For more than a century, delis in New York have been serving up enormous sandwiches filled with Italian meats. But it wasn't until the 1930s that a food critic at the New York Tribune named Clementine Paddleford noticed the trend and quipped that it would take a hero to finish such a thing. Since then the term "hero" sandwich has evolved to include anything on an oblong bun, generally with an Italian flavor. But mostly its just a big-ass sandwich.
Tat doesn't call it a hero, but no coward would tackle this sandwich.
As a menu item its rare to find "hero" here on the left coast, but we have plenty of delis and cafes serving up ginormous, meat-packed sandwiches that take a lion's heart to completely consume. Here are this city's top five versions:5: The word "hero" as a reference to sandwiches is so far from the Pacific Northwest vernacular that the teenager working behind the counter at Tat's Deli (159 Yesler Way, 264-8287, PIONEER SQUARE) said only "we don't make that?" when I asked about a hero. No matter, Tat's menu, hanging above the deli's far nicer digs around the corner from its old location, is filled with sandwiches that fit the hugeness requirement that makes a hero.
Even the "small" eight-inch version of Tat's Grinder, stuffed with meat, cheese, peppers, more meat, dressing, and another layer of meat, takes a fair bit of courage to even start, let alone finish.
4: According to Dave Wilton (pdf), a Po' Boy and a Hero are vernacularly equivalent. Using his logic, coming in number four on the list of the city's best heroes is Marcela's Creole Cookery (106 James St., 223-0042, PIONEER SQUARE.) Marcella's Po' Boy's are simple--fried meat, lettuce, tomato, and a healthy dose of mayo. There is no scenario under which blending fried oysters and mayonnaise and putting it on an oblong bun isn't going to be one of the greatest things ever to touch your taste buds.
3: The tricky thing about the hero sandwich genre is that you're at the mercy of the sandwich maker when it comes to toppings. Sure you can ask that a few ingredients be held or added. But inevitably the deli won't have your favorite peppers or the maker will overdo it on the vinegar, and there's just nothing you can do about it. If
you're finicky about your heroes (subs, grinders, hoagies, whatever you call it) Metropolitan Market (various Puget Sound locations) has part of its prepared foods case filled with sub/hero skeletons. You can buy a hoagie with turkey and provolone, for instance. Then you can traipse over to the salad bar and pick up any fixins your heart desires. If you don't think a sandwich is complete without mushrooms, lettuce, and canned beets, Metropolitan Market can oblige.
Paseo's sandwich takes serious courage.
2: It's possible that the pork-shoulder aioli sandwich for which people wait in line for up to an hour at Paseo (4225 Fremont Ave. N., 545-7440, FREMONT) doesn't technically fall into the "hero" category. But then again, it's served on tubular bread and is so enormous it takes someone with the courage of Russell Crowe in a toga to even attempt full consumption.
1: Cascade Specialty Market (422 Yale Ave. N., 624-9984, SOUTH LAKE UNION) is one of the few eateries in Seattle that lists a hero by name on its menu. Ironically, it's also the least "hero"-esque of the sandwiches. You can get it on any of the four-year-old deli's breads. At the recommendation of a friend I go with focaccia. Onto the square bread goes several standard sandwich ingredients: salami, tomatoes, and provolone. But what makes this the best hero in the city is the hot coppa--cured pork with cayenne. The whole thing is first grilled open faced then pressed together to create Cascade's near-perfect reimagining of the hero.