Sal, Kris, & Charlie's Deli (33-12 23rd Ave., Astoria)
Open from 5am to 8pm daily (closes at 3pm on Sundays)
After reading some mixed reviews on the self-proclaimed Sandwich King of Astoria, what was I to do besides visit and draw my own verdict. Whatever the reason, this sandwich shop provokes much heated debate. Is it really the very best sandwich, or simply just a great deal?
Of everything I have read about this little deli isolated on the middle of 23rd Avenue, most accounts leave out what I believe to be one of its premiere characteristics: the energy (okay, so maybe I have been grabbing sandwiches here for several years). If you're a grubber who just wants a sandwich, and that's the only factor of importance, then sure... you might be equally or better satisfied to grab a hoagie and some cold cuts elsewhere. As for me, half the joy of savoring a sandwich from Sal, Kris, & Charlie's is the entire experience... beginning with purchasing it in the deli itself.
On my recent visit with Travis Barr (Sunday Morning Mimosa), a group of firefighters stood outside happily tearing into their enormous heroes. Inside the shop, we had to squeeze our way past a line of nearly twenty hungry locals, all shouting instructions to their chosen sandwich maker.
If you're a first time visitor, it may all seem like unnecessary fuss. But after a few visits, you, too, will begin to develop your own finicky preferences. One of the guys behind the counter may be known for being a little more generous with the meats, one is better at layering just the right amount of sweet red peppers, and yet another one may cut the sandwich in a particular way you prefer. It's hilarious to watch a customer who's been waiting for twenty minutes approach the counter, only to let someone behind him skip ahead while waiting for the deli attendant of choice to become available.
What's not to love about a deli that allows a grown man to wait to have his sandwich prepared just the right way, cut at the preferred diagonal, or even quartered, if that's his fancy. And once you adopt your own favorite sub maker, you can almost taste that loyalty in the sandwich.
What's my secret tip? Ask for the bread to be "scooped"... these puppies are colossal, and besides removing some of the excess white bread and carbs, "scooping" makes it easier to actually take a bite, and concentrates the flavors into simply the fillings you've chosen, with just the golden bread crust.
For $7, we shared their most famous sandwich, The Bomb. A gargantuan sub with literally every meat and topping, one was more than enough to satisfy two growing boys. I've tried to play Where's Waldo with this image a dozen times or more, and the best ingredient list we can deduce from everything we tasted is ham, turkey, salami, pepperoni, and mortadella, with muenster, american, & swiss cheeses, sweet red and green peppers, pickles, shredded lettuce, onion, tomatoes, mayonnaise, oil & vinegar, and salt & pepper.
Maybe it's the little kid in me who once loved those soft drink suicides, a combination of every beverage from the soda fountain. Maybe it's the grown man who hates to choose from an extensive list of sandwiches when too many sound too delicious, so why not just get them all? Whatever it is, Travis and I both agreed that this sandwich is absolutely delicious. Every bite tasted like a different sandwich, with a different flavor profile combining every time. You can argue that it's simply Boar's Head meat on bread from a bakery down the street, but I'm telling you, this sandwich is ridiculously tasty.
Another hint? Grab an Orangina, take the sandwich with you, and head just a few more blocks down the street to Astoria Park for an absolutely incredible afternoon. From the sunbathers under the Hell's Gate Bridge, to the stunning views of Manhattan, to the athletes burning off their sandwiches on the track, there's nothing better than sitting outside with a wonderful friend, enjoying a sandwich loaded full of delicious, fresh flavors. To those naysayers who frown on one of my favorite sandwich shops, I say, "fantastic... that's just a wee bit shorter line at the counter for me!"