This weekend, while you were busy being a rockstar in Louisville and our parents were out bearing witness to the event, the Boyfriend and I were in Jersey in our childhood home, to take care of our four-legged, red-headed stepbrother. As you know, he's been suffering a bit from the effects of old age--namely, arthritis in his furry hips, and various gastrointestinal problems about which I won't go into details...
The original plan was to bring the old boy to NYC for the weekend but being that he's been having so many issues lately, we were worried that the change in scenery might be a little too jarring for him. That, and our downstairs neighbors might just take a hammer to the ceiling what with all the barking he's been doing to ask for help standing up. Poor guy. So, off to Jersey we went.
Which wasn't such a bad deal, really. Since I have been talking forever about taking the Boyfriend to Hoagie Haven, a Princeton institution which many (drunk and sober alike) college students will tell you makes the world's best hoagie sandwiches. And I tend to agree. I have yet to find a place in NYC that makes them better. Take that, jersey haters. Oh sure, any corner deli has "hero" rolls and most of the fixins. But I think I've tapped into a vast conspiracy in which every time I ask for oil and vinegar on my sandwich, in a vain attempt to recreate the hoagie experience, the sandwich guy nods (slightly annoyed, perhaps?), and then COMPLETELY IGNORES MY REQUEST. Seriously, no joke. this happens every time. Regardless, I'm sure it would not compare with the Hoagie Haven creations. Sure, there are hoagies all over NJ (Tastee subs, anyone?) but this is really the pinnacle.
We drove down to Princeton on Saturday, an unseasonably warm and sunny day, with visions of italian meats dancing in our stomachs. At 3pm, the line of people was out the door. While waiting, we plotted our attack. We decided to get two half sandwiches (read: still larger than most regular ones), one hot and one cold. HH makes a great cheesesteak which some people swear by, as well as a fantastic chicken parm on their toasted rolls. We decided to go with an eggplant parm and a number 1: salami, ham, capicola, provolone, with everything.
I listened to the two young guys behind us discuss the finer points of the menu, finally ordering the "Heart Stop", an egg, bacon and cheesteak sandwich. Holy crap. There's also, for the adventurous or masochistic, "The Phat Lady", a cheesesteak piled with french fries and mozzarella sticks. On the sandwich. As I rattled off the toppings for our Number 1, "Mustard, Mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers, oil, vinegar, spices," I heard from somewhere down the line, "The Sanchez. Extra dirty, please." Apparently what can get you arrested in some states, will send the serious faced, orange shirted men behind the counter scurrying gracefully to slice into another fresh, crusty roll, piling it high with fried chicken and secret sauce. The familiar refrain of "saltpeppaketchup?" in response to an order of fries floated out across the small room as we paid our measly $8 for two hefty sandwiches and a bottle of water, and headed to a bench in the sun.
I'll be honest, after all the hyping, and the 40 minute drive, I was a little nervous that the Boyfriend would conclude this was all a big letdown. But oh no. Two bites in we were both nodding our head with a furrowed brow, holding it out at arms length to assess the expert construction of flavorful layers between the folds of bread. The eggplant parm was good, though not as good as the chicken parm, so next time I'll stick with that. But it was crispy, hot, and gooey with cheese, just how I like it. I inexplicably decided it needed lettuce this time around, which was totally unneccessary--Forgive me, I'm out of practice.
The Number 1 was outstanding and everything I had hoped for. The bread was fresh and fluffy inside, with a crusty outside, the meat and cheese were piled on to the perfect height--not too hard to get your mouth around, not too skimpy to be overwhelmed by the bread. The capicola gave it a peppery spice, and the mayo mingled with the mustard, lending a creamy foil to the bite of the vinegar and peppers. And the shredded lettuce (the ONLY way to put lettuce on a hoagie, as far as I'm concerned) topped it all off with a cool crunch.
Satisfied and heartened to see my rosy colored glasses had turned out to be accurate, we took a stroll through lovely sun-dappled Princeton, stopping off at Small World Coffee, the site of much loitering in my high school days, which was as packed as ever. I saw a boy, about 15 or so, order a lemon-lime Italian soda and as he plunked down bills for his date's hot chocolate, I found myself tumbling through a time warp to a place where my friends and I would stand freezing outside on the concrete steps, stamping our feet, drinking sodas or hot chocolate, sucking down cigarettes*, pushing each other around, flirting and laughing, and hiding from any teachers possibly lurking nearby. The Boyfriend and I sat inside and talked over cups of cappuccino and espresso, a sign that I have grown up a bit since those days.
Okay, maybe there was a little flirting there too. Some things never change.
If we're lucky, there will always be an old orange dog, a hot cup of coffee, a group of teenagers on the stoop, and the best damn hoagie you've ever tasted.
*Not me, Mom...