New Orleans has muffalettas. Providence has grinders. Proust has madeleines. For those of us from northern New Jersey, we have something better: the sloppy joe. Just thinking about that taste of the Garden State makes me smile and want to sing Springsteen lyrics.
No, it’s not ground beef and barbecue sauce in a bun. I remember the first time I had one of those and it simply wasn’t right. The real sloppy is a triple-decker sandwich with meat, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw. The bread is usually unseeded rye. It’s messy but still controllable. Done right, it as an absolutely delicious sandwich, a balanced mixture of sharp cheese and creamy dressing. The bread holds up to the moisture and the slaw provides an appropriate degree of crunch.
I wasn’t in double digits when I had my first sloppy – several of the delis in the Madison, Chatham and Livingston area made them. Meat choices are ham, roast beef or turkey. I have always been flexible about the meat. It is good to mix things up, just as it is always exciting to try a different deli’s sloppy. Not all delis make them and not all do them well.
If you ever find yourself talking with a denizen of Morris, Essex or Bergen county and you want to go deep, ask about their favorite sloppy. A genuine long-term Jersey denizen will always have a few favorites. I give a completely unsolicited and uncompensated nod to the Hickory Tree Delicatessen in Chatham Township. They usually have some pre-made – and if you are looking for a treat, call ahead and order the platter.
What exit indeed.