The sandwich that made me love sandwiches

I got a desperate text message from my old friend Charlie yesterday. It said this:

Buscos is no longer. RIP Full Bird, you will be missed.

My heart and mind raced. I furiously began texting him back, peppering him with questions about what happened. He didn’t know. He just knew it was gone. Busco’s is gone.

Busco’s was not the best deli in Rockville Centre, N.Y. Not even close. That honor belonged to E&W, right across the street, or my former employer DeBono’s, a bit off the beaten path.

But Busco’s boasted something none of the others could. The Full Bird. Her majesty.

There’s nothing particularly notable about a chicken cutlet hero with bacon and american cheese. Hell, something similar is on the specials board at every deli in America.

Busco’s did theirs particularly well, though. The proportions were great, and they sliced up the chicken cutlets into thin strips and piled them on the bread, maximizing delicious surface area and minimizing the all the inherent problems prompted by oddly shaped chicken cutlets. Every bite of every full bird had chicken, bacon and cheese on it. That’s important. Sandwich uniformity should not be underrated.

And the Full Bird is notable because it was the first of its kind in Rockville Centre, or at least the first I became familiar with. Before high school, my friends and I ate at Taco Bell and the McDonald’s Express. We were middle schoolers, so we didn’t have much money.

But in my first few weeks of football practice in high school, an older guy named Nick De Luca — a Mets fan, I know, so maybe he’s reading somewhere. Whatup De Luca? — took me to Busco’s and introduced me to the Full Bird.

Holy lord. I had eaten sandwiches before, of course, but usually the type we made at home on Pepperidge Farm bread with cold cuts from the supermarket. Not like this. This was a sandwich to make you love sandwiches. It was the sandwich that made me love sandwiches.

Football practice is an exhausting thing, and something that works up an appetite that can only be sated by piles of fried protein. We ate a whole lot of Full Birds those days. I never really gained any weight from them because we were exercising so much, but I realize now that I probably shaved about five years off my life with all the cholesterol. Whatever. Totally worth it.

And I would be remiss if I eulogized Busco’s without mentioning its best-ever employee. Busco’s was a true local place, the type where you recognized all the guys behind the counter. There was the mustache guy who I think was the owner, and that guy Pete who went to school with my brother, plus the older brother of that kid Jimmy from my Little League team.

And then there was Pat Greenfield. I should note that when I reminisce here about people from Rockville Centre I usually use made-up names so no future employer Googles them and ends up here to find me poking fun of them. But Nick De Luca and Pat Greenfield are real. These men deserve to be celebrated.

Greenfield was nothing short of the most legendary deli man in town history. A hero of heroes. When I went into the trade myself years later, I emulated Pat Greenfield. He was a hulking guy and I think a stud pitcher on the high-school baseball team a few years earlier. He wasn’t much one for conversation. He just made sandwiches.

But oh, how he made them. Oh, oh, oh. It’s not just about the amount of meat, though Greenfield gave you a ton. It’s about the proportion. The right mix of meat, cheese, bacon and dressing. And Greenfield — I don’t know if he studied or trained or just had an innate knack for it — he was the master. People in line would let other, less savvy customers cut ahead so they could get a Greenfield sandwich. Worth the wait.

Sometimes, when bragging about my own impressive abilities as a deli man, I claim this story for myself. But that’s a lie. It’s part of the Greenfield legend:

One time, my dad and I were waiting on line for sandwiches at Busco’s. Full Birds, no doubt. Greenfield was behind the counter working on someone else’s. He spun around to ask the person if she wanted tomatoes on it, but in so doing, he lifted up the sandwich and presented it to the crowd. And it was beautiful. It sparkled in the flourescent light, that signature Greenfield mix of ingredients.

There are people who are paid to dress up food for advertising photo shoots, and I can guarantee none of them has ever created a sandwich that looked like that one. It was perfect. It epitomized what sandwiches should look like. The crowd gasped. Seriously. A deli full of hungry, chatty customers fell silent at the sight of Greenfield’s hero.

Now Busco’s is no more, and Greenfield has gone off to who knows where. Hopefully he’s making sandwiches somewhere. He doesn’t know me, but maybe he’ll find this and agree to come to my house to make me some sandwiches.

That’s all I got. This is a sad day.

UPDATE, 8:05 p.m.: Just got a call from Charlie with an update. He called the nearby deli rumored to be taking over the Busco’s location, and it turns out commenter/Watson elementary school alum BHorn is right — Busco’s is taking over that deli, and not the other way around.

So Busco’s will be moving one town away, but the girl who answered the phone assured Charlie that the Full Bird would soon be added to the menu. As Charlie put it, “Like a beautiful bacon-filled Phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Long live The Full Bird.

I’ve also since been informed that Pat Greenfield is indeed still making tremendous sandwiches, just now at the aforementioned E&W Deli across the street. And someone else pointed out that this post will ultimately be sent to him and he’ll inevitably read it. Which is a bit awkward since, like I said, he has no idea who I am. But thanks for the sandwiches, dude. Your efforts are appreciated.

39 thoughts on “The sandwich that made me love sandwiches

  1. Ted, you might think that sandwich is the greatest, but the fact is you’d be wrong.

    You’re quite close, but the real #1 is the Boone, at Se-Port Deli in Stony Brook. It takes your sandwich, but makes it even better by adding Russian dressing. Okay, so it’s exactly the same, but IT WAS INVENTED BY ED O’NEILL. Yeah. What now?

    • This seems like as good a time as any to revisit the fact that Bobby Valentine invented (or, at least, claims to have invented) the wrap sandwich.

    • Fun fact: My sister once went on a double-date in which the non-guy-she-was-dating guy was Ed O’Neil. Apparently he does not respond well to being called “Al,” in a silly Peg Bundy voice.

    • The Boone is pretty amazing. I’ve been to other deli’s that list a sandwich with the same ingredients but its never as good. I don’t know how they do it.

    • Why do you hate America, Anit?

      Seriously though I’m not a huge fan of American cheese myself and would never put it on a sandwich of my own devising, but it’s a classic regardless, and it just worked on the Full Bird. That sandwich was too delicious to doubt any of its elements.

  2. Condolences. Regarding sandwichs, I went to This Little Piggy had Roast Beef in the East Village and throughly enjoyed the roast beef. It was more akin to pulled pork in texture and moistness and was delicious.

  3. I’ve been meaning to ask you about the full bird for sometime now since you are a lover off all things bacon. I got the news about Busco’s from my parents who still live in the area about a week ago, though I only live 20 minutes away I haven’t seen them since because quite frankly, a RVC without the full bird isn’t an RVC I’m very interested in visiting.

    Like you Ted, I discovered the full bird while attending South Side thanks to older friends with a car. Unlike you I played golf instead of football so I just got fat. My greatest eating feat of all time might have been the time I polished off a full bird immediately after I knocked out a stack of pancakes at CJ’s.

    RIP Busco’s. I’ll poor out a little liquor for you.

  4. I would totally buy a coffee table book featuring celebrity sandwich enthusiasts writing about the sandwich that really got them into sandwiches. I’m thinking a page of text on the right and a full glossy of Kevin Spacey holding a corned beef on rye on the left. Random House: call me.

  5. haha…i only had to read the header to know you were going to say the Full Bird. That was a helluva sangwhich. But fear not, rumor has it Busco’s will be reincarnated at the old Eats delicatessen in Oceanside on Merrick Road. Perhaps they will resurrect the Full Bird there. One can only hope.

    Good call on Greystone’s btw. Although as a former employee I have to say I haven’t been impressed with the service over there of late.

  6. Ted,

    I agree, the Full Bird was the greatest sandwich ever! It will be missed… However, we had a deli world tour in high school and DeBono’s came in dead last!!

    • Obviously you didn’t order the right thing. I think they’re the only deli in town that makes its own mozzarella, plus their salads are excellent. It may have slipped since I worked there, but it’s still as good as anyplace for an Italian hero.

      • Maybe I will try the Italian hero… The uncooked eggs put them in last.

        Rockside won the deli tour, even though its not RVC

      • Oh I can guarantee that DeBono’s has never seen a grill man as good as me. The way I worked the grill on Saturday mornings when the egg orders were piling up stands as the only job I’ve ever been sure I did exceptionally well. Go in and ask the DeBonos who their best worker ever was.

    • err… I mean after, I only wish it was the contrary…old age rattling the cage.

      Maybe Cliff Lee would like a full bird, no no that would be Cole Hamels that should be given the bird.

  7. The Full Bird was an iconic sandwich. Well done Ted. What happened to EAT? Their S22 Parker made by Sean Matika was epic.

  8. Ted, amazing piece of writing. The good news is that Greeny now works across the street at Greystone. He makes “The Big Bopper” now. That has Roast Beef, Mozzarella cheese, and bacon on garlic bread. He is continuing to fine-tune his craft. If you show up there after-hours like I do, he’ll even pour you an ice cold beer into a soup cup. Fun for all.

    • The Big Bopper is a tremendous sandwich and was an important influence on my own sandwich-making career. I frequently offered to make sandwiches on garlic bread for DeBono’s customers, even though it made my job more difficult. That’s just the type of dedicated deli man I was.

  9. Ted, i was laughing out loud at my desk reading this fine piece of writing. You have hit the nail on the head with this one. We need more sandwich makers like Greenfield in this world. I am proud to call him my brother in law.

  10. Ted…..great piece..thanks for the shout out! The Full Bird was something special. Like you said….it was the right combination of cutlets, bacon, and cheese. I think it also had a lot to do with the bread as well. Eat has in fact taken over the Busco’s business, and I’m sure the Full Bird will be on the menu shortly. Stop in anytime for a Bopper! Hero’s on toasted garlic bread are something special. Have a great 4th, and GO CUBS!

    • Wow, this is all sort of weird and fascinating. You men and your bacon (not to trivialize your passion, of course). My busco’s memories mainly focus around the blueberry muffins that were the size of my head and of course 2 for 1 chicken tuesdays. I am still not entirely clear about where I am to order my 6 footer halloween special this year (2 ft american, 2 ft italian, 2 ft full bird). I guess I’ll ask you all then. I’m anticipating a busy holiday weekend for E+W aka Greystone (to clarify).

  11. Never was much of a fan of Greystone (E and W). Never did like how the old guy would cough up bird flu, and ask, “who’s next?” Thats something old man Busco would have never stood for.

  12. Greenfield is an overrated deli clerk. He is never happy to make a Philly Cheese Steak on a whole wheat wrap with Russian dressing or cook up a grilled cheese sandwich at 7:55pm. I think you should all check your sources about this one great deli legend who has truly passed his prime. Maybe they will hang his apron in the rafters at Busco’s, but as for Greystone, the verdict is still out.

  13. was never a fan of the chicken cutlet delight at greystone and never like the stand in the middle aisle that always clogged up the line. busco’s rules.

    • HAD THE FULL BIRD THE OTHER DAY AT THE NEW EAT AT BUSCOS GOURMET…………… BETTER THAN BEFORE !!!!!!! GOTTA GOTO THE NEW BUSCOS !!! MARK AND SEAN DOING A GREAT JOB !!!

  14. The full bird has a new home on merrick rd the rvc and oceanside boarder you can even sit and have lunch there, we have tables it is bigger . I am the orginal owner and i am back. come by and visit

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