Upon first arrival in a big city, it is customary to shake with fear at all the sights and sounds that are truly uncustomary for a young boy from the Midwest. It wasn’t until I sat down in a grubby looking pizzeria with a plate in front of me that I finally calmed down. It wasn’t the famous, huge New York pizza slice that is polarized throughout the country, but instead chicken parmesan on a hero.
As it sat on its standard issue paper plate, wrapped in tin foil to keep its almost-too-much amount of chicken, cheese, and red sauce in one place. I felt a bit of calm wash over me; I thought, “This chicken parm and I are two peas in a New York pod. We’re both struggling to keep ourselves together in the middle of a city that’s pushing us to explode.”
Whenever I so delicately tried to remove its foil coating, it almost exploded. Chicken parmesan on a hero is not a pretty dish to begin with, but when a random pizzeria makes it for you, presentation is not a factor. They pack so much chicken, sauce, and cheese between two bready looking things that’s it’s practically an open-faced sandwich with emphasis on the open face and not on the sandwich.
Does the chicken parmesan look like it’s one of the best things you’ve ever eaten? No. Will you look attractive while trying to eat something so messy? Absolutely not. Will you look back nostalgically, possibly while writing a food column? Probably, yeah.
That first bite, though, makes the whole mess worth it. The second to the one hundredth bite, they also make it worth it too, even if it is after a day or two sitting in the fridge.
Truth be told, you can get a chicken parmesan anywhere in New York City; there are probably over five hundred pizzerias in the entirety of the city and each one probably makes chicken parmesan, in combination with veal, steak, eggplant and more. Combine that with regular restaurants that also make parmesans and you’re left with something that you can get anywhere.
That first sandwich has the magic of nostalgia though. It will always exist in my memories as my first bite in the middle of Manhattan that gave a little spark of happiness to a lost Midwestern boy in the most fast paced and unrelenting city that I know.