It was my intention to celebrate the sandwich when I started this column early last year by finding as many tasty examples as possible. The emphasis was on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I have done this weekly, and periodically presented round-ups of the ones I consider best.
Jersey’s most beloved meat — it rarely travels outside the state — is Taylor ham, known more properly as Taylor Pork Roll. Composed of minced and smoked pork scraps, something like Spam, the product was invented by Senator John Taylor in Hamilton Square, New Jersey in 1856. However, he didn’t begin to manufacture it in significant quantities until 1888, when he trademarked the name Taylor’s Prepared Ham. But he was stymied by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which disqualified the product as actual ham, and hence the term “pork roll” was substituted.
The most popular use of the pork product, which is pink, somewhat mottled, and formed into a cylinder, is in a breakfast sandwich on a round roll with egg and cheese, sometimes dressed with ketchup. A friend who grew up in Red Bank, New Jersey in the late 70s and early 80s reports that she was often given the sandwich as a school breakfast. Alas, few places in New York City serve them. As once said on South Park, “It’s a Jersey thing.”
But you don’t have to enjoy it as a breakfast sandwich to thoroughly enjoy it. As the focus of a simple sandwich, it is unrivaled (in Jersey, at least). So I went recently to White Mana, the flying saucer of a diner that was once a kiosk at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, where it was known as the Diner of the Future. Now, in battered shape, it sits forlornly among a tangle of highway interchanges in an obscure corner of Jersey City (though you can easily walk there from the Journal Square PATH station).
At White Mana, you can get a regular boiled ham sandwich or a Taylor ham sandwich, with or without cheese. I chose the Taylor option with cheese ($4.20), and the fry cook, standing in the kitchen inside the circular lunch counter, immediately slapped several slices of pork roll on the griddle, which immediately began to sputter and sizzle. He toasted two pieces of white bread till almost blackened, the put the ham on one toasted slice, some American cheese on top, and slapped the other slice of toast on top of that.
The cheese had melted slightly by the time I took the first bite. The sandwich was salty and porky, and the bread added a dark wheat flavor. Utterly wonderful! And the Taylor ham was the center of the action, tasting somewhere between boiled ham and Spam. Where can I find this, I wondered, on this side of the Hudson? 470 Tonnele Ave, between Manhattan and Reserve avenues, Jersey City Heights