Where I grew up, where I live now, and pretty much where a lot of you live, a sloppy Joe sandwich is a nostalgic sandwich made of sauteed ground beef, celery, onion and a sweet/savory ketchup sauce served on a cottony, soft white roll. For the most part, moms and working-moms everywhere have their mother's or grandmother's recipe tucked away in their recipe box, where it will remain unchanged until they pass it along to their children and grandchildren as well. You can find my family's version, ~ School's Out: Time for the Good Ole' Sloppy Joe ~ (pictured below) in Categories 2, 10, 19, 20 or 22!
This sandwich dates back into the 1940's, during World War II, when people were trying hard to cut expenses and keep their families fed. Inexpensive ground beef was well-suited to being mixed with other ingredients "to stretch it", so it would feed more people. Women had been cooking with ground meat since the early 1900's, making things like patties, meatballs and meatloaves, so it is easy to envision how this sloppy sandwich evolved. So, how did this sandwich come to be named Joe? I like this particular explanation the best: During the depression, "ordinary Joe's" walked the streets of towns and cities everywhere in search of a job. Kind-hearted restaurant owners, chefs, and even family cooks, would offer them this loose, sloppy, tasty, satisfying, warm and comforting sandwich made of inexpensive ground meat for little or no money, hence the name: sloppy Joe's!
Imagine my surprise and shock when I learned first hand there is an entirely different sandwich that also goes by the name of sloppy Joe. It happened to me back in the early '80's. Along for the ride on one of Joe's business trips, he and I found ourselves lunching in a delicatessen on Long Island. On the menu was an entire list of sloppy Joe sandwiches, or just "Joe's" as they offhandedly referred to them. Shut my mouth wide open!?! We of course cornered our waiter and quizzed him on his sloppy Joe knowledge. He smiled politely and understandingly, then kindly gave us his matter-of-fact explanation (because this was obviously not the first time he had been asked this question):
In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area (New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, New York-Pennsylvania) a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds. It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island. FYI: Thousand Island is a variation of Russian Dressing and the two can be used interchangeably in almost any application. Cole slaw is usually put directly on the sandwich, which makes it very, very sloppy indeed, but I like to serve it to the side so folks can make their own choice. This photo is of a sandwich freshly assembled and ready to eat. I, however, prefer to wrap my sandwiches in foil and bake them just long enough to heat them through and melt the cheese (pictured at the top and bottom of this post)!
So, how did this "other" version of the sloppy Joe come to be named Joe? This sloppy Joe was named after a sandwich served at Joe's Bar & Eatery in Old Havana, Cuba. FYI: this was an eatery made famous by Earnest Hemmingway who frequented it often. In 1934, Robert Sweeney, a former mayor of Maplewood, NJ, visited Joe's B&E and ate a triple-decker sandwich that he liked so much he asked a friend at the Town Hall Deli in South Orange, NJ, to recreate. The rest is history, and as for the rest of the story: there seem to be as many versions of this sandwich as their are recipes for the above-mentioned ground meat sandwich. The original Town Hall Deli in South Orange NJ, which first opened its doors in 1927, is known and credited as "the birthplace of the sloppy Joe sandwich". The owner of THD was kind enough to give me permission to post this picture of their most popular Joe sandwich and I can't thank Tony enough. "The Favorite" is made with roast beef and turkey (roasted on the premises), Swiss cheese, cole slaw and their family's top-secret recipe for Russian dressing! Since I have lots of family in NJ, I'm planning to take Tony up on his offer to pay them a visit one of these days and do an entire blog post just about his deli... yummo!!!
So, what did Joe and I actually eat that day for lunch in that Long Island delicatessen? It was listed as a "No. 5 Joe": pastrami, turkey, ham and swiss on pumpernickel and rye breads slathered with Thousand Island dressing. So, how was the No. 5 Joe? How does, "as amazing as a sandwich can be" sound? I hope you'll enjoy my version of how to make this very memorable "Joe" sandwich at home!
Mel's "No. 5 Deli-Joe" w/Thousand Island Slaw
~ Step 1. The only thing I didn't like about the original sandwich was: the dressing on the sandwich didn't match the dressing on the cole slaw. Call me picky, but if I'm mixing "two creamy's" together on one plate, I want them to taste similar or at least complement each other, so I came up with this!
For every 2 sandwiches you are making:
2 cups store-bought, bagged, cole slaw mix, the best available
1/4 cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons bottled Thousand Island salad dressing, the best available
Using a rubber spatula, combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate while preparing the sandwiches according to the following directions:
~ Step 2. Make a trip to the best deli counter you can find. No matter what deli meat you are purchasing (and feel free to get creative and substitute your favorites for those I am using), politely as the deli person to slice the meat and cheese as thinly as possible, but not so thin that it falls apart. Follow by asking him/her to please take the time to stack it neatly, which helps at assembly time!
For every 2 sandwiches you are making:
6 slices Pepperidge Farm, Deli-Swirl, Rye & Pump bread, or your favorite brand
16 thin slices pastrami
16 thin slices turkey breast
4 thin slices deluxe ham
16 thin slices Swiss cheese
4 ounces butter (8 tablespoons, or 4 tablespoons per sandwich)
bottled Thousand Island salad dressing, the best available
~ Step 3. For each sandwich you are making: In a 12" nonstick skillet melt 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Add 3 slices of bread, increase heat to medium-high to grill bread until golden brown, about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side, turning only once.
Note: Before grilling bread for the next sandwich, use a few paper towels to wipe the skillet clean.
~ Step 4. I like to transfer my grilled bread slices to a surface that has been lined with 2-3 layers of paper towels. Begin the layering process by placing 2 slices of Swiss cheese on one slice of bread, followed by:
2 slices of pastrami, 4 slices turkey breast, 1 slice ham, 2 slices pastrami, 2 slices Swiss cheese and top with a second slice of bread.
On top of the bread, repeat the layering process again with:
2 slices Swiss cheese, 2 slices pastrami, 4 slices turkey breast, 1 slice ham, 2 slices pastrami, 2 slices Swiss cheese and top with the third and last slice of grilled bread.
Secure the sandwich with 4 wooden sandwich picks or ordinary toothpicks.
~ Step 5. Using a sharp, serrated bread knife, gently slice each sandwich in half, without applying any pressure from your fingertips or palm to the top of the sandwich, meaning: slice without pressing down. Wrap each sandwich, or each half a sandwich, in aluminum foil. Sandwiches can now be set aside for up to an hour before baking and serving.
~ Step 6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place wrapped sandwiches on center rack of oven and bake until the cheese is melted and sandwiches are heated through, about 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately with Thousand Island dressing for dipping, drizzling or slathering, along with the Thousand Island slaw to the side... and don't forget the pickles!
Another Sloppy Joe? There is one? You Betcha!: Recipe yields instructions to make 2 sandwiches. Each sandwich is very hearty and will easily feed 2 people. Recipe yields 2-4 servings.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula; 12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 8 wooden sandwich picks; serrated bread knife; aluminum foil
Cook's Note: These sandwiches are fantastic to take to a Summer picnic or a Fall tailgate. Wrap them in aluminum foil as directed above and reheat them on the upper rack of any grill, just until the cheese melts!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)
(Photo of the Town Hall Deli's "The Favorite" Joe, courtesy of Town Hall Deli/Copyright THEIRS)