Monday, October 13, 2008

Where in the U.S. can one get a decent Toasted Special?

One of the most wonderful -- and frustrating -- parts of travel is being turned on to local delicacies, things you can't find at home.

While in Southwestern Ireland several years ago, I acquired a taste for Toasted Specials, recommended by a Kerryman named Donal. We were in a small pub in a remote town, and he advised that they were very good. Somehow it seemed that even though he was a lineman for Irish Telecom, even he couldn't have visited that pub often enough to know their special was good. But at that point, I knew nothing about Toasted Specials, including that it's not the 'special of the day,' it's just the name of what might be considered the National Sandwich of Ireland. In other words, it's the same, no matter where you go. In effect, it's Ireland's version of a McDonald's hamburger, only better.

The Toasted Special is merely a toasted ham, cheese, tomato and onion sandwich. That's it. Pretty much any pub you go to will have the ingredients on hand and can toss one together for you. And yes, it tastes as good as it sounds, though I must admit that you could put melted cheese on a shoe and I'd eat it with gusto.

Now here's the odd thing: for as ubiquitous as the Toasted Special is in Ireland, it's virtually anonymous outside. Try looking for it on Wikipedia: not there. Try Googling it: barely there. In fact, I couldn't find a decent photo of one. Meanwhile, there are reams of tributes to Taylor Ham, which is a rare find outside New Jersey. Not that I'm complaining about Taylor Ham, but with all of the other Irish stuff that people obsess over, you'd think that a pub sandwich would get a little more airplay. And there are a lot of Irish people in the New York area.

So does anyone know where I can find a decent Toasted Special? Or do I have to go all the way back to Ireland to get one?