A ham and cheese sandwich? Oh, yum. Flaccid pale pink mystery meat and plastic Swiss on soggy bread slathered with cheap mustard. Be still, my palate.
But then, on the other hand, there's the "smoked ham and cheese" sold out of Beach Street Sandwiches' big yellow truck on the streets of Madison, Guilford, and New Haven in central shorefront Connecticut. I put quotation marks around the name because this iteration of the thing is both less and a whole lot more than what you'd expect. It's less because it isn't made with actual ham, but with uncured pork butt.
That pork butt, happily, is slow-smoked over chile-infused woodchips from old Tabasco barrels, then roasted with pickled green apples and pulled into savory shreds. Next it's piled on a six-inch hero roll that's been slathered with garlic butter and quickly grilled, then topped with slabs of provolone and presented for your delectation. And delectate it you will, unless you actually like mystery meat. It's a little salty, a little spicy, a little garlicky, and very meaty — the kind of sandwich that deserves to be eaten with two hands.
Beach Street is run by Gregory McCarty, formerly a Manhattan-based chef (his résumé includes stints at Nobu and Jean Georges), and freelance food writer Sara Pepitone. McCarty got tired of the serious-food grind, he says, and realized that what he really liked to eat was a good sandwich. Beach Street offers three or more varieties every day, with the smoked ham-and-cheese almost always available.
Other possibilities include an Asian vegetarian edition (shredded carrot and cabbage kimchi with herb salad), a lobster salad roll, and a present-seasonally-appropriate roast turkey with cranberry sauce and homemade stuffing on cranberry multigrain bread. There's also always a pot of soup going; zucchini with apple and mint, corn and crab bisque, seafood gazpacho, or the like. McCarty and Pepitone buy from local producers and purveyors whenever possible, and chat about food-related happenings on the Beach Street Sandwiches website.
The smoked ham and cheese sandwich costs $8, including a small bag of Fritos on the side. "My grandmother used to make me ham and cheese sandwiches when I was growing up," says McCarty, "and she always gave me a Fritos with it. This is my tribute to her."
For Beach Street Sandwiches locations, check their website or follow them on Twitter.