The Sandwich Man of Fairfield County writes his memoir
Sweet curried chicken salad with raisins and mango chutney on a bagel is Peter Roseman’s idea of a perfect Sunday lunch.
That’s no small commitment from a man who, having dozens of ideas for sandwiches in his culinary repertoire, once quipped that his happiness is “buried somewhere in-between two slices of bread.” He dreams of sandwiches, makes sandwiches, eats sandwiches, sells sandwiches. He even writes about sandwiches.
“Sandwich’d: My Life Between the Breads” (Plum Bay Publishing) debuted this fall. It’s a delightful read, chronicling Roseman’s life as a “deli man.” Read a chapter or two—there are 24 chapters and 21 recipes heralded by a cartoonish sketch —and you will find yourself comfortably following his lead, topping chicken slices with a sunny-side-up egg, diced onion and green pepper and even French fries, enveloped between the slices of a Brioche bun.
Roseman has been making sandwiches for the better part of his life. He’s in the deli business where frantic mornings of roasting beef rounds and shredding the meat off a pork shoulder, dealing with vendors and employees (the ones who stay and the ones who fail to show up), and chatting up the noon-day parade of lunch-hungry construction workers and office staff is par for the course.
He writes about the book editor, the jeweler, the teacher, the lawyers and stock brokers who patronized his store day after day. And does he ever love to tell a story to anyone who lingers more than a moment. The more people eavesdrop on his conversations, so much the better. After a friend listened to Roseman regale him with one anecdote after another, he was persuaded by that smart friend to compile his narratives in a book. The resulting paperback is part memoir and part business talk, with many delightful stories by its author.
Fresh out of Lehigh University, Roseman did not know how or where to begin a career. At the same time, his mom was ready to start a business venture and suggested they open a food/catering retail shop together. Dad was appalled: “Why a food business,” he famously asked. “You know nothing about food.”
Ah, on that score Dad was wrong. Roseman had been preparing for this step for years: His career trajectory took him from stints at a high school snack bar to a seafood restaurant, a pizzeria, and a country club restaurant. Fast food was in his genes. And as his mom exclaimed, she had three children so she knew a thing or two about sandwiches. So they jointly decided to open a delicatessen. How hard could that be? After all, at least according to Roseman, “lunch is the celebrated part of anyone’s work day … and nothing beats a good sandwich.” Friends and family told them that a delicatessen was a perilous venture, but they took the plunge and what a roller-coaster ride it has been.
Gourmet Galley opened in Greenwich on the top of the main retail avenue of the town in 1993.
After a few years of learning the ropes, Roseman got the deli rhyrthm down pat without having a nervous breakdown…barely. His mettle was tested when auto dealer Malcolm Pray approached him to produce 5,000 turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches for a weekend when the Concours d’Elegance would take over Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. In true assembly-line formation with help from his family, he sliced the meats and cheeses, swiped the spreads on the slices of bread, layered on the tomatoes and lettuce—all night long before the event. Then he bagged the sandwiches with chips and a drink. Everybody was happy with the results, no more than Roseman. Zabar’s should hire this guy. Roseman can handle anything now, he says, laughing at the memory.
The business changed locations three times before comfortably settling on Fairfield Avenue in Stamford. Today, it sits on a corner neatly splitting a residential area from the commercial/retail streets that dovetail into that junction. You enter Gourmet Galley with a serious appetite. The place is humble, almost bare bones, very much a workman’s lure. You look up at the overhead menus extolling Roseman’s extensive offerings including soups and salads.
There’s a very small glass showcase with rounds of meat and cheese, and racks of chips (every recipe in “Sandwich’d” ends with a suggestion for accompanying chips) rounding out the decor, if you can call it that. You’re here for the food and very quickly, the enticing aromas will have you vacillating between the Hawaiian Ono burger made with fish fillets on a cholesterol high of mayo, sour cream, and heavy cream tempered by a lemon vinaigrette, or the Italian combo that leaves nothing out.
In the book, Roseman pays homage to the simpler pleasures of the sandwich assemblage. He fondly remembers the brown bag lunches of his childhood (at school and on car rides with his parents), the satisfying pleasures of a BLT or a peanut butter and jelly served with a glass of milk. He says he would like to retire early, but for now life is good, shared with his wife and daughter, a dog and three turtles … and the makings of any sandwich anyone would want.
The recipes are meant for four servings, so they are on steroid overload. The Sicilian Muffuletta really caught my attention: 1 pound salami, 1 pound mortadella, ¾ pound each of pepperoni and provolone cheese, 1 pound olives, a small container of pickled vegetables and roasted red peppers. Garlic is thrown in for good measure to make you feel like a full-blown Italian. And you will be after eating your quarter share.
Peter Roseman is truly the “sandwich man of Fairfield County.”
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.