A Hamburger Today
Daily Slice Sandwich Deluxe: Shortstop Deli, Ithaca, NY
I've now only been to Ithaca twice, but I think of the Shortstop Deli as an institution—required eating. So I'm shocked when I meet people that have lived or studied in Ithaca that have never heard of or had a hot truck. It will be the question I raise before asking what they studied, or commenting on the stunning gorges: Isn't hot truck the best?! And the fact that I have gotten more than one baffled look in reply means that clearly it needs more coverage.
For those of you who have never visited Ithaca, or those that went and failed at eating, there is Hot Truck and there is the Shortstop Deli, both of which sell hot truck. Confusing, I know. Lucky for me, Adam has already done the heavy lifting in the explaining department. Check out his review of the mobile vending end of this French bread pizza operation. (The Cliff's Notes version is that the food truck, called Hot Truck, has been feeding drunk kids pizza subs, also dubbed hot truck, since 1960. The man behind it pioneered the French bread pizzas that Stouffer's copied. PS: Adam ordered the SUI (suicide) because he's crazy like that.)
I have never had the full Hot Truck experience. I have tried, but you really do have to wait until the sun sets on the Cornell campus before you can shiver in line among collegiate carousers to get one. And that is why the good people of Ithaca have the Shortstop Deli. This is a sober-headed town that recognizes the need for 24/7 access 365 days a year to French bread pizza. (That and the original owner, Bob Pertillose, sold the truck to the owner of the Shortstop when he retired.)
The "deli" is more convenience store than sandwich shop—meaning the closest thing to seating are the bricked benches along the windows. So as not to get all swept up in the Zapp's potato chips and energy drinks, head to the left upon entering. At the end of the sandwich counter you will pick up a form and a pencil, mark in your order, hand one copy to the nice person that will be assembling your pizza sub, and then head to the register with the duplicate copy to get rung up. Know that any size fountain drink is only 9¢ with a hot truck (and it doesn't matter if you get a single or a double), so when you're asked if you want one, just say yes. By the time you've filled your cup, you'll be back in time to catch your sauced, cheesed, and topped bread entering into the conveyor belt style, maxi-sized toaster oven. And when it comes out...
Ta da, HOT TRUCK!
This here is the single PMP (Hot Truck abreve for Poor Man's Pizza). The bread they use comes from Ithaca Bakery and once toasted, is the perfect combination of crusty, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. You have to open this butterflied baby up like the pages of a book to get a real read on what is going. Just look at that nicely mottled cheese...
The smattering of herb-heavy sauce gets soaked up by the fluffy interior of the French loaf. Because of the soakage, I would have liked a little extra sauce on this bad Larry. Also, I ate this sandwich-style instead of open-faced, meaning I was doubled up on cheese, which seemed to disproportionately mute the sauce. I remember my first Hot Truck experience as more revelatory, more where-have-you been-all-my life?! This particular sandwich didn't strike the same chord. Maybe it was for want of sauce, or maybe that only happens the first time. But it still rocked.
What rocked even more was the MBC (meatball with cheese). It's the same deal as the PMC but with tender, crispy crusted Swedish-sized meatballs added. They are neither too herby or too garlicky and they have just the right amount of salt. Even though there was a single-sized PMC ahead of this one, my only regret was not making the MBC a double.
If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Ithaca, make a point of getting to the Shortstop Deli. If you went to school in Ithaca and managed not to eat one of these (WHY?!), now you know your first stop reunion weekend.