I have eaten many great sandwiches. Just the other day, I trudged through the swampy Manhattan heat to try the No. 7 Sub Shop for the first time — I know, late to the party, but whatever — where I ordered the Filet-o-Fish. We have previously rhapsodized about said boutique sub shop’s broccoli sandwich, and when I arrived at the counter, my first inclination was to order this. Or the tofu sub, or something less heavy-sounding given the brutally bad air quality and unrelenting heat. But there it was: Filet-o-Fish. So obviously a winking nod to the lowbrow McDonald’s sandwich, especially after a glance at the ingredients, which included a slice of American cheese. I asked the dude behind the counter what he thought, and he pointed behind him and said, “I have one waiting for me right there.” Sold.
I ordered it, then struggled through the sultry heat back to my office, where I unwrapped this beautiful sandwich and took a bite. My first thought, given the sweat beads still hanging on my brow, was that I felt like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: “It’s so hot. The Filet-o-Fish was a bad choice!” And just as Mr. Burgundy continued to chug, I polished off that sandwich without remorse. Should I have eaten a fried fish sandwich with cheese on a 100-degree day? Probably not. Which made it all the better.
Flashback to my college days, living in a ratty group house on the border between Washington DC and Maryland, in the strip-mall-laden hamlet known as Friendship Heights. The food options in this ersatz hood were limited, and the go-to spot within walking distance for me and my housemates was an oddly named deli-ish place called Booeymonger. It was the second location in this chain that started in Georgetown, and which has since grown to a total of four locations. But back then, all I cared about was one thing that Booeymonger had to offer: The Manhattan.
On paper, the Manhattan doesn’t sound that delectable: grilled roast beef topped with spinach, bacon and cheddar cheese on a baguette “with a touch of house dressing.” Most importantly, it was served warm. (An aside: I remember this being served on a poppy seed bun, but I’m guessing that my wires are crossed and I’m getting this confused with an Arby’s roast beef sandwich.) But whenever a looming final was giving me angst, or a girl had broken my heart, or I’d read some poem by Baudelaire that had left me maudlin, I would take a brisk walk across Wisconsin Avenue to pick up this roast beef sandwich and all seemed right with the world.
A bite into this Booeymonger sandwich yielded immense gustatory pleasures: The cheese melting into the lean roast beef, the fresh spinach fighting admirably to remind the eater that vegetables exist, the bread alternately crunchy or chewy and moist, depending on how much of the juice from the meat or the sauce had infiltrated. Some sandwiches merely sate hunger; the Booeymonger Manhattan righted my existential ship.
Is it still as good today? I wonder, but then I almost don’t want to know. I often have this discussion with gracefully aging friends about going to see live bands: Should I check out a reunited Pavement or Tribe Called Quest if I saw them in their prime, before the band members hated each other and fought over money or women or publishing rights — if I saw them when it was just the music that mattered? Or should I go to reunion shows for nostalgia’s sake, to remind me of how much I loved their music, even if they are now onstage merely because they need a buck or nothing better came along or whatever. I almost always avoid these shows, and I will probably never eat another Booeymonger roast beef sandwich again. Why mess with a cherished memory? But watch out, Filet-o-Fish: As soon as it cools down out there, I’m coming for you.
What are your favorite sandwich memories? Reflect and repent in the comments.