When the boxes were finally unpacked, I skipped down the front steps to explore my new neighborhood, Soho.
Before I even made it to the sidewalk, I bumped into a neighbor of mine, who had called this leafy block in Manhattan home for the last 30 years. During our conversation I learned that this area was once a predominantly Italian neighborhood, that bathrooms used to be communal in the hallways, and that she didn’t like strangers sitting on her stoop blocking access to the door.
My new neighbor also shared details on which restaurants were ‘for the hoards of tourist shoppers’ and which places were favored by the local residents. She told me that where a ‘horrendous cheap clothing store’ is located today, a beautiful book store used to be. While Soho (the area of Manhattan that is south of Houston Street and north of Canal for you non-New Yorkers) is known primarily as a shopping district these days, there are still pockets with a distinct neighborhood feel where little old Italian ladies shuffle around the sidewalks going to the bakery or picking up their fresh mozzarella for the day. With my Italian background, I felt at home immediately.
I’ll save the story about that handmade mozzarella for another day (Joe’s Dairy on Sullivan Street) because in this post I want to focus on another Italian neighborhood spot. Many restaurants might claim to have the best sandwiches in New York, but few have as many critics convinced as the tiny Italian sandwich shop on my block of Sullivan Street, called Alidoro. From what I’ve gathered, the name may have changed from Melampo, but the quality hasn’t changed one bit.
For the first few weeks I lived in the neighborhood, I walked right past it. Then a couple days I happened to walk by during the lunch rush, (from 12.30 to 2.30) and noticed the line winding out the door. Then I noticed it again a couple days later. Thinking that this long line of patient sandwich fiends might just know where to eat in Soho, I looked for confirmation in a local friend. The sheer mention of Alidoro made her face light up, more like she was recalling an Italian lover than an Italian sandwich.
My friend also prepared me for the (somewhat) intimidating experience that comes with seeking out this New York specialty. Each sandwich has an Italian name, and when you order (they prepare just one sandwich at a time) you tell them the name of the sandwich you want (there’s a list on the door as well as lists in a basket when you enter). You then specify what type of bread you want. I like the plain white, but there’s also focaccia, semolina, and sfilatino for an extra cost.
As little signs taped to the counter will tell you, there are no substitutions. They have no tomatoes, mustard, coffee, regular lettuce, bagels, or half sandwiches. The list of ‘we do not have’ is a page long. My favorite of all the wacky but endearing signs is: do not ask me what my favorite sandwich is. I wonder how many times in a day someone walks into this tiny takeout shop and commits the ultimate sin.
I happened to be in the shop once when an unsuspecting tourist asked the question. I had just finished paying for my Brando (smoked chicken, provolone, sweet roasted peppers, and arugula) and was putting away my change when a young guy with long hair and a backpack walked up the counter and said, ‘Hey man, so like, what’s good? What’s your favorite sandwich?’ In all my instances of frequenting this sandwich shop, I’ve never seen so much as a smile on a certain member of the staff’s face. Turning to see his reaction, I watched as disdain turned to amusement, as he pointed to the sign on the counter. Do not ask me what my favorite sandwich is.
I asked once where the bread comes from. Mysteriously I was told, Brooklyn. Simply, Brooklyn. It comes from Brooklyn and it’s made especially for Alidoro. You couldn’t get it if you tried, I was told. This made me want to come back more often than I already do. The fresh ingredients are what makes the sandwiches here so special. While many New York neighborhoods have their own little sandwich shops, many don’t slice the ingredients fresh for each individual sandwich. That’s right, when I order my Puccini (sopressata, fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, and arugula) he takes the sopressata out of the case behind him and slices it fresh.
Some say that the gruff nature of the shop is all part of its charm – that it is a tradition carried on by the former owner who was known for his short temper. Some say it’s all a little ‘soup nazi’ from Seinfeld (and yes, it’s good to know how to order). I think, as long as they go on making one of the best sandwiches in New York, it doesn’t matter much to me if they smile or not.
Details: 105 Sullivan Street, New York, NY. T: 212 334 5179. Cash Only. Sandwiches $8.25 – $10.75 plus tax.