There are a dozen different sandwiches on Joey Tomatoes’ menu, but it makes no difference which one you order. You’re there for the bread.
Not that there’s anything wrong with what’s between the slices, as the crowds at the proudly Italian deli can attest. Ever since Joe Spiotta and George Sarkis rebranded their shotgun luncheonette on Chuck Dawley Boulevard, I’ve been trying to feature the restaurant in the food section’s “Now Open” column. But the restaurant’s been so busy that nobody’s had a chance to return my calls. Or maybe the prospect of the throng multiplying is just too much for the owners to contemplate.
When Spiotta and Sarkis in 2014 took over the building that used to house Puree Organic Café, they called it Bricco Bracco Cucina, thinking it would function as an offshoot of their established Mt. Pleasant restaurant. Sarkis explained to the Moultrie News that Cucina would serve the southern Italian dishes that didn’t align with Bricco Bracco’s northern Italian menu. But the distinction confused customers: Within one year, Cucina became The Kitchen, serving oyster stew and etouffee.
Last November, the owners shifted course a third time, opening Joey Tomatoes and playing up the Jersey angle. There’s Taylor ham on the breakfast menu; takeout manicotti in the cooler and cheesecake in the baked goods case. Customers who speak Italian are greeted in the mother tongue; other counter conversations are conducted in thick Italian-Americanese.
Also direct from New Jersey: The crusty Italian bread, a marvel of lightly-fermented soft honeycomb crumb and outer tanned crispiness. It’s a loaf that manages to outshine even creamy mozzarella; fresh basil leaves and an admirably juicy breaded chicken cutlet, which is no easy task in the world of superior sandwiches.
Joey Tomatoes refuses to reveal the source of its bread. Apparently other restaurateurs have been nosing around, imagining the riches they could reap with bread so special. But I learned it originates in Carlstadt, N.J., which is better known to non-New Jerseyites as the area adjoining East Rutherford, where the New York Giants play. According to an online listing of bakeries, “there are 79 bread manufacturers in or near Carlstadt, N.J.”
So there’s no way to be sure of Joey Tomatoes’ supplier, but the smart money’s on Tribeca Oven, an artisan outfit that got its start in Manhattan in 1981. Tribeca deals in par-baked breads considered of such high quality that James Beard Foundation award winner Ashley Christensen of Raleigh uses them to supplement in-house production at her restaurants.
But Christensen isn’t making sandwiches with salami and roasted peppers, or portabella mushrooms and marinated artichokes. For that, you have to go to New Jersey. Or to Mt. Pleasant.