New Jersey's blessed us with some temptingly named specialties, from rippers to tomato pies—and then there’s the fat sandwich. The name will either make you hungry or make you wince, depending on how intimately acquainted you are with the sandwich. The words "fat sandwich" tend to conjure images of squishy, lard-soaked bread, but a fat sandwich is really an enormous pub-grub meal shoehorned into a hoagie roll. When you’re ravenous and probably tipsy—and especially when you have the metabolism of an undergrad—how irresistible is that?
Very, very irresistible, especially to the generations of people who have fond associations with the sandwich, and the many thousands who discover it every year. The original fat sandwich dates back to 1979, when RU Hungry?, one of the “grease trucks” parked by Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, created a sandwich called the Fat Cat. Rutgers students quickly gobbled up the roll stuffed with two cheeseburgers, fries, lettuce and tomato. Surrounding grease trucks got in on the act, adding the concoction to their menus. Eventually, fat sandwiches became a Garden State rite of passage.
Photo courtesy of RU Hungry?/Instagram
In 1997, Rutgers student Darrell Butler kicked off a trend for fat sandwich variations, when he convinced RU Hungry? to swap in different ingredients. “After a horrible day at class followed by an even more horrible frat party, I was fed up with my normal routine [of a Fat Cat],” Butler tells The Feast. He craved the comforts of chicken fingers, fries and mozzarella sticks, but ordering those three side dishes was far more expensive than his usual sandwich. He persuaded the vendor to pile the fried trinity into a roll, then douse it with marinara sauce before adding the lettuce and tomato, all for the same price as a Fat Cat.
“The entire line of people was waiting to see what I thought,” Butler says. “I bit into it and it was incredible! Everybody with me wanted one, and the girl in line behind me wanted one. Then her boyfriend ordered it, and the next person… and the next.” The namesake Fat Darrell® became an overnight success and remains a bestseller.
Several other fat sandwich alternates sprang up in Fat Darrell’s wake. But these days, you have to earn the right to create your own sandwich by winning the dubious honor of consuming five fat sandwiches in less than 45 minutes. What happened to Butler, you ask? He became a personal trainer and wellness consultant. For next year’s 20th anniversary of the Fat Darrell, Butler is trying to create a healthy sandwich-sibling.
Photo courtesy of Fat Sal's/Instagram
For decades, RU Hungry? and other grease trucks parked in a Rutgers lot but recently, a local redevelopment project dissolved that hub. Now RU Hungry? has a shop on College Avenue, perhaps not as atmospheric as the parking lot but still open late. The concept’s gone west, too, with a growing chain called Fat Sal’s bringing fat sandwiches to California and Texas. (Fun fact: Fat Sal’s is co-owned by Jerry Ferrara, who played Turtle on Entourage.) WIth any luck, the fat sandwich will conquer even more of the country in due time.
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