I go home to San Diego, Calif., only twice during the academic year: winter break and spring break. Though I always look forward to spending time with the sacred home-from-college triad of family, friends, and pets, the thought of Californian cuisine engenders even more excitement for me, as it does with many Californian Yalies. Non-Californian students are probably familiar with this phenomenon. After all, Californians love to flaunt the superiority of In-N-Out over Shake Shack and will frequently point out that there are few places in the United States that offer cheap Mexican food of such high quality. Fantastic Chinese food, excellent boba, and fresh sushi can be found all along the coast. We really can’t be beat.
I mention all this to clearly establish my position as a West Coast culinary elitist. As the timeless aphorism goes, “West Coast, best coast.”
There is, however, one particular food item that I find myself missing while home—one that I’m unable to access in the bountiful gastronomic landscape of my Southern Californian city. It is the first thing I devour once back in New Haven, always accompanied by a bag of kettle chips and an Arizona iced tea. Excluding my first semester at Yale (before I had eaten from the tree of knowledge), I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than a week on campus without consuming one of these ambrosian items. It is, of course, the legendary “Hungry Man Hero” of GHeav—that most venerable establishment—that I speak of.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Hungry Man Hero, I can offer only a description, along with the urgent recommendation that you get off your ass and go order one. Bear in mind, however, that my words cannot even begin to capture a portion of the sandwich’s essence, its boundless delectability.
To start, the bread: a hero roll, dependable, simple, and filling. Next come three freshly fried eggs with melted American cheese. That’s right, three eggs. Perfect for a post-workout protein load. And say what you will about the flavor of American cheese, but once melted, the gooey texture is what makes it perfect for hot sandwiches and burgers. Finally, we arrive at the meats, another triple play: crispy bacon, fried ham, and savory sausage. The plentiful meat, along with the name, makes it the “masc” version of the bacon, egg, and cheese.
Of course, the beauty of the sandwich does not end there. These are simply the sandwich’s requirements, its foundation. Like most GHeav sandwiches, the customization options for the Hungry Man Hero are nearly endless. Do you prefer cheddar to American? More power to you. What if you want avocado? I stand in solidarity with you as a Californian. Want some chipotle mayo or hot sauce for greater flavor? The sandwich is your canvas! By its very nature, the Hungry Man Hero is protean. Infinite. Interminable.
The real tragedy of my predicament is the complete lack of adequate substitutes in California. Certainly, there are plenty of restaurants and eateries that sell breakfast sandwiches. I would even go so far as to claim that some of these breakfast sandwiches are tasty. But few to none match the Hungry Man Hero’s specific genius—never mind the problem that none of these sandwiches come from bodegas. This brings me to what is, perhaps, the most important element of the sandwich: the fact that it is made in a bodega, right in front of me. That I can order a Hungry Man Hero at any hour, day or night, from familiar faces.
Sadly, California has no bodegas to speak of. As far as I’m aware, they’re solely a product of the Northeast. There’s a sense of warmth and community in the GHeav on Broadway, as is the case in many bodegas. And despite my Californian elitism, I willingly accept that, in this instance, it’s something we can’t hope to replicate.