in the thick of it?

But, hell, there was an actual sandwiches category and I only got two of them. The odds weren’t necessarily stacked in my favor, but a win was there for my taking and I blew it. Obviously I am disappointed in the outcome, but I’m glad I did it, and the experience was quite cool.

And that is, I suspect, where I will ultimately stand on my 6 1/2-year tenure at For The Win and USA Today once the remaining bitterness subsides.

When the job was good, I knew I was lucky to have it. Fortune smiled upon me, a lot, for a long time. For years, I had a steady sportswriting gig that allowed me tons of room for creativity and sometimes paid me to travel and do fun things. I spent a World Series game kayaking in McCovey Cove. I played baseball inside San Quentin prison. I was named the honorary president of Taco Bell for a day.

It was dope, and I’m thankful for it. There are thousands of outrageously talented writers in this world who will never get a chance to do half the cool stuff I’ve been able to do in my career.

But many of those thousands of outrageously talented writers are desperate for work, and that reality can always be weaponized against the employed. You think you deserve honesty? Respect? Promotion? The mildest trappings of human decency? Well, we thought you loved baseball!

On one of my last days in the office, in the throes of rage and frustration, I wrote out a prospective blog post that listed, in fairly great detail, my various reasonable gripes against the company. It was all true, but it ran so long that I feared publishing it would make me seem unhinged and unemployable.

The short version, I guess, is that there were clear and irreconcilable philosophical differences. I believed, philosophically, that they should give a shit about me, and they pretty demonstrably felt otherwise. Almost none of what happened was intended to be personal, but I took it all personally in part because I wrote personally, often at the behest of my editors and supervisors. I felt I had given too much of myself to the company to slip through the cracks, but they made it explicitly clear that my work would never be valued as much as that of some of my colleagues and that, in the bosses’ eyes, I was paid too much for what I did.

I could have saved the job, but aspects of it became untenable. By the end, I was spending far too many of the few waking hours I shared with my son pushing him away so I could write hot takes about something Skip Bayless said. That ain’t it, folks.

And I’m nobody’s albatross. A lifetime’s worth of experience as a straight white man with fabulous hair provides few, if any, coping mechanisms for feeling belittled, and I did not handle it especially well. My writing suffered for my joylessness, and my productivity plummeted. I applied for dozens of jobs and never got more than form letters of rejection in response, and I became convinced that continuing in my old job was working against my prospects of finding a new one. Where I had always envisioned the gig as a tunnel to something somehow even cooler, it felt like the tunnel had come to a dead end in the form of a brick wall and I was just bashing my head against it to try to break through.

My Jeopardy! appearance catalyzed my departure because I realized, honestly, that my best and most reasonable immediate shot at career advancement involved winning a bunch of money on a game show. And when that’s the case, it’s clearly time to move on. Also, 80,000 people take the online test and only 250 people wind up on the show, and getting the call helped rejuvenate my broken ego and reminded me that someone might actually want me for something.

So I’m out of work. I don’t know what happens next. I’m going to need to make money again, but I’ve come to the rationalizations that my responsibility to my family is not merely financial and that I don’t want my son to grow up with a contemptuous, defeated dad.

I left with some good clips, some great stories, a few more months’ worth of Gold status at Hilton hotels, and an unbreakable record of 106 on the Gannett NYC office’s pop-a-shot basketball game. It ended poorly, but it was hardly the worst. I’ll be OK.

I like writing and I’m not ready to stop pursuing it. I’m taking on a bigger parenting role right now, but I’m also planning to overhaul the look of this site and keep it at least mildly active. New Sandwich of the Week drops here tomorrow.

This Week in Taco Bell: The Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit Taco is terrible

Hey y’all! Remember Taco Bell Tuesday? I’m now doing basically the exact same thing, except it counts as part of my job and it happens on Wednesday.

For The Win

Look upon this Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit Taco and despair, for it might just be the worst thing I have ever eaten at Taco Bell:

(USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY Sports)

Mere hours after I sampled Taco Bell’s Biscuit Taco breakfast for the first time, Taco Bell announced that it will provide free Biscuit Tacos to all customers from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 5, the same day it will introduce its new Diablo Sauce at restaurants nationwide.

But unless some added heat can save the woeful breakfast dish, true Taco Bell enthusiasts will be best served skipping the lines that morning and showing up at 11:15 a.m. for traditional Taco Bell lunch. Thanks, Taco Bell, but no thanks. The Biscuit Taco is terrible.

Before I go on, I should note that I hoped to try the Biscuit Taco in its more heralded, Crispy Chicken incarnation. But though multiple menu…

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Chicago has the best sandwich in the world and most people don’t even know it

Hey, anyone who still sometimes checks TedQuarters! I wrote a thing about the breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene’s, the best-rated sandwich in this site’s history. People seem to be enjoying it.

For The Win

The Breaded Steak sandwich. (PHOTO: Rosario Ricobene/Ricobene's) The Breaded Steak sandwich. (PHOTO: Rosario Ricobene/Ricobene’s)

The next paragraph of this post contains a bold and speculative claim about a sandwich, but I need you to understand that it is not an unresearched one. I worked in a deli, making sandwiches, for three years. At my last job, I regularly wrote sandwich reviews. I have traveled to 42 states and 20 countries and eaten sandwiches in most of them. I know sandwiches, I promise.

And the breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene’s in Chicago is the best sandwich in the world. Mark it down.

When ordered with mozzarella cheese and hot giardiniera — those are important — the sandwich presents a combination of flavors and textures that bests every single one of the thousands of other sandwiches I’ve sampled in my 34 years.

The primary ingredient, the eponymous breaded steak, is exactly what it sounds like. But even by the…

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Conan O’Brien got to tour the Taco Bell test kitchen and I’m still on the outside like a stooge

Just because I never update TedQuarters doesn’t mean it’s not Taco Bell Tuesday.

For The Win

Conan O’Brien toured Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif. for a segment on his eponymous TBS show that aired last week. It was all very funny, and the beloved late-night host even got to try something called a Quesalupa — an experimental product that presumably includes some combination of meat, cheese, beans, tortilla, sour cream and tomatoes.

Apparently men of Conan O’Brien’s stature can just waltz on in to the Taco Bell test kitchen, a veritable El Dorado for all us shmos out here waiting on our invites. And to be fair, he deserves it: O’Brien, certainly, has loads of talent and worked hard to get where he is, so we shouldn’t begrudge him the incredible opportunity we ourselves have been so long denied.

It’s just a bit frustrating, is all.

A little background: I am not just this site’s de facto Taco Bell beat writer. I am also…

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How should Derek Jeter leave the field in his last game at Yankee Stadium?

Lots of Photoshopping for the people.

For The Win

On Thursday night, legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will play in his final game at Yankee Stadium. And though the club already celebrated Jeter’s exceptional career with Derek Jeter Day on Sept. 7, the future Hall of Famer will certainly acknowledge the adoring Bronx crowd in some way one last time before he heads to Boston on Friday for the last series of his career.

Here are five suggestions for how Derek Jeter should leave the field in his last game at Yankee Stadium:

1. Classily

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If you’re a gambler, bet on this one: Sometime late in the game, Jeter takes the field to start an inning. Manager Joe Girardi sends out a defensive replacement, and Jeter exits to thunderous applause and 50,000 strong chanting his name. He doffs his cap to the crowd, acknowledges his teammates and coaches, and disappears into the clubhouse. Dramatic photographs of Jeter leaving the…

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New bat designs could help Major Leaguers, if they’d only use them

Reblogging this here because it’s a) about baseball, b) something I spent a long time on and c) a topic touched upon here back in 2010.

For The Win

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (USA TODAY Sports Images) Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (USA TODAY Sports Images)

This is hardly a secret: Offensive numbers are way down around Major League Baseball. The league-wide OPS sits at .703, the lowest mark in over two decades. Pitchers throw harder. Strikeout rates have skyrocketed. Aggressive defensive shifts turn more hard-hit balls into outs. In short, it’s just not an easy time to be scoring runs in the big leagues.

But there’s a potential advantage already available to hitters, and precious few Major Leaguers have even given it a try.

Multiple companies produce bats with ergonomic knobs that have been shown to improve the speed, power, and control of hitters’ swings and reduce the hand injuries and discomfort common with conventional bats.

(PHOTO: Baden Sports) (PHOTO: Baden Sports)

“The initial reaction is that it looks like a malfunction happened in the factory,” said University of Memphis manager Daron Schoenrock, whose team exclusively uses Baden Sports’ Axe…

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Controversial former Braves closer John Rocker to compete on ‘Survivor’

Great news, everybody!

For The Win

John Rocker. (PHOTO: Erik S. Lesser/AP Photo) John Rocker. (PHOTO: Erik S. Lesser/AP Photo)

Retired MLB pitcher John Rocker, a less endearing version of Kenny Powers who had about three good seasons in a career that ended over a decade ago, will compete on the CBS show Survivor this season, according to Entertainment Weekly. It makes sense, because John Rocker absolutely will not go away.

While serving as the Braves’ closer, Rocker became an infamous baseball villain after a hateful 1999 interview with Sports Illustrated in which he seemed to haphazardly spew racist and bigoted remarks in every direction possible, targeting — among others — foreigners in general, an African-American teammate, gay people, people with dyed hair, young mothers, and people who don’t speak English.

Rocker somehow had even less control of his pitches than he did of his mouth, and never found any success in three separate Major League stops after leaving Atlanta in the…

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Bobby Bowden does not know how to order at Taco Bell

Hey, remember Taco Bell Tuesday? Been meaning to revive it here for a while. But in lieu of that, here’s a whole lot of important Taco Bell analysis on a Tuesday. Thanks for checking TedQuarters still. Miss you, TedQuarters!

For The Win

(PHOTO: USA TODAY Sports Images) (PHOTO: USA TODAY Sports Images)

For a celebrated gridiron strategist, legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden takes an absolutely pathetic approach to ordering Taco Bell. In a Tuesday ask-me-anything session on Reddit, a user asked Bowden what he recommended at the Mexican-inspired fast food chain. Bowden responded:

Wooh. Gosh, seldom do I eat at Taco Bell, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I guess I’d look to see what the most expensive thing was and go ahead and buy it. Hoping that they know what they’re talking about.

Just throw as much money at it as you possibly can: The New York Yankees method of fast-food ordering. Is that what works in college football recruiting? Wait, don’t answer that.

While “seldom do I eat at Taco Bell” sounds like a fancy way of saying, “I’m better than you and MexiMelts both,” what follows here is advice for…

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