It’s sad, the way so many toothsome things never make their way out of the typical restaurant kitchen and onto the Underground Gourmet’s plate. These hearty dishes, known in restaurant-world circles as “family meals,” are usually whipped up by an industrious kitchen grunt and fed exclusively to the staff, the thinking being that they’re too homely and unrefined for the paying public. Once in a while, though, a rustic morsel emerges from the wings like a Broadway understudy whose mentor has come down with a case of laryngitis. Take, for instance, a new dish on the lunch menu at Prune, simply listed as “oatmeal sandwich, trenton pork roll” ($10).
The first is more or less what it sounds like: a firmish slab of steel-cut oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar and toasted walnuts along with a swipe of Skippy peanut butter, all of it layered between slices of grilled sourdough. “The sandwich came from a family meal,” says Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton, confirming the U.G.’s suspicions. “It was a bizarre interpretation of leftover ingredients from brunch that hit the spot so much we asked the inventor, J. Guerrero, a line cook, to replicate it,” she says. “Once we’re asking for something twice and then yet again, we know it’s real food and something we crave, and not just a case of the stoner munchies.” As for the slices of fried pork roll which sit off to the side of the plate like a couple of sprigs of parsley, that’s real food, too, and a story unto itself. It turns out that pork roll (spicy and Spamlike in flavor) is something like the state meat of New Jersey. What mortadella is to Bologna, pork roll is to Trenton. “It was a school lunch every Wednesday for 35 cents, notched in four places so it wouldn’t curl up on the griddle and set in a hamburger bun with ketchup,” says Hamilton. That sandwich, by the way, has yet to make it onto the Prune menu, but one can hope.