Got carb cravings? Head over to Brown Bagger Sandwiches in downtown Las Vegas!
“I want to make you something that reminds you of home,” Bruce Kalman explains. The proprietor of SoulBelly BBQ continues, “I do that with the bbq. I did that with Italian food. I’m doing that with this.”
The “this” he is referring to is Brown Bagger Sandwich Co., a newly opened deli counter downtown at Vegas Test Kitchen.
The inspiration for these hoagies is the chef’s New Jersey upbringing. Kalman’s first job was at Savino’s Pizza in Paramus, NJ where, besides pies, the small outlet focused on Italian subs, eggplant parm sandwiches and red sauce East Coast Italian fare. (Incidentally, this was my favorite pizza place as a kid – I grew up one town over.)
Transplants of the Tri-State area have always complained about the sandwich selection available in Sin City. That’s not to say there aren’t good sandwiches in Las Vegas, but there has always been a dearth of those East coast heroes that lovers of “gabagool” grew up on.
At Kalman’s new kiosk, he recreates three of his favorite sandos, starting with the classic Italian sub.
Kalman’s Three Favorite Sandos
The Jersey Italian contains capicola (gabagool), salami, ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, olive oil, vinegar, oregano, and giardiniera (think pickled Italian veggies). Any Jersey guy (or gal) worth his salt will be overjoyed to see the thinly shredded lettuce and onion, something that gets lost on most West Coast sandwiches. It is both a textural element and helps the dressing and spices coat the sandwich evenly.
The Fresh Mozzy is like an amped caprese. While it is vegetarian, there’s plenty to like for everyone in this bad boy. Besides the sizable amounts of mozzarella cheese, it contains tomato, hot sweet pepper relish, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, creating a clean meld of flavors.
The Top Chef contestant’s play on a cold reuben is called New York’s Finest and features thousand island dressing, coleslaw, corned beef and Swiss cheese. While not Italian in nature, this is symbol of how Kalman might branch out if he finds a larger deli space down the line.
Metro Pizza Maker Brings the Dough
Of course, fine meats and cheeses are great, but if the bread falls flat, none of this matters. This was a problem for Kalman during the development process. He recalls, “Being on the West Coast for the last 15 years, nobody would get it when I’d say, ‘I need an East Coast sub roll for a sandwich.’ They didn’t understand it.”
Luckily for the chef, John Arena of Metro Pizza, as a good a bread maker as Las Vegas has and a former New Yorker, entered the picture. Says Kalman, “John came to me and asked what I was doing for rolls for this place. I told him I didn’t know. He goes, ‘I got you.’ And I knew he got me. He knew exactly what I was looking for. He did it.”
Arena supplies Kalman with his sesame semolina bread, which, upon first bite, is good enough to make anyone throw up their hands and yell, “OOOOOOHHHHHH!”
Kalman eventually hopes to expand and open some delis in the suburbs. But his ultimate goal remains the same. He states, “I just want to spark a memory and make you feel amazing.”
At least for this kid from Jersey, Kalman, with an assist from Arena, has already succeeded.