tasted conch salad in Key West. Given the prevalence
of conch in Key West back then, it’s possible that
this area may have even been the birthplace of conch
salad. It happened during a very hectic period of
starting a brand, new restaurant. It was my first
shot at being the “Head Chef” and my days were filled
with a mixture of terror and joy.
One summer afternoon amidst the circus of all this,
I felt a large shadow slowly sheathe the throbbing
tropical light that flooded through the kitchen screen
door at that hour. It was like when you’re in the
ocean, diving, and a very large fish swims behind
you. I froze.
Then came this voice. It was a booming bass sing-song
with Bahamian inflections
"Hey. Hey. I'm Frank, The Conch Salad Man. I'll sell
you the ‘World's Best Conch Salad’ and you can sell
it to your customers".
Without knocking, he pushed open the screen door and
came in holding a big, white pickle bucket brimming
with his conch salad. He reached in and gave me a
paper cup full. I tipped back a mixture of finely
diced conch, tomatoes, red onions, scotch bonnets,
bell peppers, celery, citrus juices and herbs. The
flavors of the sea were in there, too. I really began
to look at him now. His heavy-framed, black, saltwater-stained
glasses were held on with fishing line. His hands
were thick and meaty, marked from heavy labor. He
wore canvas shoes, navy-issued pants and a white T-shirt.
The long gold chain around his neck was his only adornment.
It only drew attention to the nasty scar along his
He pulled out another conch salad sample for each
of the other cooks and waiters who were working nearby.
It was then that I realized that he didn't know that
I was the chef, and that I myself might be considering
that I could (maybe!) make my own damn conch salad.
As I came to know him over the next few months I accepted
that this notion would have never occurred to Frank.
He had 1000% confidence that, once tasted, no one
would accept any conch salad other than his. The truth
is, I like that in a chef
was near a small, sandwich stand in an open-air market.
A radio was playing. Soft drink cans and cigarette
packs lined the windows to the inside, where a lady
was stuffing soft buns with meats. There was a paper
napkin dispenser advertising “Coca-Cola”®. This sandwich
stand happened to be in Florence, Italy.
In my hack Italian I said, “Buon giorno Signora. Due
Lamprodette, per favore”.
“We Italians are absolutely crazy about these sandwiches”,
my new friend Iano explained, “It is made from the
stomach of the cow”.
He had lived in the United States for a number of
years before returning to his native land. He had
eaten classic New York pastrami sandwiches, barbequed
Carolina pork and good old, All-American cheeseburgers,
but this cow’s belly on a bun, which he asked me to
join him in consuming, is his all-time favorite sandwich.
I have to admit, I liked it very much.
That might come as a surprise to one of my former
babysitters. I received e-mail recently from a girl
who used to watch me when I was 5 years old and she
was merely 12. She told me of a night when she fixed
me a “dinner” of a “Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato” sandwich.
I howled in protest! She said I refused on the grounds
that a sandwich was not a proper dinner. I even “ate
standing up unwilling to sit at the table”. My father
came home later and consoled the poor girl and even
said that I “was unreasonable sometimes about food
and its presentation”.
Hell, I was just warming up!
An Englishman, who also held the title of “The Earl
of Sandwich”, reportedly invented sandwiches. Apparently
he was an avid card player looking for a way of conveying
the foods of 19th century England to his mouth without
greasing up the cards he loved playing so much. Grouse
on rye with Stilton and onion and such, I imagine.
What would the Earl have thought of the Italian lamprodetta?
He might have loved them. After all, he was a gambling
man and it is a gutsy sandwich. Not dinner perhaps…
but still very good!