New Yorkers have been hiding a cheesy secret. Native urbanites have been ducking into bodegas and corner stores around Harlem and the Bronx for years for hero rolls stuffed full of ground beef and onions and topped with melted cheese, lettuce tomatoes and ketchup. They haven’t been hiding it, though. It’s just that foodies or yuppies or whatever you’d want to call them just never wandered into Harlem and the Bronx to even look.
The Chopped Cheese, as it is commonly called, is a ‘poor man’s’ meal – something you can get for under 4 bucks and fills you up the way a three course meal would.
Funny how the #choppedcheese, a burger-cheesesteak hybrid with a cult following, has never really caught on with the masses. Despite the fact that this lip smacker is thought to have first appeared on the griddles and menu boards of #EastHarlem bodegas some time in the ’90s, lots of folks, including many members of the local food cognoscenti, don’t even know what a chopped cheese is. (For the uninitiated: ground beef and American cheese given the Benihana treatment with a spatula on the flattop, then plopped onto a standard-issue Kaiser or hero roll and garnished with all the usual bodega-sandwich fixings.) Look for that to change, however, in a few weeks, when #AprilBloomfield’s butcher-shop-cum-neighborhood-restaurant #WhiteGold opens for lunch and her butcher-partners Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura along with chef de cuisine Robert Flaherty unleash their high-low take on the sandwich. “We’re big fans of bodega sandwiches,” says Guest. “So we’re trying to make, like, guilt-free bodega food.” ?: @melissa_hom
“The chopped cheese is probably a drug-dealer sandwich,” explained Harlem-born rapper Bodega Bamz.
Immortalized in hip hop videos and Instagram posts, the sandwich is New York’s answer to the Philly Cheesesteak and something you could only find the hood.
Twitter/TV personality Desus Nice grew up eating chopped cheese and agrees that the ambience where you get the sandwich is as important as the meal itself. “A good chopped cheese has to come from a bodega that has bulletproof glass, a cat, and a guy behind the counter named Mohammed, Papi, or Ahki.”
That is, until Whole Foods got their hands on it. For a brief time, the Columbus Circle NYC branch of Whole Foods was selling chopped cheese sandwich for a whopping $8, almost three times the deli price. Social media lit up with videos blasting the chain for trying to exploit something that was invented to be affordable.
You can’t really blame them, though. Chopped cheese is pretty amazing. Griddle fried beef is browned and cooked up crisp and diced onions chopped in with a spatula.
The spread is placed on a hoagie-sized hero roll and topped with melted yellow American cheese and fixings like lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mustard.
Celeb chef April Bloomfield started selling a hipster version of the sandwich at her newly opened White Gold restaurant. The catch? It’s $11 – a whole buck more than Whole Foods.
Where do you stand on chopped cheese? Should Whole Foods mark it up, or should the fanfare be kept in the neighborhood so it stays affordable?
Want to make it home? Lady and Pups has a great recipe for a Srira-Chopped Cheese.