Thursday, October 15, 2009

Manganaro's Hero Boy

As we mentioned in our older post before we left New York, we have a few more food-related posts that we just didn't have any time to do while we were in a frenzied pace to see and visit every crack and crevice in New York while we still lived there. We'll start with a place and its sandwiches we're craving right now: Manganaro's Hero Boy in Hell's Kitchen (at 494 9th Avenue).

Manganaro's Hero Boy is a working person's place and has been in business for over 50 years. When we went during lunch on a weekday, we saw a steady mix of white collar and blue collar folks. The restaurant serves the sandwiches cafeteria style and has a large seat-yourself dining section to the right. The portions are huge, the prices are reasonable, and the food is satisfying. Our kind of place. Most people will recommend their chicken parmigiana hero and their traditional lasagna, but we decided to order their meatball hero and the prosciutto, mozzarella & tomato hero, which turned out to be very good choices. The large meatballs were very moist, the traditional style tomato sauce was mellow, and the nicely melted cheese was plentiful.

Just check out the size of this heartburn-inducing hero. The only downer was the soggy bottom caused by the tomato sauce. They should serve the sauce on the side so you can spread and dip at your digestive pace without turning the bread "prematurely wet."

The prosciutto was simply stunning. How can one not love prosciutto? More importantly, how can a place screw up a prosciutto sandwich? Yes, odd, but many surprisingly do (too little meat, too dry, too much unnecessary sauce barfed on it). Thankfully, Manganaro's gives you a simple prosciutto sandwich done right. The meat tasted fresh and the portion was perfect.

The size of the heros are enormous, but not disgustingly tiresome the way a Carnegie sandwich is. So yes, you can actually eat the whole thing as long as you pace yourself right. The sandwiches were pretty good deals for $8 and $9 considering the portions. We were surprised that some rather large men could only finish half their hero. Tackling Manganaro's famous six-foot heros would probably be not so easy. One thing to know about Manganaro's besides their food is that they're located next to Manganaro's Grosseria and Ristorante. It's the same name, same family from the same blood line, but completely separate entities.

The decades long bitter family feud between Manganaro's Grosseria and Ristorante directly next door to Manganaro's Hero Boy is widely known. There's even a sign at the Grosseria that states "Manganaro's Foods is not affiliated with Hero Boy." The two separate Manganaros are owned and operated by feuding brothers. I'm sure their uncle James Manganaro who started working at the Grosseria as a young boy at the turn of the century and who gave the boys the business wouldn't be pleased with the War of the Manganaros. While the Hero Boy is more modern and has the larger scale cafeteria feel, the Grosseria, which is an old world Italian specialty food store and small restaurant in the back, make you feel like you've stepped back in time, like you walked in a scene of The Godfather. The Grosseria looked like the kind of place we'd want to eat at . . . with charm and history . . . BUT . . .

Both Manganaros were featured in Anthony Bourdina's No Reservations (separately, of course). We didn't have enough time to eat at the Grosseria, but we've read many unhappy reviews of bad treatment by the Grosseria proprietors. And we can also attest to a slightly rude treatment there. If you're in a nasty competition with your family members that run a food place next door that sells similar old school Italian food, why would you treat your customers like shit? Because when you make them feel unwelcome, they're going to go next door to Hero Boy instead where the service is quick and straightforward but certainly not rude or mean. As much as we wanted to try Grosseria, there's just too many places in New York City to discover and go back to, and a place that can't respect its customers on a basic level is just not worth the time (which is why we skipped Kebab Cafe).