New Jersey

The Hoboken Sandwich

Yesterday I reviewed some of the best sandwiches in Asheville. But once upon a time, I did a post on what is still my favorite sandwich. A sandwich I’m extremely sentimental about. I’m reposting it here in an effort to collect all of my old blog posts in one place. This piece first ran May 29, 2012.


Prosciutto and mozzarella in a Hoboken bread. Photo by Silby.

Prosciutto and mozzarella in a Hoboken bread. Photo by Silby.

You were probably comatose last week if you didn’t come across Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech. Every website under the sun linked to it.

One part that caught my ear was this bit where Gaiman revealed himself to be—at least to my mind—a sandwicheer:

“We're in a transitional world right now, if you're in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I've talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.”

Buying sandwiches, Neil?

His reference reminded me of the late Warren Zevon’s last-ever appearance on David Letterman’s show in 2002. Zevon was dying of cancer when he  suggested that the key to a good life is remembering to enjoy every sandwich. When he died, his friends did a tribute album with that very name.

Sandwicheers are guys who love themselves a good sandwich and figure out ways to work discussion of said sandwiches into commencement speeches and poignant TV appearances.

I know these guys. I had one for a roommate once. And I’d like to think that I’m at least an associate member of their club.

Years ago, when I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, I wrote an article about my favorite sandwich, which appeared in The New York Times. I was a freelancer for the newspaper back then, writing each week about fun, weird, quaint things to do in New Jersey for the now-defunct New Jersey section of the Times. 

According to the newspaper’s search engine, I probably wrote about 120 articles for the paper during this period of my life. (Unless I wrote 60 and the paper ran 60 letters of complaint.) 

But one of my most personal pieces was this essay about the prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich that is so popular in the delis there in town. My family and I had a long history with that sandwich stretching back to my childhood.

The article begins:

There was a bitter, if forlorn yet stubborn beauty everywhere you looked in Hoboken.'' So wrote Edward Abbey, the naturalist and writer, who lived in the Mile Square City for a single year in the 60's, or maybe the 70's (he was not clear on the point).

A year is not a long time, but he stayed long enough to sing the praises of the town's 25 bars, only two of which—the Clam Broth House and the Cafe Elysian—survive. In one passage, he says Hoboken is ''too sweet, too pure, too romantic'' to be lumped in with the rest of New Jersey. Sometimes I think he has a point.

For me, the town's magic comes wrapped in wax paper.

I’d reprint the essay in its entirety here, but those stories were all work-for-hire and the Times owns the rights. Boo-hoo-hoo.

As God is my witness, I’ll link to them all one of these days.

If you want to read it, though, you can go here.

Thanks to sandwicheer Jack Silbert for providing the photo.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often, and not just about food. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.


We keep checking in with friends and family who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Everyone agrees New Jersey’s situation sucks. My parents in northern New Jersey have hot water but no power or phone service. They are relying on the kindness of neighbors who have a (“very loud,” Mom says) generator. The local fire department was handing out free dry ice yesterday, which allowed people to freeze or refrigerate food. There’s no flooding where they are, but there are numerous downed trees and damaged homes. The onetime home of some family friends has apparently been squashed flat by trees in the vicinity. My parents have lived in their home more than 40 years and have been around the block before with power outages. But they’re also in their 80s now. This is not an easy thing.

But still, they’re counting their blessings. At least they can visit their neighbors to stay warm and share a hot meal. And since they live at least at the height of the Palisades, the cliffs across from Yonkers, NY, they’re at a higher elevation than New York City and did not not have to contend with a lot of the flooding you see in the images in the news.

The same cannot be said of my former hometown, Hoboken. I lived there almost a decade before getting married and moving to points south. If you saw my story that appeared this week, you might have gleaned that I still have a lot of affection for the place. My friend, former roommate, and sometimes coauthor Jack Silbert still lives in Hoboken. He and I exchanged texts over the last couple of days. He says he’s trying to conserve his battery power so I’ve avoided phoning him directly. Our exchange has run like this. And please, understand that while Jack and I have a jokey relationship to begin with, I was probably trying to inject as much levity as I possibly could in this situation.

That’s as far as we’ve gotten. The news reports as of this morning (Thursday, Nov. 1) say that Hoboken is still 25% underwater. The National Guard has been called in to rescue some residents who were stranded in their buildings. One article reported that the streets smell of gasoline. That’s entirely possible, and completely scary. While Manhattan as access to some of the best brains in the disaster business, the same probably can’t be said the small cities and towns in New Jersey. Residents were already complaining that Hoboken was completely unprepared for the disaster and sent out mixed messages to citizens about whether they should evacuate. I’m no topographer, but it seems to be that the city lies right at sea level. (That link will show you some video of the city and a shot of its proximity to the Hudson River.)

I fully expect that that once Jack gets up and running that he will be posting some images or an account of his experience. You can check them at his website. (In fact,if you like movies, music, etc., you might want to save his RSS to your feeder.) Professionally Jack’s a writer, and the author of, yes, Santa in Space. He’s also such a music geek that as the storm was bearing on him, he was broadcasting this playlist on his internet radio show

Across the river in Manhattan, I have way too many friends to check up on. All I know is what news we’ve been able to get via text messages. One friend, who lives right on 14th Street near the ConEd plant, reports hearing those transformers exploding. Of course, since she didn’t have access to the news or clear line of sight, she didn’t know what she was hearing. (That’s the thing about all these people: they’re living in bubbles, cut off from the news, unaware how bad it is everywhere else.) I haven’t heard from our agent who lives below the 40th Street cutoff, nor from anyone in her office. Remarkably, yesterday one editor I’m working with right now actually sent a list of captions for a book we’re doing. He’s at Random House, which is located at 56th Street, uptown, presumably out of the affected zone. I was still stunned he was moved to go to work and type up some captions for a book that won’t be out until next summer.

My new short story up at Beat to a Pulp

I just found out that my short story "Back to the Boke" is published over at Beat to a Pulp. I hope you’ll go check it out. (Yes, Martha, it’s free.) The usual caveats about language and adult subject matter apply. My thanks to editor David Cranmer.

This is a story that was inspired by the time I spent living in Hoboken, New Jersey. Now, it’s true that I have little in common with my protagonist. But I do share one awful experience with him. A free pint (the next time I see you) to anyone who can peg what it is.

New Novel: Jersey Heat

Jersey Heat, novel by Joseph D'Agnese

Today marks the debut of my new book, Jersey Heat, a mystery/thriller that takes place in and around a fictional town in New Jersey.

I’m really excited about this book, because, while it’s not the first novel I’ve ever written, it’s the first I’ve shared with the public. The book’s available today via Amazon and B&N for the ridiculous price of $2.99. Over the next few days, it will slowly migrate to most other venues, such as Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

There are some really neat bonuses that come with the digital version, which I’ll describe briefly. First, the book features a gorgeous cover by artist/designer Jeroen ten Berge. In a few days I’ll be running an interview with Jeroen.

The book includes a free preview of Haven House, a new horror novel by Stuart Connelly. It’s a horror story with a twist: a mix of The Lottery, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining all wrapped into one. I dare you to stop after reading the first horrifying chapter.

Lastly, I’m offering a freebie with this ebook. Your purchase entitles you to a free copy of The Scientist & the Sociopath, a collection of my best nonfiction science stories, from magazines such as Discover, Wired, and Seed. All you have to do is send me proof that you’ve bought Jersey Heat, and I’ll mail you a coupon good for Scientist.

Here’s the pitch for Jersey Heat:

It’s a hazy, hot, and humid summer in New Jersey, circa 1993.

No mobile phones.

No Internet.

No Caller ID.

No DVDs.

No terrorists.

And the environment isn’t cool.

Luke Mulcek calls himself a businessman. He’s actually a thug in a suit, a former Brooklyn kid, ex-boxer, and mechanic who made good. Luke’s got an in at the water company in a dinky town, where he’s concocted a $200 million land deal to build condos on the reservoir. Ramming the plan through the town’s planning board is the tricky part. Shadow Lakes isn’t Brooklyn, and even before page one Mulcek has decided to cut through the red tape the way he would have done in the old neighborhood. 

With payoffs, threats, blackmail — and murder.

A retired cop and a young slacker are all that stand between Mulcek and his violent grasp at the good life.

Mulcek’s undoing — and the key to this environmental thriller — is a creature from the skies, bred by nature to be the ultimate killing machine.

The strength of this book lies in its voices: Cops, thugs, Brits, gigolos, ghetto kids, scientists and lawyers all come to life in a world that feels part Elmore Leonard, part Carl Hiassen, and 100 percent New Jersey.

Note: Both Jersey Heat and Haven House are intended for mature readers. Both feature scenes of sexuality, violence and strong dialogue.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!