Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer from coast to coast.
I love deli sandwiches, and I’m not sorry about it. I love a squishy roll swiped with mayonnaise and layers of thinly sliced cold cuts. I love kosher pickles and hot pepper relish and shredded iceberg lettuce and fried chicken cutlets.
Don’t get me wrong—I like fancy sandwiches, too. Homemade fig jam, Dijon mustard, fresh-baked focaccia, porchetta—these things are easy to like, not only because of the way they taste, but because of the way they look, as well. They get a lot of respect for their obvious culinary street cred.
But good things do not have to be fancy: A good deli sandwich can be equally sublime. And I’ll tell you where you can find a whole lot of them: Long Island.
There’s something about the sandwiches out there that sets them apart from the rest. Sure, they’re overstuffed—that’s a big part of it—but that’s not all that makes them special. There’s something else, and I think it’s this: The best delis on Long Island are not trying to make sandwiches trendy or provocative—they’re just trying to make great sandwiches.
They don’t need to prove their greatness to you on Instagram with thousands of followers, special lighting, ritzy decor, or big price tags. They know what some of the best delis in Manhattan, and even Brooklyn and Queens, have yet to learn: that the harder you try to force a sandwich to be over the top, the worse it will taste. These Long Island delis know that looks do not necessarily equal culinary prowess. Is there something naturally alluring about a cheese pull, or a drip of egg yolk, or perfectly marbled pastrami? Sure. But you don’t have to force those things—they just happen when you have the right ingredients in the right amounts. So let the meat do the talking.
Whether you live there or are just passing through, here are nine spots in Nassau County where you can find such sandwiches. May they make you happy, and may they keep you full.
Just across from the LIRR station, Brands Delicatessen serves some of the best sandwiches in Long Beach. Opened in 2012 by Joe Brand, a local legend and the longtime coach of the high school’s varsity hockey team, the shop has since changed hands, but still serves up its menu of heroes and breakfast sandwiches named after famous hockey teams and players. There’s the Super Mario, for example, for Mario Lemieux (soppressata, prosciutto, Cappy Ham, Asiago, fresh mozz, hot and sweet peppers, red onion, romaine, and balsamic-mustard vinaigrette), and the Miracle, for the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s victory over the Soviet Union (ham, turkey, roast beef, American cheese, lettuce, and mayo).
When I go, however, I mostly order my personal favorite sandwich: turkey and Swiss on a roll with lettuce, mayo, pickles, and hot peppers. The Boar’s Head meat is shaved so thin, the juices from the pickles and peppers seep down and mix with the mayo on the bread to form a special sauce—not soggy, but never dry. After all, there’s nothing sadder than a dry sandwich, except maybe no sandwich at all. (44 West Park Avenue, Long Beach)
Pastrami King is a white-tablecloth establishment, but Yelp lists the ambiance as “casual.” It’s the kind of dignified, come-as-you-are experience everyone deserves when enjoying one of the finest pastrami sandwiches in the state of New York. As soon as you sit down, you’re brought a dish of coleslaw and a tray of pickles for the table. The perfect order? Their signature hot pastrami sandwich on lightly toasted rye. It’ll set you back $13.50, but can easily make two meals. I like to add melted Swiss for $2 extra, then pile on plenty of the slaw for crunch and dressing (not that the sandwich needs it). With, of course, a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda. It just feels right. (196 Merrick Road, Merrick)
3. My Hero
My Hero looks like the roadside country stores we used to pass on family road trips through the South. It’s a tiny shop with picnic tables out front, and at peak hours the line often extends out the door (call in your order ahead of time so you can skip the line—I learned this after a couple of visits). They’ve got your classic cold-cut heros, hot sandwiches like meatball Parm, and specials like their roast beef melt on garlic bread. What they’re most known for, though, is their fried chicken cutlet sandwiches, and their chicken club is one of the best. For $9.25, you’ll get several crispy chicken cutlets (pounded thinner than most I’ve seen, with extra crispy edges) on a hero with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and bacon. I like to add fresh mozzarella—can you blame me? Cash only. (1005 Jerusalem Avenue, North Merrick)
Seven Brothers belongs to a special category of delis: the Italian food market, where you can find endless options for cheese, meats, fresh pasta, sauces, bread, and of course, an outstanding sandwich counter. It’s also home to the least secret “secret menu” I have ever seen (it’s laminated, and posted up at the front of the line). That being said, when did we ever praise subtlety in a sandwich? Try the Godfather (soppressata, mortadella, capicola, pepperoni, provolone, fresh mozzarella, and roasted peppers) and you’ll see what I mean. (2914 Long Beach Road, Oceanside)
Perhaps the most overstuffed of any of the sandwiches on this list, each hero at Tamburino’s is said to be layered with a full pound of cold cuts. There’s lots to choose from, but the Italian sandwiches are the way to go, and you can’t go wrong with the $8.95 Tamby Special (capicola, pepperoni, and provolone with lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, and vinegar). I love the juxtaposition of the treats for sale—you can choose from a variety of fancy, imported Italian cookies and chocolates, or pick up a Big Texas Cinnamon Roll for the road. Tamburino’s really just seems to want to give you what you want, whatever that may be—they’re not here to judge. (672 Central Avenue, Cedarhurst)
At Cherry Valley, you can get French fries, onion rings, or mozzarella sticks on your sandwich. There’s a certain peace of mind that comes from just knowing you have this option, and another that comes from actually eating it. The Coyote is a work of art, layering chicken cutlets, melted mozzarella, bacon, waffle fries, and ranch dressing on a toasted garlic hero—though if you prefer to keep your fries separate, you can also get them on the side. The Waffle Couch, a beautiful mess of waffle fries, melted mozzarella, and brown gravy, is the perfect solution. (168 Hempstead Turnpike, West Hempstead; other locations in Long Beach and Whitestone, Queens)
Having been around for nearly 60 years, Lido Kosher Deli has had time to perfect their famous hot pastrami on rye—and it shows. The meat comes thinly sliced, juicy, and tender in a nearly four-inch pile for $13.95; if that’s not enough, you can add extra meat for $4, or get it on a knish (the “Knishwich”). You might already be full at this point, but you’d be remiss not to order one of their massive potato pancakes on the side. An underrated gem on the menu is the egg salad sandwich, equally overstuffed, and perfect with the half-sour pickles on the table. Is egg salad ever that thought-provoking? No. And that’s okay. (641 East Park Avenue, Long Beach)
The longest deli counter I have ever seen can be found at Salpino—it wraps around nearly half the perimeter of the store. This makes for a very tempting wait while your sandwich is being prepared. The antipasti selection is top-notch, as is the homemade prosciutto bread. When it comes to sandwiches, you’ll find plenty of cold-cut classics. If you like a little spice, try the Il Picante (hot soppressata, hot capicola, provolone, and hot pepper spread). (1540 Newbridge Road, North Bellmore; other locations in Wantagh and North Babylon)
CJ’s is technically more diner than deli; the blurred line between the two categories creates some real breakfast sandwich magic here. They keep things super simple: one egg or two, with your choice of ham, bacon, turkey, pastrami, corned beef hash, or turkey sausage. Would you like those eggs fried or scrambled? Any cheese? Decisions here are simple, which is sometimes just what you need. I was about to order just egg and American cheese when I spotted the super-thin shavings of ham on another order, and I was sold. (I’m a sucker for thinly sliced meats.) It arrived on a poppy seed roll—the perfect vessel for absorbing the spectacularly runny pool of yolk—and cost me just $5.75. Cash only. (225 North Long Beach Road, Rockville Centre)