Cracking the Egg and Cheese Sandwich
Sleeping in on Saturday mornings is one of the great pleasures of my life. After several years of children requiring early morning attention seven days a week, Young Master Fussy is finally at an age where we can train him to take care of his little sister for an hour or two. Sure, television and sugary treats are involved. But did I mention the sleep?
Still, it was my decision to assemble a group of intrepid eaters at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in order to eat an unholy number of egg and cheese sandwiches.
Had it not been for the untenable hour, I suspect more people would have shown up for the Tour de Egg Sandwich. But as it was, we had twenty people on the tour, of which eighteen submitted completed score sheets. Some were first timers, and it was great to meet all of you, but most had some previous experience traipsing around the region with me sampling one of the area’s culinary delights.
By the end of the morning, we had been to four fine establishments, plus one Stewart’s, and ate an egg and cheese sandwich on a hard roll at each. Here is what we learned.
We began the day at Jack’s Diner in Albany. I had been there in its previous incarnation and subsequently after the ownership change and renovation. It has a great classic diner look and feel, but the menu has been updated with more modern prices. Generally, I have a strong aversion to paying higher prices for everyday food. But the tour isn’t primarily about value, it’s about sussing out the best versions of a form.
And for the plurality of participants the best version of the egg and cheese sandwich was found at Jack’s Diner. Was it perfect? No. But it scored consistently high points from its fans regardless of whether they ordered American or Cheddar cheese. Those who ordered sausage on their egg sandwiches called Jack’s links the best of the day.
You can read a full and lurid description of the winning sandwich on All Over Albany, complete with pictures. But if you want the executive summary, Jack’s serves a large, lightly grilled roll, with two gently cooked fried eggs that are tender and more over-medium than over-hard. A generous amount of cheese is strategically placed between the two hot eggs, so that it melts into a perfect, greasy cheesy sauce that really ties the sandwich together.
The downside is that it will set you back $3.99 without meat and $4.99 with bacon or sausage, making it the most expensive sandwich of the tour by far. But you do get to eat at an actual table, served by an actual waitress, and enjoy your food off an actual plate.
From Jack’s we went onto McCarroll’s in Delmar which came in a very close second.
McCarroll’s is amazing. On a Saturday morning the deli counter is like an egg and cheese sandwich factory. Every square inch of the griddle is filled with frying eggs, sizzling meat and grilling buns.
If you believe an egg sandwich is all about the roll, then this is the place for you, because this roll got the highest score on the tour. It’s slathered with butter and toasted on the griddle to a crisp and deep golden brown. This deli also got the highest score for bacon among those who were enjoying the most popular meat choice on their sandwiches.
So why did it not win? Two reasons. First, the high heat from the griddle that did such a good job toasting the buns, also significantly browned the eggs. I found them to be overcooked, but others like them this way. Second, the toasted bun was so good and deeply flavorful that it threw everything else out of balance. Whereas the Jack’s sandwich let the egg and cheese be the star, here the buttery eggs took a back seat to the roll.
Still, at $2.69 for an egg and cheese and $3.19 for one with meat, it’s an incredible value for a delicious sandwich and well worth a stop when you are in the neighborhood. It comes wrapped in foil which makes it portable for eating on the go, or you could sit and eat it at one of the tables set up in the market (if you can find an empty one).
Less amazing is Stewart’s. Well, maybe it is amazing that they sell so many of their eggwiches considering how substandard they are. It’s not like they are insanely cheap either. At $2.79 they are more than the egg and cheese at McCarroll’s. But it’s also the same price with meat. Although, as we would later find, you can still get an egg sandwich with meat at Famous Lunch for less money than the one at Stewarts.
But if a bland, gummy, steamed roll, with a grainy scrambled egg puck, topped with a token amount of “weird cheese” doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry, you are not alone. This was the only universally reviled sandwich of the day. Well, all except for the dog, who really made out like a bandit here on everyone’s half-eaten eggwiches.
The upside is that I finally got to see and eat the infamous circle bacon. I just wish it hadn’t fused onto the bottom roll, so I could taste it in all of its glory. But to its credit, the bacon was intensely smoky and its aroma couldn’t help but improve the otherwise dreadful experience.
It was a pleasure to put that behind and move onto a bakery that makes its own rolls and prepares the sandwiches to order: Bella Napoli.
Here, more than anyplace else, the notion of a “hard roll” was challenged. None of the rolls were truly hard by any stretch of the imagination. But these were beyond soft. The rich, golden roll left oily marks where it came in contact with the paper plate. Not to say that was a bad thing. The roll had this way of coalescing around the egg and cheese to enrobe it in a rich doughy mass.
While Bella Napoli got solid scores all around, besides the bun there was nothing that really stood out as exceptional. It was the second favorite sandwich of many, the first choice of none. Perhaps its critical flaw was the placement of the cheese. They sat one slice on top of the two fried eggs, and as a result it didn’t entirely melt. Although there was one participant who preferred this less gooey approach to cheese.
These were a great value at $2.30 without meat and $3.30 with the added fat and protein.
Our final stop was Famous Lunch. Despite the name, they are open for breakfast too and serve it all day long. Like everything else at Famous their egg sandwiches are crazy cheap. How cheap? Try $1.75 for an egg and cheese and $2.50 for one that includes meat. By far, these were deemed the best value of the tour.
Famous Lunch had a very strong showing with a close third place finish behind McCarroll’s and only a hair’s breadth away from Jack’s. One can imagine that this was what the egg sandwich was always meant to be. One fried egg, with one slice of cheese on a simple grilled poppy seed hard roll. It’s cheap, it’s greasy, and it’s delicious. But it is also small and well proportioned so that everything works together.
Its detractors found it to be just a bit too sloppy, with its egg yolk splattered and scattered throughout the whites. Others noticed that while the yolks were cooked the whites hadn’t fully set. Cheddar cheese lovers were dismayed to not find their preferred cheese at this venerable institution. And a few found the American cheese to be bland.
You know what nobody tried? An egg and cheese with their zippy sauce. Next time.
Thank you to JessJamesJake who had the idea of a Tour de Egg Sandwich. Thank you again to StanfordSteph who had the idea of doing tours in the first place. And thank you to everyone who woke up early on a Saturday to participate in this crazy event.
If you weren’t able to make this one, don’t fret. Spring will be here soon, and with it another tour. I’m thinking Tour de Ice Cream. Mind you, this is different from a Tour de Soft Serve, but also a bit more challenging. I’ll need to wrap my head around it, and will keep you posted.