There are some sandwiches that just stick with you. One bite and a snide smile graces your face and you know this is something you need to share with everyone. This happened today. And I can’t be more excited to share.
After winning our first Ultimate Frisbee game of the year on Randall’s Island (go team #PageRage), our stomachs were grumbling after all of the running around on the scorching summer day. With a rare car in tow, we headed into Spanish Harlem to a place one of our teammates was raving about; Earl’s Beer & Cheese.
Without a friend having once been a local and regular to this spot, we would have walked past the tiny entrance way time and time again. No visible sign presents itself out front leaving this unbelievable spot for the lucky few that knows about its existence.
Once inside, the restaurant is extremely small, with one large wooden communal table and three different bar style, high chair seats. The restaurant’s decor consists of variations of deer all over the walls. I was confused about its purpose, but with the feel of the place, it just seemed to make sense. The music selection is amazing with the volume at the perfect talking but not too soft level. We even asked what Pandora playlist we were singing along to at the end of the meal. It’s just a really fun, low key, pub ambience.
We snagged one of the few seats at the bar, glancing at the vague chalkboard menu. The simplicity of the menu turned out to be extremely deceiving. All of the dishes were far more complex then our initial impressions.
The combination ingredients in the dishes were unlike anything I had seen before. The tough decision was deciding what to actually order. After being told the Brie sandwich was a bit on the sweet side, I decided on the crazy NY State Cheddar Griled Cheese. I glanced over the local beer board, before deciding on a hot day I needed to stick to water. They have great local drafts on tap giving this place the perfect local, unique menu.
While waiting for the sandwiches, our friend Steve, the Earl’s expert, told us about his favorite beer cheese. We decided it was necessary to share as a starter to our overly cheesey meal.
This dish was simply incredible. The piled high, buttery, warm, thick pieces of toast gave us the overwhelming scent of fresh bread right from the kitchen. Ripping one piece left my fingers nice and oily, with the crunchy sound and perfectly brown color immediately let us know this was ideal toast. I dipped into the beer cheese and spreading it over the warm toast then placed the piece in my mouth. You could really taste the beer mixed into the local cheddar, creating this light creamy texture. The cheese was subtle, but extremely flavorful. The next step for me was to take the garlic cloves and rub it all over the toast making the most wonderful garlic bread. With the cheese on top, it just created the most wild flavor overload.
After the napkins piled up on the table with our fingers perfectly oiled and palates anxious for more, my sandwich was placed right in front of me.
Everything was right about this sandwich. The crunchy, light bread served as the perfect vehicle for all of the overwhelmingly delicious inside. The pork belly was cooked to perfection. It melted in your mouth, but had the most subtle crunch to it. Combined with the runny egg yolk from the fried egg made the perfect “sauce” essence to the dish. Then the sweet heat of the kimchi cabbage gave just the right amount of bite. The melted cheddar cheese on top melded the entire sandwich together. It was just right. I kept holding it in my hand to contain all of the messy bites. They don’t offer forks with any of the dishes, so I just continued to dig in, messy bite after messy bite. The flavors just kept building. I couldn’t stop eating. It was perfect.
I have no reason to ever be on 97th and Park but for this sandwich, I just might make the hike across the park and up 30 blocks. It was that good of a sandwich. My friend boasted that he has tried everything on the menu, and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty jealous. I would just love to experience all of the strange and wonderful culinary concoctions that harmonize together so perfectly.
For a cold brew, some unreal sandwiches and cheese, go to Earl’s. You will leave extremely full and beyond happy.
Earl’s Beer & Cheese – 1259 Park Avenue (between 97th and 98th) – New York, NY
*Side Note: As of June 2012, Earl’s is now CASH ONLY, be sure to stop at an ATM before!
Earl’s Beer & Cheese
Location: Upper East Side/Harlem, NY
Type: American (Traditional), Pub
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Cheap Eats, Quick Bite
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: NY State Cheddar Grilled Cheese, Beer Cheese