Hoboken’s Roast Beef Battle


Fiore Deli’s Italian roast beef hero, including cross-sectional view

One of the stunning achievements of Italian-American cooking is the invention of the hero sandwich. Whether stuffed with cold cuts or cutlets, with cheese or without, served warm or at room temperature, dressed with tomato sauce or oil-and-vinegar, they stood for the opulence, abundance, and cheapness of food in the New World.

The equivalent production at Vito’s

One of the most opulent of all, and most extreme, is the Italian roast beef hero, a specialty of both Brooklyn and Hoboken, and still available today, if you know where to look for it. Made on an Italian-American baguette or demi-baguette, rare roast beef (or sometimes medium rare) is layered on the sandwich and topped with freshly made mozzarella. Then brown gravy is poured extravagantly over every interior surface before the thing is snapped shut. Gravy, cheese, and meat ooze out the ends.

Two groceries in Hoboken, Fiore’s and Vito’s, have established a reputation for their roast beef heroes. Fiore’s assembles them only on Thursdays and Saturdays; Vito’s makes them every day of the week. Both places develop enthusiastic lines waiting for the sandwiches. Both places brag about their homemade mozzarella, which is itself an obsession in the riverside town, as demonstrated by the recent Mutz Fest.

An intense rivalry has developed, of course. But which is best? Both have their advantages. Fiore’s squirts the gravy a little more judiciously, and the roast beef is rarer. The cheese is denser and squeakier.

Vito’s uses roast beef done almost to medium, and the cheese is softer and plainer. However, the gravy is ladled on with a bit more enthusiasm, making the thing nearly impossible to eat. Wear a raincoat. I mean, really.

But which is better? We leave that to you. FiTR advises you to try both.

The interior of Fiore’s House of Quality, founded 1919

The interior of Vito’s Italian Deli, founded 1987

Fiore’s House of Quality
414 Adams Street
Hoboken, New Jersey

Vito’s Italian Deli
806 Washington Street
Hoboken, New Jersey