If you think about some of your favorite (or not so favorite) restaurants, chances are, they probably have some sort of signature dish, or at least something they’re known for. Though you will, of course, see this happen at many food establishments (especially big chains), it seems to me that places that have a very serious following (sometimes even cult-like) often have a dish that they are famous for. At Bay Cities, a deli that has an obsessive customer base, The Godmother is this dish.
A signature dish allows competing businesses to define and separate themselves by creating a food (like a sandwich) that will represent the whole of the establishment. This is the dish that people will choose most often, most likely due to exposure and hype, and the dish that customers will equate with the restaurant. For example, anyone who has been to Bay Cities will at least know of The Godmother even if they’ve never eaten it. In fact, the entire front of the market is covered in a sign that says “Home of The Godmother.” And though the sandwich is really just a glorified Italian sub, the role it plays to Bay Cities is what makes it so much more than that. Not only is it the food item that Bay Cities puts its name and reputation behind, it is also the food that customers will choose in order to become a part of the phenomenon. If you go to Bay Cities regularly, but have never had a Godmother, other regulars will not only be shocked, they’ll probably also judge you and your commitment to the deli (yep, even those of you who don’t eat meat…sidebar, I ate this sandwich for years and years before I began eating pig products, and people would give me looks of astonishment when I told them my favorite sandwich place was Bay Cities, but no, I’d never had a Godmother).
There are definitely places that have signature dishes that don’t have such social response, but I think these are places that aren’t “signature” themselves. This is what makes The Godmother iconic instead of being just another signature sandwich at just another deli. The fact is, Bay Cities itself is a cultural phenomenon. It has become, for Santa Monica natives especially, the ideal of what a sandwich should be, and The Godmother is the best of what this amazing place can do. The consumption of this sandwich grants you entrance into the exclusive culture of those who know and idolize Bay Cities for their sandwich prowess.
So yes, The Godmother is a delicious and perfectly executed sandwich that deserves attention for its sandwichness alone. But the following that it creates takes both Bay Cities and The Godmother to iconic levels.
One of my friends from school is from Redondo Beach, and we decided to get together for a sandwich date before she headed back to Connecticut. She had strongly suggested that we go to Sloopy’s in Manhattan Beach, a cafe known for its beachy patio setting and great food. The decor is great…all eclectic patio furniture that almost feels like you’re sitting in your own backyard. You order from a counter, not waiters, making it feel less restaurant-y and more like you’ve found a great local secret. But on to the sandwich…
The Masterpiece appealed to me because I discovered the classic Italian sandwich when I lived on the East Coast. This type of sandwich is not at all limited to this region, but did, in fact originate there. On a personal note, I had never eaten pig products before college when I lived in California, and I definitely associate this classic with my time on the East Coast. I’ve found so far that a lot of great sandwich shops in Southern California have an Italian-esque sandwich that is more customized, resulting in a lot of great variety. The Masterpiece continued this trend of personalizing this sandwich, while upholding the staples of the classic: prosciutto, ham, salami, cappicola, provolone, arugula, banana peppers, balsamic with cracked pepper mayo on ciabatta. The best part about the Masterpiece for me was not the meat combination, which is the standard, but rather the balsamic and cracked pepper mayo combined with the banana peppers. Though the mayo was interesting in and of itself, the tanginess of the banana peppers complimented it perfectly. For me, composition is a HUGE part of the success of a sandwich, and that includes the order of ingredients: different tastes and textures will be brought out by the way you put your sandwich together. Putting the banana peppers and mayo together really made the sandwich in my opinion, instead of having the mayo on the meat. In addition, I always like the combination of mayo and lettuce, which this sandwich also had. Really, the only problem I had with this sandwich was the ciabatta: though the taste and texture was great, I filled up on the bread quickly and didn’t get very far into the second half of the sandwich.
The Italian sub, which can be found under many names, such as a hoagie, hero, grinder, or torpedo depending on where you are in America, is most definitely a staple of our sandwich culture. Regardless of what it’s called, this sandwich originated in Italian-American communities throughout the Northeast, and is more or less the same sandwich from place to place, albeit small differences. One of the great things about the Italian sub, though, is that it creates a framework that can be tweaked and customized, creating great sandwiches all over the country.