I just ate a torta from the Mexican deli down the block from where I live. I used to get the chop cheese from there a lot. I wonder why it is that I know it as the Mexican deli. I wonder why I stopped getting the chop cheese. Two very different sandwiches. Chop cheese became a thing I suppose and I started to feel self conscious when I ordered it. They are messier and have less green than the torta. Chop Cheese is just a chopped cheeseburger with peppers and onions on a hero. A torta is a Mexican sandwich with the avocado, and the jalapeños, and the thick white cheese, and the meat, stuffed between a roll. I usually get it with the cecina, which is just beef that’s been salted and dried before it was cooked. It’s cut real thin so the distinct flavor can cut through without the texture overpowering the veggies. A more sensible meal, as far as deli sandwiches go. I’m spoiled by how close I am to a quality Mexican deli, and I guess I’m just making sure to take full advantage when I opt for the torta. I also like the customization that goes into a torta. There’s something about chanting a sandwich order from memory like some sort of initialization mantra or summoning spell that then inspires and directs craft that creates something intimate about the transaction. It doesn’t feel cold. It’s like when a mechanic pops the hood of your car and you both look into it and you read their reaction and they read your car, and they make some sort of sound that you then use to brace for the forthcoming analysis. Something about these transactions, where there’s a real back and forth, a conversation, allows them to transcend transaction (in my experience) into the realm of ritual.
I haven't frequented the Mexican deli enough to have formed a relationship with any of their grill people, but I aim to get there. At the deli on 79th street and York avenue, by the southeast corner, I’ve become pretty close with the late night duo that works there. I can’t for the life of me remember their names, but they are both middle-aged Pakistani gentlemen. They work from 4pm to 3am They remind me of Bert and Ernie. There is a short stocky one and a tall thin one. The tall thin one is outgoing and smiles a lot . We talk about our days and complain about work, and he always knows what I’m getting. A bacon egg and cheese on a whole wheat bagel with muenster cheese, extra bacon, honey mustard, and hot sauce. He even started not charging me for the extra bacon. I was there everyday at the same time for months, and I ordered the same exact sandwich every time. Now I can go weeks without seeing them and I can still expect a warm welcome and a perfect sammich when I do stop by. The shorter one was always working cashier, and he never said much to me but he had looks. He gave me a much softer look after a while. I started noticing how hard his look would get when other people stepped in the deli.