Newark NJ (Storch Report) — Yes, I’m going to declare that the Sloppy Joe sandwich originated in New Jersey and I’m not talking about that place named Sloppy Joe’s in Cuba in the 30’s, nor the one named after it in Key West frequented by Ernest Hemingway.
A Sloppy Joe is a cold delicatessen sandwich, not to be confused with that more common sandwich made from loose ground beef.
And if you grew up in New Jersey, as I did, in Irvington on the border of Newark in an area called Weequahic, where Phillip Roth the author grew up and had a lot of complaints according to his books, you can almost still smell Seymour Tabatchnick flavors wafting from his Deli, if only from your memory and senses, of fresh meat, bagels, lox and the smell of brine coming from the pickle barrel.
Tabatchnick said he invented the Sloppy Joe. I think he did, after all he invented a lot of tasty things that were of Jewish origin and everybody’s likings, even frozen New York Style Chicken Broth that makes the common cold feel better, according to Jewish mothers.
I like to think I was the only gentile on the block in a Jewish neighborhood at the time where Jewish delis flourished. But I wasn’t, I had a family and they too were gentiles, and then there was the Polish lady that owned the apartment we lived in, but all of my friends were Jewish and we loved Tabatchnick’s.
A Sloppy Joe is made up of meats of your choice and is always on a triple decker of rye bread with one or more types of sliced deli meat, such as ham, turkey, roast beef, corned beef, pastrami with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing.
You can’t find a good Sloppy Joe outside of New Jersey.
Everybody likes to take credit for something good especially if it falls into the public domain and is a gastronomic delight. Take the cheese burger, that seems to belong to Jimmy Buffett because he sang a song about it and you can’t believe the number of joints around the world that claim he coined it at their place, one is on Cabbage Key, a barrier reef not far from me.
I can’t think of one sandwich that belongs to anyone else as the Sloppy Joe belongs to New Jersey.
There are many that want to take claim for it as they do salt water taffy from the Jersey Shore — no one goes to the beach in New Jersey they go to the ‘Shore’ — or the hot dog from Rut’s Hut or Taylor Ham. Who eats Taylor Ham outside of New Jersey?
But even in New Jersey there are those who want to take claim to inventing the Sloppy Joe. The Town Hall Deli in South Orange claims to have invented the New Jersey Sloppy Joe in the 1930’s. They say a Maplewood politician, Thomas Sweeney went on vacation to Cuba and frequented a bar named Sloppy Joe’s from which the Key West bar got its name.
It seems the bar’s owner laid out a variety of food fixings for patrons, who put sandwiches together. So when Sweeney came back he asked Town Hall to cater his poker games with the same sort of sandwiches and they caught on.
In the ’50s, there were several Jewish delis in Newark and surroundings who were also selling the sandwich. Places like Tabatchnicks, Kartzman’s, Union Pantry in Union; but today, the Millburn Deli in Millburn is one of the most famous and successful of the Sloppy Joe providers and there is Mr. J’s Deli in Cranford, who has labeled the ham version as a “Regular Joe.”
The last Sloppy Joe I had was from the Towne Deli in Summit, and I can’t find one here in Florida the way they make them in Jersey.
I still think the late Tabatchnick invented the Sloppy Joe. Seymour died in 2012 at the age of 91 and left quite a legacy. He opened 12 delicatessens, three deli restaurants, a manufacturing plant for meat provisions and a frozen soup factory, with some 24 varieties of soup. The deli’s and restaurants are all gone.
But his frozen soups live on and you can still get his New York Style Chicken Broth, even here in Florida.
I would rather have a Sloppy Joe!