Sandwich of the Week


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.

Sandwiches of Citi Field: Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich

No one is happier than I am that I’ve carved out some weird and awesome niche as a Mets and sandwich writer. And I am so very grateful that a non-zero number of human people want to read what I have to say about the Mets and sandwiches that I’m driven to do the best damn job I can covering this beat, especially when that entails eating sandwiches at Mets games. So I hoped to eat the first Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich served at Citi Field.

I failed. When I got to the new Pat LaFrieda stand in Citi’s center-field concession area on the Field Level concourse shortly after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, there were somehow already a few people ahead of me on line. I suspect most if not all of them were Mets employees, so I can vaguely lay claim to eating the first Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich served to a civilian at Citi Field. But typically everyone who doesn’t work at SNY blurs the line between the network and the Mets so it’s not even worth making the case. Whatever. I ate one of the first Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwiches served at Citi Field. It looked like this:


Maybe it’s not much to look at, but on that sandwich are three nearly burger-sized pieces of steak from famed meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda, who is the only person I’m aware of that can accurately be described as a “famed meat purveyor.” The guy provides meat to many of the best burger places in New York and the stand at Citi Field represents his first foray into retail.

The sandwich is prepared on a hot, flat grill. The woman behind it laid down the three pieces of steak and some caramelized onions, then spread slices of Monterey Jack cheese on top of the onions to melt. When the steak was ready, the man next to her distributed the pieces evenly on a split french-bread hero, shoveled on a layer of melted cheese and onions, then added a scoop of something the press release described as “secret au jus.”

The Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich costs $15, steep for a sandwich even inside a ballpark. But the thing is delicious.

Fun fact: Before I started writing about sandwiches, I was way pickier about the ingredients that go on my sandwich. If I were ordering this with no plans to review it, I’d have asked for no onions, as onions — especially slithery sauteed onions — typically turn me off.

But I have found in this pursuit that a great sandwich can make me understand and appreciate an ingredient I previously did not. That’s what happened here: the onions and the oniony au jus add a lot of flavor, a wealth of sweetness that complements the steak and cheese and is absolutely essential to the sandwich as a whole.

The steak is so good. When I watched the woman prepare the sandwich I worried the unsliced pieces of filet mignon — way larger than you normally see on steak sandwiches — would prove difficult to chew through in a single bite of sandwich. Fret not: It’s prepared rare, and it’s so tender it bites almost like a burger. I tried my best not to be biased by the brand and to assess the meat on its own merits, but within two bites I was thinking, “damn, this Pat LaFrieda dude is the f—ing balls.” To boot, it’s got a pleasant black peppery seasoning that gives the sandwich a touch of spice.

The cheese feels like more of a binding element to affix the onions to the steak than anything else, but the creaminess it added was certainly welcome. And the bread was fresh and sturdy, toasty and crunchy on the outside but soft with au jus on the inside.

It’s a hell of a sandwich, on the same tier with the Shake Shack burger and Blue Smoke pulled pork in what has to be the greatest sandwich ballpark in all the land. My only quibbles with it are that there might have been a touch too much of the onion flavor (even necessary as it was), that it’s a bit messy for ballpark fare, and that it’s $15.

Here’s why I suck at this: While I was wolfing it down over one of the standing picnic tables out in center field, a guy in a chef’s jacket approached me and introduced himself as an Executive Chef at Citi Field. He noticed that I was eating the sandwich and wanted to know if I had any feedback.

Seems like a great networking opportunity just fell in my lap, no? I knew I should tell this guy that I actually write about Citi Field food all the time and try to strike up a conversation, and maybe he could become a valuable source or at least hook me up with free food. But I’m awful and awkward at networking and self-promotion, plus I was too focused on enjoying the sandwich to think about much else, so I panicked and said, “uhhhhhhh, the meat is really good!”

It is, though.