This one came recommended by Ryan. I’m still looking for your sandwich recommendations. I misplaced a pad I had with a list going on it, so if you’ve sent them in the past, feel free to pass ’em along again, especially if you happen to know of a good sandwich that’s reasonably accessible from Midtown.
The sandwich: Chicken Parm hero from Manganaro’s Hero Boy, 38th and 9th in Manhattan.
The construction: Chicken cutlet with melted fresh mozzarella and marinara sauce on a hero.
Important background information: Every time I’ve seen Manganaro’s Hero Boy mentioned in any media, it is noted that the place is not affiliated with Manganaro’s Market next door. I suppose this is to avoid confusion. Now you know. Apparently there was some family spat in the past that doesn’t much affect my sandwich today.
Second, it’s worth mentioning that I eat some form of chicken parm sandwich more often than I eat any other sandwich besides peanut butter and jelly. Most of the best take-out places near my home are pizzerias, so whenever I want a change of pace from pizza I wind up with chicken parm. Plus the best of the crappy lunch places near my office makes a decent chicken roll, basically chicken parm wrapped in pizza dough.
At Hero Boy, the chicken cutlets sit in chafing dishes already topped with melted mozzarella but not swimming in sauce as you see elsewhere. They ladle the sauce onto the sandwich last, presumably to prevent sogginess.
What it looks like:
How it tastes: Good. Very good, even, but I feel like chicken-parm heroes have a pretty high floor. They are fried chicken covered in cheese and tomato sauce.
Let’s think on this: How would you craft the ideal chicken parm hero? I’d start by fresh-frying my chicken cutlet. Hero Boy’s were sitting out in the chafing dish, but there was enough traffic in the place that I imagine they don’t sit there long.
The chicken cutlet tasted reasonably fresh, and keeping it out of the sauce until the moment of sandwich completion meant the breading stayed crispy. That’s a nice touch. On my perfect-world chicken parm, I might season the breading a bit more than they did here, but that’s nitpicking. It was tasty.
The mozzarella was good: melty, stringy, a touch chewy, and delicious. I think on that exemplary version of the sandwich I wouldn’t put much effort into melting the cheese, but that’s a personal preference. The way it worked out at Hero Boy, the cheese was evenly distributed over the chicken.
The bread fit the sandwich perfectly. It was soft and fresh, and strong enough to hold up despite the tomato sauce and without rendering the whole thing too dry or bready. Did its job but stayed out of the way. A great role player in this sandwich.
The sauce — at Hero Boy and at basically everyplace I’ve eaten a chicken-parm hero in the last year — calls to mind a problem that has tortured me since my life-changing experience at Ricobene’s. In isolation, the sauce is fine; it adds moisture and a bit of tangyness and sweetness to the sandwich.
But I fear that though the chicken parm hero has a very high floor, it might also have a limited ceiling due to the narrow range of flavors involved. Marinara sauce is great; I grew up on it. But there’s nothing on a standard chicken-parm hero to give it that extra bit of oomph I enjoyed at Ricobene’s thanks to the spicy giardiniera. So I wonder if someone should experiment with a spicier sauce, bolder flavors.
Except when I think about it, there are plenty of delicious sandwiches out there that aren’t spicy. Is it possible that the breaded steak sandwich at Ricobene’s has set my standards for parmigiana heroes inordinately high? Because the chicken-parm hero at Hero Boy, like most chicken parm heroes I’ve had since September, left me wanting. I might have to move to Chicago.
What it’s worth: $8, and it comes with chips.
How it rates: 80 out of 100.