The Sandwich Chronicle

Photo: Jeremy Liebman

As celebrated as the many-Emmyed Jerry Seinfeld is, one coveted prize had eluded the comedian throughout his career: No one had ever named a sandwich after him. That changed a couple of weeks ago, when Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, accompanied by a modest entourage, clumped downtown from the Upper West Side to pay a visit to Peanut Butter & Co., the quirky Greenwich Village sandwich shop whose menu is almost entirely devoted to peanut butter. As “big fans” of the restaurant and its owner, Lee Zalben, Mr. and Mrs. Seinfeld were there to taste-test a new peanut-butter sandwich that Zalben had just added to his repertoire.

Prompted, perhaps, by last season’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which his old pal Larry David has a deli sandwich named for him, but feels slighted by its ingredients, Seinfeld wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Officially known as Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedy Special, Seinfeld’s sandwich, as spelled out in the foreword that Seinfeld wrote to Zalben’s new Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook, is his own creation. It’s also something a small and not too bright child could throw together in a jiffy. It calls for a toasted H&H bagel, some peanut butter, a drizzle of honey, and a dusting of cinnamon. In his foreword, Seinfeld says that it helped him survive his early days as a struggling young comic back in the seventies.

Now, no longer struggling and dressed in a black leather jacket, cashmere sweater, and nubuck chukka boots instead of his trademark sneakers—signifying, perhaps, the momentousness of the occasion—Seinfeld looked around the room and then studied the menu board. “This place just makes you hungry,” he said. “We came here on our honeymoon,” added Jessica. “We ate the one with the apples, the whatchamacallit.” “What’s the most popular sandwich?” Seinfeld asked. “The Elvis,” said Zalben. “Ahhh,” said Seinfeld. “Because people think Elvis actually ate it.” “He did eat it,” said Zalben. “It’s in the book.”

After Seinfeld finished perusing the menu, he sat down at a table and flipped through the pages of the Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook while Zalben went into the kitchen to prepare a Jerry Seinfeld Comedy Special. “I’ve been a peanut-butter nut since I was a kid,” Seinfeld said. “People don’t know that about me. I was very interested in George Washington Carver. One of the few things I stopped and took notice of in school was when they mentioned that there was this black guy who invented 163 things off the peanut. I thought, well, that’s interesting.” A photographer snapped some pictures while Seinfeld continued to hold forth on a wide range of peanut-butter- and food-related topics, including smooth versus chunky (“Doesn’t matter”), what his fixation on the foods of his youth says about him (“That I’m a juvenile grown-up man, which most comedians are”), and the sad fate of the 2nd Avenue Deli (“Is that just one of the greatest crimes?”).

Although many episodes of Seinfeld revolve around food—the chocolate babka, the marble rye, Kramer’s cantaloupe, and the muffin tops, among them—Seinfeld is more anti-foodie than foodie. “There’s something silly about food,” he said. “It’s such an essential that it’s not necessary to be such an amusement. It’s essentially absurdist, this idea that we require all this variety and stimulation in our food. And it’s essentially kind of a gross thing. You know the reason people eat together is because if you ever sit with someone who’s eating and you’re not eating, you can’t believe how disgusting it is.”

Finally, Zalben brought out the sandwich, surrounded by some potato chips and a few carrot sticks on a blue plate. Seinfeld lowered his head, adjusted his rimless eyeglasses, and, with mock intensity, inspected the plate like a diamond-district jeweler. “The swirling could be better,” he said. “Could have been more generous with the peanut butter.” It was obvious that this was just some good-natured ribbing, but the comedian became serious when the topic turned to bagels. They must, he said, be H&H—despite the conventional wisdom that those uptown stalwarts aren’t what they used to be. “Eh, people just like to complain,” he said. “Alright, let me try this.” He plunged in and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “That’s fantastic!” he honked. “That is fantastic! It’s the H&H bagel. Wanna try it? Jess, try my sandwich.” Mrs. Seinfeld took a bite. “This is fantastic!” Jessica said. “You like it?” asked Seinfeld. “I love it!” she said. “Huh huh huh,” Seinfeld chuckled. “That’s why we got married.”

The Sandwich Chronicle