New York City celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda has taken his talents to Citi Field. Last night the meat master debuted a filet mignon steak sandwich stand at a game between the New York Mets and Miami Marlins. The sandwich features hand-cut 100% black angus seared filet mignon, Monterey jack cheese, sweet caramelized onions, and is served with a secret au jus on a custom-made and toasted French baguette.
I want to talk about something from the mission statement. Specifically, I want to talk about the first sentence: I believe sandwiches do not get what they deserve. Sadly, that remains as true today as it was when I wrote it. The above sandwich is a Big Deal. It comes from a famous chef, it sells for $15, the au jus is a secret, and it’s stuffed with filet mignon. Now, I haven’t eaten this sandwich. I don’t know when I’ll next get to Citi Field, so I’m not sure I’ll ever eat it. But I’ll tell you this: I bet this sandwich doesn’t rate much higher than “not bad.”
Pat LaFrieda probably loves sandwiches. I have no reason to doubt that. But in the mission statement I didn’t say that sandwiches don’t get the love they deserve, I said they don’t get the respect and study the deserve. Mr. LaFrieda may love sandwiches, but he does not respect them. I am hesitant to cast aspersions on another sandwich enthusiast, but based on the above sandwich that conclusion is inescapable. This sandwich is a conceptual failure, it is the ugly product of a severe misunderstanding, and it is most assuredly not the work of someone who understands sandwiches.
This is a cheesesteak sandwich. It’s steak, cheese, onions, on bread. Separate from the steak sandwich, the cheesesteak is its own category. It has its own reason for being, and that reason doesn’t really take into account filet mignon. The idea behind a cheesesteak sandwich is that you can cover for using dry, low qualify beef by covering it in cheese. The beef you’re using is going to lack moisture and it’s going to lack richness, so you pile some cheese on top to compensate. The two things work together, and you have a successful sandwich. That’s how sandwiches work. If you’re making a sandwich with something as nice as filet mignon, you don’t need the cheese. Now maybe, maybe there’s a play to be made here in terms of turning one thing up (rich, moist steak) and another down (dry, aged cheese.) But that’s not what’s going on here. Pat LaFrieda, for reasons that surely escape me, figured the best play here was Monterey jack.
A well respected associate and I were discussing this sandwich, and I think he covered the issue with the cheese quite well:
“Grocery-store cheese (in other words, that which you find hanging on the wall), I think, is for fixing something. It has a noble purpose, yes, but that purpose is a band-aid. It’s what you keep around when you take your burgers off the grill and realize they’re too dry. But if your meal is already good … I mean, it’s like someone wheeling in Anchorman on a TV cart into the movie theater when you’re trying to watch goddamn Raging Bull. It’s distracting, and the entire experience is reduced to what you just added.
According to the article, it’s a three-inning wait to get your hands on this sandwich. Three innings, $15, and your entire experience is reduced to Monterey jack cheese. I don’t know what kind of world in which that kind of thing happens, but it isn’t a world where sandwiches get what they deserve.