I drove to and from South Carolina last week and ate many fine sandwiches, but none worthy of the distinction of Sandwich of the Week. Then I walked around the corner from my apartment and got this.
The sandwich: Chicken parmigiana hero from Luigi’s, 88th St. and 1st Ave. in Manhattan.
The construction: Breaded chicken cutlets with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on Italian bread. I added black pepper and red pepper because… wait, I shouldn’t have to explain that.
Important background information: If you live in the New York metropolitan area, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re no more than 15 minutes away from a pizzeria like Luigi’s at any given time. That’s not to take anything away from Luigi’s, but rather to celebrate one of the very best things about living in the New York metropolitan area. If you are a person of distinguishing taste — and if you’re reading this blog, you’re very likely a person of distinguishing taste — you likely spend the first several months of living in any new location determining your finest local option for pizza. When I lived in Westchester, it was Thornwood Pizza. In Brooklyn, Antonio’s. In Rockville Centre, Sal’s, then Gino’s. Now, in my pocket of the Upper East Side, it’s Luigi’s.
What it looks like:
How it tastes: Familiar. Grounding. Awesome.
Sometimes I get away from myself. I work so hard to find new and interesting sandwiches to write about that I overlook the amazing sandwiches that define the medium’s excellence. Do you know how many stupid, fancy sandwiches I’ve eaten that are basically one thin slice of meat, a soft cheese and some type of indistinct sweet goo on crusty artisanal bread for $11? Those kill ’em in the larger sandwich-reviewing circuit, it seems, but they’re not for me. I finish them, then shrug and think, “That was all right, I guess.” But I know no one comes here to look at a grainy photo of a paltry sandwich with a review that says only “all right, I guess.” And I’m not about to tell you the delightful essences of fig in the goo complemented the cheese’s earthy undertones and suggest you spend your hard-earned $11 on a sandwich that didn’t actually inspire me.
TedQuarters is for the people, I’ll remind you, and the people deserve the truth. And the truth is, based on my exhaustive research, roughly half of the sandwiches you’ll see in any food blog’s list of top sandwiches aren’t as good as the chicken parm hero from the best pizzeria in your neighborhood. Look at that thing. It’s f-ing perfect.
You can’t tell the scale from that photo, but it’s massive — a foot long, at least. That’s pretty standard for the chicken parm hero from the best pizzeria in your neighborhood, too. It should easily be enough food for two meals, but I have never been able to stop myself halfway through.
Because it is finished in the pizza oven, the crust of the bread becomes toasty enough to provide all the crunch a sandwich could need. Meanwhile, the sauce goes to work on the inside of the bread, soaking its way into all the crevices, adding tangy flavor and softening the loaf, ensuring that the sturdy vehicle required to carry all the meat is never overbearing.
The chicken mostly provides the meaty bulk to make the sandwich satisfying. A bad pizzeria might screw up and provide rubbery chicken, one of the primary risks inherent in the chicken parm hero. But a good pizzeria like Luigi’s gives you tender chicken, its breading aptly seasoned.
And at this point, how much more effusive praise could possibly be heaped upon melted mozzarella cheese? It adds creamy, stringy texture, and subtle, cheesy flavor, and perhaps most importantly, helps bind the chicken to the bread. It’s melted mozzarella cheese, though, so you know all about it.
This sandwich will fall short of the Hall of Fame, but only because it’s a chicken parm hero. And though it meets my expectations for a chicken parm hero, my expectations for a chicken parm hero are so high that one would need to go above and beyond to land itself in the sidebar. I suspect if I never had one before, this would be a whole different conversation.
Also, if you told me that the first sandwich ever conceived and created was a chicken parm hero, I wouldn’t believe you. The construction of the chicken parm hero is so brilliant that if sandwiches started there, I imagine they would have stayed right there for hundreds of years and we wouldn’t have nearly the diversity of sandwiches we do today.
What it’s worth: $9. And like I said, it should be plenty for two meals.
How it rates: 84 out of 100.