New York City may be the food capital of the world but when it comes to lunch, there are a couple serious places across the river in Hoboken, NJ. Historically this little city is known for being the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra. It was also the location of Marlon Brando’s classic film, On The Waterfront. Today, Hoboken is the place to live if you grew up in Northern Jersey and are studying for the Series 7 and hope to lease a BMW some day. Most importantly, it is the home of two of my favorite sandwich spots: Piccolo’s and Fiore’s.
Let’s start with Piccolo’s, the ultimate neighborhood place. Stop by at lunchtime and you’ll probably see a city councilman sitting at the counter next to a construction worker. I would suggest Guy Fieri stop by for an episode of Triple D, but I’m pretty sure Patty Boy would smack the shades off the back of his head and toss him to the curb within five minutes. I could see myself sitting here for the 1986 NFC Championship Game with a satin jacket, a bottle of Chivas Regal, and a pack of Winston’s. This place still evokes that 1980’s New Jersey spirit that you remember from your uncle who drove a Cutlass and was always going to ‘The Track.’
Piccolo’s is known for cheesesteaks, however they aren’t your typical cheesesteaks. They don’t make the chopped Philly style sandwich. This joint here is just one piece of thin grilled steak (sirloin?), with or without cheese and onions, served on a toasted sub roll from Dom’s Bakery. As you can see from the photo, I like to top this thing with the hot chopped cherry peppers they keep on the table. This cheesesteak is excellent and I took this one down in five minutes, under the watchful eyes of Pope John Paul II and Joe Torre.
Piccolo’s is famous for their steak sandwich but the meatballs, hot turkey with gravy, and peppers and eggs heros are also all first-class. This may sound nuts, but the best thing about this place could possibly be their soups. I know it’s summer, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying their pasta e fagioli on a Friday afternoon. It’s just like Grandma’s and that’s not some tag line. You know you’re Italian when your grandparents had a full kitchen in their basement, and eating Piccolo’s soup will transport you back to that time. I suggest getting the soup of the day with a sandwich and taking it from there. If you still have room, you can either split another sandwich with your pal or do what I did yesterday and double dip Piccolo’s and my other favorite Hoboken spot; Fiore’s.
Fiore’s is the quintessential Italian deli that makes the best mozzarella cheese I’ve ever had in my life. What makes it the best mozzarella? Simple. The answer lies in the taste and texture. Fiore’s is the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Creamy with the right amount of elasticity. It’s so good, that you’ll notice the sandwich I ordered was simply fresh homemade cheese and garlic roasted peppers on a roll (which is also from Dom’s Bakery). When you’re dealing with quality ingredients that can stand on their own, you don’t need to over-complicate things. The simplicity of these three ingredients created the perfect balance.
Fiore’s also serves up the full range of imported meats and cheeses along with pickled vegetables and olives. This is a great neighborhood place that has been around for over one hundred years. When you go in, make sure you take a peek into the back room and notice the old timers. I don’t know if they’re playing pinochle or arguing about the Yankees, but it feels good in there and reminds me of a time that keeps slipping away. My friend Brian used to call in his sandwiches under the name Tony because he swore they took better care of him if they thought he was Paisan.
Enough nostalgia. Fiore’s has a daily sandwich special and Thursday and Saturday are the days they offer their homemade roast beef sandwich. It will blow your fucking mind. Homemade roast beef on a sub roll with homemade mozzarella and roasted peppers, topped off with some of the au jus. This sandwich isn’t any local secret though. There’s a reason there’s a line down the block on Saturday afternoons so plan your trip accordingly. There’s also no tables or benches or anything to sit on outside, so take that into consideration too. I don’t suggest eating this sandwich in your car without the windows fully rolled down, while armed with a towel and some air freshener. The garlic roasted peppers definitely stick around for a while.
Trust me here. I understand that if you live in Hoboken, you probably already know about these places. If you live in the city or are visiting, you probably don’t want to go across the Hudson River for lunch. There is some effort involved here and I understand that, but I’m still suggesting that you check it out. That’s how good it is. Take a ferry or hop on a PATH train and it’s actually pretty simple. Keep this excursion in mind the next time you’re traveling to New Jersey.