This is the New York version of the Philadelphia Cheese Steak but hyper-local: I’ve read more than once that it is common in Uptown (Manhattan) and the Bronx but little known elsewhere in the City. I believe this: I don’t really remember seeing them until we moved into this part of the City, and in my neck of the woods every bodega worth its bodega cat churns them out at a good clip.
These are great park lunch take-out sandwiches, albeit they can be a little greasy and messy, but you can also make your own easily enough. This makes two “heroes” (subs, hoagies, whatever you want to call them.)
2 hero rolls, preferably toasted
A little oil
1 onion, the size will depend on how onion-y you want your hero to be, diced small
Garlic, same as the onions, will depend on taste, 2 or 3 cloves, minced
1 lb. ground beef
4 slices of good old-fashioned American cheese product, like Kraft singles
Sliced tomato (optional)
Shredded lettuce (optional)
In a skillet, sauté the garlic and the onion, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and break it up, and cook for a few minutes, maybe 7. Add the 4 Kraft singles over the beef and keep cooking, stirring the melting cheese product so this all comes together. Slice the two hero rolls lengthwise and fill with the mixture. You’ll probably overfill but that is a feature, not a bug. You can add the optional toppings. I find personally that they’re superfluous but if you’re a sandwich maximalist go for it. For maximum bodega realness, wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil. Open one end and start eating from there. The bodega will no doubt provide lots of napkins. Serve with watery American beer, like a Budweiser tall boy. If consuming in a park, put the tall boy in a small paper bag but I think public drinking is one of the several dozen “quality of life” offenses that are no longer enforced. If you get the tall boy at the bodega the bag and a straw will come automatically as part of the package.
A note to visitors: should you come to New York, the home of the chopped cheese, to try this, there is a good chance that the bodega chef will be Latino, probably from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. If you don’t order your chopped cheese in Spanish make clear that you don’t want any mayonnaise on it. You may have to emphasize this more than once. There is a well-founded assumption that non-Latinos enjoy mayonnaise on everything and lots of it and they’re not wrong: I’ve seen tons of people asking for extra mayonnaise on all kinds of orders, which is more than a little queasy-making. On my earliest chopped cheese forays I got mayo on a couple of mine and nothing is more inedible. Caveat emptor. If you see the grill person reaching for the mayo spackling knife while holding the roll in their hand intervene before disaster strikes. Remember: if you see something say something.