I grew up behind the counter of my family's fountain service store. We made sodas by mixing together flavored syrup and seltzer water, malteds with hard ice cream and real malt, sundaes, frappes and, of course, egg creams. (A separate item on the iconic Brooklyn beverage is in the planning stage. First, and in order to prepare a proper egg cream, I must get to my friend Joe's house in the Hudson Valley, he being the keeper of a steady supply of real glass seltzer bottles and authentic U-bet chocolate syrup. But I digress.)
The store is where our neighbors (we lived right upstairs) sat in chrome stools while they talked and read newspapers and laughed and listened to the radio and, yes, fought hard with one another as neighbors will sometimes do. You did not so much spend your money when sitting at counters like this one; you spent your time, your life really. There are men for whom I poured coffee and served crumb buns and unwrapped fat cigars that were like uncles to me; the women who came by the store to collect these men — their men — were like aunts.
In the back of the store was a small apartment where my Uncle Joe lived. But once he got his own place, a block and a half away, my mother, after mourning the "loss" of her elder brother, reluctantly started using the kitchen to make sandwiches at lunchtime. This development was met with some enthusiasm in our tightly knit community, as my mother's cooking skills were both known to and appreciated by many.
Hers was a limited menu. There were meatballs (of course) and breaded and fried veal cutlets (served straight up or parmigiana); there was a pepper steak (also available with veal, my preference), an eggplant parm, and a sweet Italian sausage hero. People liked my mother's sandwiches. Lunchtime at the store just could not possibly have been any busier.
You might imagine that the meatball, or perhaps the sausage, would be the most popular in this small group of sandwiches. They were not. To those in our corner of Kings County, not even a perfectly prepared meatball, which my mother's most certainly was (just ask my cousin Big John, he'll tell you), could compete with the most iconic Italian-American sandwich of all: Peppers and eggs.
A simpler sandwich to prepare you will not find. Fry slices of peppers in some olive oil, toss in a couple eggs after the peppers have softened, a little salt and pepper, then mix it all up and into your bread of preference it goes. (You must agree that the demi baguette is the perfect sandwich bread, it having not one but two crunchy ends to enjoy.)
See? So simple that it is hardly worth even writing about.
Apologies. I will attempt something more challenging the next time. Maybe.