Allow a lengthy prologue:
Thursday, I mentioned that my first-ever baseball game was Opening Day at Shea in 1987. My parents are awesome for a variety of reasons, but none moreso than their ability to recognize that the Mets’ home opener should take precedence over school. It became an annual elementary-school tradition: I would go for an hour or two in the morning, then the principal’s secretary would come over the intercom and call me down to the office, where someone would be waiting to escort me out. Peace, suckers.
I don’t know what happened to me in the winter before the 1987 season started, why I suddenly became crazed for the sport. I imagine it had something to do with the lingering effects of the Mets’ championship on my environs. Before that year, I knew baseball as something my grandfather watched in his basement in a haze of cigar smoke and my brother yelled about from his room in our attic. I understood that the Mets won the World Series when they did, but that meant little to me at the time.
But by the time April rolled around I was obsessed with baseball the way six-year-old kids become obsessed with things, and I guess in the way I still haven’t entirely grown out of. I loved the Mets, I studied their baseball cards, I memorized their lineup, their pitching rotation, everything. My brother would show me off to his friends — look at my little brother, he’s six and he knows all the Mets’ batting averages, it’s hilarious.
So my first Mets game was a pretty big event. I made a banner and everything. It said “Let’s Go Mets!” in blue and orange watercolor, and we hung it up on the metal grate behind the our seats in the back row of Shea’s Loge Section, in the ol’ “Limited View” seating.
My uncle, my brother, my grandfather and I watched Darryl Strawberry homer in the first inning (well, we watched him hit a ball hard and trot around the bases. We couldn’t actually see the ball’s flight). Bob Ojeda cruised through seven innings, Jesse Orosco worked a six-out save, and the world-champion Mets began 1987 like world champions.
I left the park that day assuming Darryl Strawberry hit a home run every game and the Mets always won. It was awesome. The 23 years since have offered few thrills to match.
That’s all a long-winded and nostalgic way of saying that when I write excitedly about meeting Darryl Strawberry and having him comp my sandwich, please, please don’t take it as bragging. It’s not that. It’s celebrating.
F@#$in Darryl Strawberry, man! Why am I even bothering with this? I doubt very much that I have to explain to you, most likely a Mets fan and very possibly one who also grew up in the 80s, how amazing it is to meet Darryl Strawberry. That’s Darryl Strawberry, the best Met from our youth. The man who displaced Homer Simpson. Dar-ryl.
The sandwich: Smoked brisket sandwich from Strawberry’s Sports Grill, Douglaston, Queens.
The construction: Fresh-baked hero roll with smoked brisket, fresh jalapenos, fried onion strips, cheese sauce, and au jus for dipping.
“But Ted,” you’re saying, “you don’t like onions!” And it’s true. But everyone knows those fried onion strips they put on sandwiches have nothing to do with onions. Those are just fried fry-stuff with some tiny suggestion of onion buried inside somewhere. They add crispy deliciousness to the sandwich.
Important background information: We were at Strawberry’s to film two episodes of The Baseball Show that will air this week. Our video guys, lamely, did not want to do any episodes focused on the food, no matter how hard I campaigned. Darryl came and met us there, which was, like I said above, totally thrilling. He was also friendly and hospitable. After he showed us around and filmed with us, he told us our lunch was on him. So Darryl Strawberry bought me this sandwich.
Darryl seemed eager for us to spread the word about Strawberry’s, and when Darryl Strawberry asks you to do something, you do it. So here goes: It’s about a 10-minute drive from Citi Field and only a few stops away on the LIRR. It’s a nice, new place with a ton of memorabilia and dozens of HDTVs. Plus it’s owned by Darryl Strawberry. And the food, well, the food I’ll get to.
What it looks like:
How it tastes: Amazing. Straight-up: I probably would have said this sandwich was really good even if it weren’t because Darryl Strawberry asked me to spread the word and all, but luckily I don’t have to compromise my integrity because this is a spectacular sandwich. I mean, look at that thing. It’s also tremendous.
The brisket was moist and tender. The cheese sauce was creamy and, well, it was cheese sauce — think velveeta if velveeta wasn’t so artificial seeming. Like that texture, but clearly real food. The jalapenos got buried a little bit by all the other stuff, but they were there for the kick when you went looking for it, and the fried onions added all-important fried flavor and crunch.
I poured on some of the au jus for moisture, and also dipped the sandwich in Strawberry’s barbecue sauce, which is on every table. Restaurants definitely earn bonus points for that. Barbecue sauce on the table is a good thing, especially if the restaurant is not explicitly a barbecue joint — though it is apparently a specialty at Strawberry’s.
What it’s worth: This sandwich was free, baby. I believe it actually cost $14 or thereabouts, but the entire cost to me was my share of the tip, because Darryl Strawberry bought our sandwiches. Sorry, I know I’ve said that like three times already but I just like writing it.
This is probably worth the trip to Douglaston if you’re taking the LIRR into Citi or driving in from the North Shore of Long Island. Obviously there aren’t a ton of places to get good food and drink before Mets games immediately around the stadium. Heck, it’s real close to the Throgs Neck Bridge if you’re coming in from Connecticut or the Bronx, too.
How it rates: 88 out of 100. Shy of the Hall of Fame, but an excellent sandwich and one of the greatest to ever come through Queens. Like the Straw Man himself.