Schlotzsky’s: Funny Name, Serious Sandwich

While I am on my perpetual quest to be the most interesting food blogger in the world, I don’t always venture to restaurant chains, but when I do they have to be special.   To be honest, even the grand marshal of the pretentious foodie parade, no matter if they admit or not, occasionally has a hankering for the chain restaurant of their childhood. I believe all the foodies in the world should attend meetings to admit our closet cravings that would shock the general public. I’ll start, hello Interwebs, I am The Blue Collar Foodie, and I am addicted to McDonald’s French Fries harder than the Kardashians fiend for fame.

Schlotzsky's Front Door

Since I am willing to admit my admiration with certain food that would be considered beneath the foodie scene, and embrace not only the sentimental longing for such food but confess that most of it tastes pretty darn good too, I was intrigued by the story of a local entrepreneur, Lea Dalleggio. Her tale was the classic saga of girl meets Schlotzsky’s, girl falls in love with Schlotzsky’s, Schlotzsky’s doesn’t exist in New Jersey, so girl grows up and buys 17 Schlotzsky’s franchises. Wait a minute; I am not sure if that explained anything to anyone. I think I might have to explain this a little more, probably starting with the question that is on most of the minds of my Jersey readers, “What the hell is a Schlotzsky’s?”

Schlotzsky’s is a restaurant chain that was started in Houston, Texas way back in 1971 by Don and Delores Dissman, who tasted a sandwich in the French Quarter of New Orleans and fell in love. Their tiny store front that served their rendition of this sandwich called the original which did and still does consist of ham, salami, and melted cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses layered with black olives, red onion, lettuce, tomato, mustard and their signature dressing on a fresh made toasted Sourdough bun. No one really knows, or at least the googles doesn’t, why this sandwich caught fire faster than Michael Jackson’s hair in that Pepsi commercial circa 1984, but it did. As Schlotzsky’s notoriety grew, the Dissman’s decided to open more stores and as Schlotzsky’s took over town after town, their menu followed suit.   Eventually, the Dissman’s dove into the wild west of franchising head first, which spread the Schlotzsky’s brand further than they ever imagined.

Meanwhile, sometime during all this craziness Lea Dalleggio found herself visiting her family in Houston, Texas quite often and fell in love with this whimsical sandwich shop. Unfortunately for Lea, much like the Wawa’s and In and Out’s of the world, Schlotzsky’s had never broke into the North Jersey area. As a young girl, Lea had to wait for her trips to Texas to partake in her favorite food from Schlotzsky’s, and so her long distance relationship with her one true foodie love began. That is until she was old enough to do something about it.

Englewood Schlotsky's

Instead of moving to Texas to be with her epicurean Romeo, Lea Dalleggio decided to share her childhood dream with the rest of Northern New Jersey by opening her first Schlotzsky’s at 39 Nathaniel Place, in Englewood, NJ one day after her 25th birthday. Since Lea was nice enough to bring Schlotzsky’s to New Jersey, I think it is my duty as a foodie to investigate what made her fall for this chain so many years ago.

Schlotzsky's Dining Area

Before Kat and I ventured to Schlotzsky’s, we did some research on the restaurant’s menu and found that they offered quite a variety. The aforementioned Original is still offered as well as several other sandwiches featuring roast beef, chicken, turkey, and even veggies for all the herbivores that walk the earth.   They also have a plethora of Pizza options that are chock full of tasty toppings atop a seasoned sourdough crust. A few salads also grace the menu for those looking for something a little lighter to nosh on. Furthermore, for those of you with a sweet tooth, Schlotzsky’s offers Cinnabons and Carvel soft serve to calm your sugar craze.

Armed with knowledge and appetites, Kat and I entered Schlotzsky’s with a pretty good thought on what we were going to order. As most of you already know, I am sucker for specials and “for a limited time only”, gets me every damn time, so when the interwebs informed us that Schlotzsky’s is offering a special Schlotzsky’s 66 menu featuring the Windy City Pastrami and Swiss, California Chick, and Albuquerque Turkey, we really did not have much of a choice in the matter. Proof that my wife is the best wife ever, she agreed to split two sandwiches with me so we both could taste half of the California Chick described as thinly slices roasted chicken breast, pepper jack cheese, bacon, guacamole, red onion, tomatoes, lettuce, fat free spicy ranch piled high on a toast jalapeno cheese bread and the Albuquerque Turkey which consisted of Smoked Turkey, crispy bacon, cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses layered with fire roasted vegetables, chipotle mayonnaise, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, Schlotzsky’s sauce, also on a jalapeno cheese bread. We also ordered two garden salads and two drinks to round out our meal. The total bill came to just under $27.00, which we thought was reasonable even before we tried the food.

Soda Machine

After ordering our food, we were given our drinking cups and directed to the soda machine that dispenses 129 different varieties of soda or juice. This machine kept me occupied for quite some time considering I flip flop and waiver more than a modern day politician when I have seven options at Taco Bell, so after staring at the machine for longer than I would like to admit, I finally decided on Cherry Mr. Pibb and joined Kat at the table.

Garden Salad

When are food arrived, we realized that not only was $27.00 for this meal reasonable, it appeared that is was a deal. The Garden Salad was served in a huge bowl that was filled to the brim with fresh veggies, olives, and warm cheesy garlic pesto flatbread. The sandwiches were stacked with meat and all the fixings and appeared as if they were going to be uber filling.

Schlotzsky's Bunz

After we took a brief pause so I could complete my always annoying, yet necessary Phoodie Photo Shoot, Kat and I experienced our first Schlotzsky’s meal. I have to admit, I am happy that Lea went all those years longing for Schlotzsky’s, because without her suffering, I would not have experienced the moment of sandwich bliss that occurred that day. Normally I am all about the innards of a sandwich, and usually feel the bread is just a canvas for the masterpiece to be placed upon. This is simply not the case with the Schlotzsky’s sandwich.

Schlotzsky's close up

Don’t get me wrong the meat was fresh and full of flavor, the cheese and the bacon added the salty, creamy crunch that every sandwich needs, and the combination of the sauces added just the right amount of kick. Truth be told, this sandwich placed on two ordinary pieces of white bread would be a formidable foe in the underground world of sandwich battling. But when these ingredients are lovingly arranged on a Schlotzsky’s famous bun, it amplifies the awesomeness of this handheld treat exponentially. These buns have been handmade in every Schlotzsky’s that has ever opened its doors, and the freshness and unique flavor and texture adds a level of deliciousness that is unparalleled in the realm of sandwich shops.

Schlotzsky's Sandwich

Kat and I opted for the medium sandwich which houses 4.4 ounces of meat; if you are really hungry, there is a large that holds a heaping 8.8 ounces of yumminess. Furthermore, if you are someone who enjoys a good ol’ fashioned test of gastronomic willpower, Schlotzsky’s has a Lotza Meat Challenge that offers its customers the chance to get their picture on the wall and a free Cinnabon. All you have to do is devour a large sandwich in 10 minutes or less, I know it sounds easy, but I assure you it is much harder than it sounds.

Garlic Pesto Bread BiteThe garden salad was a great addition to this meal and was the perfect companion to the Schlotzsky’s sandwich. However, the Garlic Pesto Bread that shared a bowl with our salad made me happier than a Met fan on Harvey Day. Everything about this seemingly perfect side was spot on, the cheese was gooey, the garlic was vampire deterring good, the pesto was not overbearing, and the bread was Schlotzsky’s. This delicious addition is a must try when you venture to Schlotzsky’s.

As I stated in the opening paragraph, I am not one who frequents chain restaurants a lot, but I am also not the type of person to write them off completely. What you should always remember about chain restaurants is that they grew to the size that they are now because of something, and that something is usually damn good food. Now, that is not to say that most chains lose their roots and therefore lose their way shortly after their growth, I do not believe this is the case with Schlotzsky’s. I thoroughly enjoyed the playful atmosphere, wonderful food, and attentive staff at Schlotzsky’s, and I completely understand why a young Lea Dalleggio was enamored by this establishment all those years ago.

 

Central Kitchen Opens In Englewood Cliffs

When a local eatery shuts its doors for the last time and decides to close up shop, most people think nothing of it. In fact, a fair amount of these individuals might not even notice that a restaurant has vanished from the local foodie scene. Fortunately for all of us in the Gastronomy Guild, Mr. Joseph Sansotta, owner of several successful food establishments in Westchester, New York, is not your average passerby. So when the Royal Cliffs Restaurant located at, 717 E. Palisade Avenue in Englewood Cliffs served its last hamburger, Mr. Sansotta seized the opportunity to open the restaurant that he had been conceptualizing for quite some time, thus Central Kitchen was born.

Welcome to Central Kitchen

Welcome to Central Kitchen

Those from the area that are familiar with this iconic corner in Englewood Cliffs might notice that Mr. Sansotta did not just buy the building and change the signage. Central Kitchen was essentially redesigned from the ground up to reflect the image that was dancing in Mr. Sansotta’s head all these years. Although this building has the very same footprint of the diner that once held this address, that is where the similarities end, and the beauty of Central Kitchen begins. The exterior of the building looks particularly contemporary due to the flat roof, brick red siding, gray brick accents, and fieldstone foundation. In addition this skillfully designed structure features not one but two large patios for alfresco dining when the persnickety New Jersey weather cooperates.

The interior adds to the modern ambience that oozes from Central Kitchen, due to the dark wood flooring, chic color scheme, and gigantic windows that allow the sunlight to accent the design features. Some of the key elements of the interior décor that I instantly noticed was the glass fronted open wood burning brick pizza oven, the thick granite bar top, and the large flat screen televisions that were tuned into the Yankees game when I visited.   Another fabulous addition to the interior of Central Kitchen is the large renditions of Sansotta family recipes that adorn the walls throughout the restaurant, some of which even appear on the Central Kitchen’s Menu.

Central Kitchen Interior

Central Kitchen Interior

Even though the grand opening event for this establishment is not scheduled until June 7, 2013, they are in, what the restaurant business calls, the soft opening phase. For those that are not in the know, a soft opening gives business owners a chance to identify and repair any glitches they might have with their general operations without having to deal with the pressure that usually accompanies a grand opening.   I must say, I have been to quite a few restaurants that are in this purgatory like stage, somewhere between open and closed, and this past week when I visited Central Kitchen, they did not seem to have any of the issues that I have experienced with these other restaurants. The fluidity of the overall experience and the knowledge of the seemingly cohesive staff lead me to believe that Central Kitchen was already an established restaurant. I don’t know if this overtly apparent stability is due to the fact that this is not Mr. Sansotta’s first rodeo or that his General Manager, Mr. Abdou Belmaachi, has been working in the food service industry for over 20 years, but I do know that whatever their secret is, it is working, because Central Kitchen is running like a finely tuned machine.

Central Kitchen was nice enough to invite me to explore there innovative twist on American Comfort food prior to the Grand Opening event, and after conducting some high tech research, which consisted of a Google search, I found that Central Kitchen was perfect for this Blue Collar Foodie. Central Kitchen features food that is seasonally inspired and created with many ingredients that are acquired from local purveyors.   Furthermore, it appeared that their prices seemed both fair and reasonable, as well.

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

Brick Oven Margarita Pizza

On my visit to Central Kitchen I was afforded the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes that Mr. Sansotta envisioned and Executive Chef Adolfo Silverio bought to life with exquisite execution.  My first stop on this gourmand exploration of Central Kitchen’s gastronomic chops was a tag team of appetizers that would beat the silly costumes off of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. First off, I could not help but dive into the Brick Oven Margarita Pizza that was delivered to our table considering I fancy myself somewhat of a Pizza connoisseur. Most places choose to serve this style of pizza because it seems simple and easy, when in reality it is its simplicity that makes the Margarita Pizza an arduous task for the Chef that prepares it. However, Central Kitchen nailed the philosophy behind the Margarita Pizza flawlessly, by combining fresh ingredients with crispy dough to create a light palate pleasing appetite stimulator that prepares the diner for the rest of the meal, instead of ruining his or her appetite.

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Appetizer

In addition to this enjoyable pie, a Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese appetizer was provided. This beautifully presented dish was as tasty as it was vibrant and the addition of the balsamic reduction only added to its appeal. The freshness of the tomatoes were not only obvious but extremely welcomed in this must try appetizer, that is simply perfect for any summer day while enjoying Central Kitchen’s patio.

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay

The next dish that graced our table was the Central Kitchen’s rendition of Chicken Satay. I believe that when a Chef steps out of his comfort zone and “covers” a dish that is not technically in their culinary wheelhouse, they should approach it as a band covering a famous song, and add a little bit of themselves to the dish to make it their own. This is exactly what Chef Silverio accomplished with this skillfully prepared starter. The chicken was grilled to perfection leaving the outside slightly crispy with the inside moist and meaty, and the sauce was remarkable with the perfect texture and a hint of spice.

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

As I basked in the glory that was the dishes that I had already sampled, I was introduced to the next dish that Central Kitchen had in store for me, the Lobster Ravioli, and we became instant friends. These large doughy delights were swimming in a fragrant vodka sauce calling me like a siren from Greek Mythology. So much so that I almost forgot to take a picture before I dug in. As I took my first bite of these delectable spheres, my taste buds were overjoyed by the flavor and I was elated by the amount of Lobster these ravioli had to offer. Too often I order Lobster Ravioli that should be aptly named Lobster flavored Ravioli, this just was not the case at Central Kitchen, and my belly was happy.

Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce

Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce

Just when I thought this eating orgy was winding down our final savory dish was delivered to the table, in the form of a stunningly presented Lamb Shank cradled by pearled cous cous, topped with a sherry wine reduction sauce. The lamb fell off the bone with a gentle caress of my fork and when paired with the cous cous and the delicate sauce, it was absolutely divine. The gaminess of the lamb was toned down perfectly by the Chef, leaving just enough to remind me that I was eating lamb, but not enough to overpower the dish.   To add to this entrée’s charm, the portion was gigantic and paired with an appetizer could be a great meal for two.

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli

I had a fleeting thought that I could not eat another bite, but just then, dessert was brought to our table, and as soon as it arrived, I knew I could not resist. Before us was placed Central Kitchen’s signature chocolate covered cannoli and an alluring Tiramisu served in a glass. Unbeknownst to the staff at Central Kitchen, one must be very careful serving me a cannoli, considering that I take the ruination of this most exalted tasty treat to be a direct insult to me and my entire house. Lucky for everyone, Central Kitchen followed the golden rules of cannoli making, start with quality shells and filling and fill it when I order it and not a moment sooner, to ensure the structural integrity of this yummy cream filled vessel. Not only were the shells crispy and the filling delicious, the combination of the two was heavenly.

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

Tiramisu Served in a Glass

The Tiramisu was slightly different than most of the Tiramisus that I have eaten and that is why I loved it. I find that in most Tiramisu, the creamy substance that is the basis for this dessert is usually too liquefied and therefore if not eaten immediately turns the entire dish into some form of lumpy pudding.   Central Kitchen solved this problem by using a cream with a pudding texture as the base thus creating in my opinion a revolutionary Tiramisu.

Cheers From Central Kitchen

Cheers From Central Kitchen

If reading this article has not made you want to check out this fantastic new foodie find, I will up the ante a bit. Central Kitchen also has a fully stocked and quite affordable bar. They offer a wine list that is not only impressive but reasonably priced, a seasonally rotating craft beer selection, and some very fancy specialty cocktails that are utterly perfect for a hot summer’s day on the patio.

All in all, thanks to Joe Sansotta’s imagination, Chef Adolfo Silverio’s execution, and Abdou Belmaachi’s expert guidance, Central Kitchen is on the verge of becoming a true contender in the heavily populated foodie scene of Bergen County. The community of Englewood Cliffs should be proud to claim Central Kitchen as its own, and support this fledging restaurant as it blossoms into the culinary powerhouse that it has the potential to become.