[Pigging by Wilfrid: March 15, 2010]
When I planned this piece, it was going to be called "A Tale of Two Sandwiches." But the pile of sandwiches just grew and grew.
A tiny storefront space on First Avenue, This Little Piggy looks like it's been there forever. All gnarled dark wood, a hefty wooden bar, a short and terse menu. I had neglected to look closely at the address, and in fact stopped by Led Zeppole, the dessert place on 14th Street, to check directions. This Little Piggy is a sibling, you see, of both Led Zeppole and the scary Artichoke Basilles (I don't want artichoke dip on my pizza). I did benefit from my ignorance, as a charming LZ server confided that Piggy served an off-menu sandwich called The Fuggedaboutit and encouraged me to try it.
As it happens, with help from my junior assistant (aged nine and hungry), I was set on trying most of the menu anyway. It comes down to this: beef sandwiches four ways. "This Way" - au jus with Cheese Wiz; "That Way" with gravy and mozzarella; and pastrami with coleslaw. Oh, and the secret way, The Fuggedaboutit, which is essentially the first way but also stuffed with French fries. Substantial.
Skipping "That Way," I emerged with three sandwiches and without $21. I have to say, seeing the size of these monsters, that seemed an eminently fair price. Six people could have dined off my haul. I could have picked up macaroni or potato salad too, or a knish, and there was a special of beef stew (note - there's a bit of counter space, but really almost nowhere to sit; plan to take out).
As a veteran of Katz 's, I didn't have high hopes for the pastrami. In fact it was very good - slightly milder in flavor than some, but impeccably tender. Coleslaw in addition to mustard did make it sloppy, but sloppiness seems to be part of This Little Piggy's signature. I could eat this again.
It was a quick cab ride from picking up the sandwiches to eating them - and like I said, there's not much space to eat them on the spot - and it really only takes ten minutes for the juices to really sink into the bread. Result: although it's a sturdy enough roll, it gets wet pretty quickly. I don't know how you avoid that when you are slathering the beef with jus and Cheese Wiz. It was a pleasant mess, though (early reports had mentioned over-salted meat, but that was not a problem here).
I had thought The Fuggedaboutit was described as a combo of the "This Way" and "That Way," but it seemed all "This Way" to me. The interposed French fries added weight and texture - their crunchiness just about survived immersion. My junior assistant only managed half of this monster, and I can't blame her. Nobody is getting out of here hungry.
And so to Brooklyn, where the quirks of Mile End and Henry Public, a few minutes walk apart, made a single trip unfeasible. The main attraction at the former - the smoked meat - is served from noon and runs out by 4pm (sometimes earlier). Henry Public doesn't open before 5pm. I had to make two hits on the district. Either that or drink in Montero for several hours (okay, not a bad idea).
Despite horror stories of lines and food running out, Mile End wasn't too packed on a pleasant morning. I snagged a counter seat immediately, which left me yearning for the juicy smoked turkey being carved right in front of me. Not to mention the tasty-looking onion buns in which the house-made salami is served. But I was on smoked meat duty.
I have eaten smoked meat in Montreal, and even at the famous Schwartz's deli, but that must be more than ten years ago. So I defer to the experts. The cutter was busy, when not slicing turkey, trimming the fat carefully from the smoked briskets. Perhaps one can request the sandwich "juicy like Lucy," but the natural default seems to be lean. The smokiness is pronounced. As for my cut, I think I was unlucky. Most reports have emphasized the tenderness of the meat - but mine was chewy. Very chewy. As in, still chewing after paying the check chewy. Judging by the sighs of delight around me, I got a leathery bit. A side of spiky red cabbage slaw with plenty of caraway was a good accompaniment.
Late afternoon, I made the second expedition, heading along Atlantic Avenue to Henry Public, a new bar cunningly designed to look like a nineteenth century saloon (see Rye restaurant). I planned on an early supper, and then a digestif or two at the beautiful Montero's - a genuinely old bar - just down the street.
Henry Public has bought into the current retro fashion in a big way. It looks like an eel pie shop from London's East End - marble bar, marble tables, black-aproned staff. Jazz is a giveaway, as is the framed portrait of Frederick Douglass. As indeed is the fashionable cocktail list - I liked the Brooklyn Ferry, a kind of absinthe-rinsed Manhattan (and no, Betsy Andrews of the Times, this place does not feel "like Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn circa 1848"; it feels precisely like a piece of the ersatz history relished by young diners in Brooklyn circa 2010, egg flips notwithstanding).
The menu is simple and appealing enough. Essentially there are oysters, then there are sandwiches, then there are cheeses. I couldn't resist some very good house-smoked almonds, but I was there for the turkey leg.
A turkey sandwich on a Pullman loaf might seem a prescription for dry blandness. The kitchen here, however, not only eschews breast in favor of dark leg meat; it braises the meat long and slow in milk (organic milk, of course, 1848 be damned). Moistness prevails, and there's some gravy too. Not unlike the meatloaf sandwich at Rye, fried onions get in the way and need to be removed. Excellent pickles, but I wasn't entirely convinced by the bread - thickly sliced and a little overwhelming. Wash it down with a good choice of tap beers - St Lawrence Pale Ale, Old Speckled Hen, something or other from Six Points - that kind of drill.
Henry Public is popular. It was filling up comfortably by seven o'clock, mainly young people with designs on the cocktail list. Those of us who will accept bottles of Bud in exchange for refined conversation and an authentically aged bar will wisely repair to Montero's. Opened in 1947, and still owned by the Montero family, this bar served workers from the shipyards when there were shipyards at the end of the road. It has been spruced up in the last year or so - a flat screen TV added - but it is still crammed with marine memorabilia. Model boats. Lighthouses. Lifebelts. Teddy bears.
The jukebox is excellent, the customers eloquent if well-refreshed, and the entire place a haven. if you had to guess which of these places had a website...