Everyone has at least one transplanted East Coast friend who'll go to extraordinary lengths for a taste of home. Some New Yorkers board the plane with bags full of frozen bagels, while New Jerseyites have been known to bring coolers full of Taylor ham through TSA.
For New England-born Chris Silverman, his move to California in 1989 set him on a quest for his own personal food unicorn: the perfect bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, just like you'd find in a New York City bodega. It's one of those legendary foods that's had YouTube videos, articles, and listicles devoted to it, because despite its simple ingredients, New Yorkers claim it's never the same outside the East Coast.
Silverman spent 30 years in the retail and fashion industry, working for brands like Levi Strauss & Co. and Chrome Industries. But the thought of opening up his own East Coast-style sandwich shop lingered in the back of his mind. So last October, he opened Binney Park, a sandwich shop in Downtown Oakland.
Binney Park is named after a park in Greenwich, Connecticut, just minutes from the home where Silverman grew up. In the winter, he played hockey with his friends on the frozen ponds, and in the summer, his family would pack sandwiches and head to the park for a picnic.
"The Fourth of July, literally the whole town will go in the morning," he said. "You put out your blanket, your chairs, claim your space, and then come back around sunset. And everyone's there picnicking and hanging out, [having] dinner and drinks, and fireworks shoot off literally right above your head."
At Binney Park, Silverman is inspired by sandwiches from his childhood. An East Coast sandwich, according to Silverman, should have quality, straightforward ingredients — nothing funky or out of the ordinary. Most ingredients at Binney Park are locally sourced — the meat comes from Zoe's Meat in Petaluma, and most of the bread comes from The Acme Bread Company and Le Boulanger.
But for the kaiser roll that Silverman felt was essential to his New York breakfast sandwich, Bay Area versions simply wouldn't do. Instead, he turned to his favorite New York bakery and convinced the unidentified bakery to ship their bread to California.
"It's like the bread mafia back there," Silverman laughed. "I had to go through like five or six layers of management to finally get them to sell to me." Silverman even went as far as sending a freezer truck to New York to purchase frozen kaiser rolls.
"It definitely adds a layer of logistics, but to me, when I bite into that breakfast sandwich in the morning, I'm like, it's so worth it."
I can't say I've eaten enough bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches in New York to judge whether Binney Park's version is authentic. But I can say that its version is straightforward and surprisingly satisfying. The bacon was lean and thinly sliced, while a generous amount of cheddar cheese added creaminess and sharpness. The egg was cooked to an ideal over easy and lightly sprinkled with black pepper, while the soft, crusty kaiser roll absorbed the oozing, thick egg yolk. Add on the full-bodied iced coffee or an espresso drink for a powerful start to your morning — or afternoon, since breakfast is (thankfully) available all day.
If you're looking for a cold sandwich, it's hard to go wrong with the Italian sandwich, which stacks mortadella, salami, pepperoni, and ham on a fluffy, soft torpedo roll with pepperoncini, sliced tomato, and shredded lettuce for accompaniment. There was nothing unexpected about the sandwich, but in a way, that was part of the appeal — it tasted exactly how you'd hope an Italian sandwich would taste, with clean, crisp notes of olive oil and vinegar on top. The meat and bread were nicely balanced.
The tuna salad sandwich was another solid option, with the same torpedo roll, shredded lettuce, and tomato along with a smooth-textured, creamy, mayonnaise-laden tuna salad.
If you're in the mood for a warm sandwich, the hot pastrami on marble rye is an excellent choice. Silverman keeps his version simple with a modest amount of lean pastrami, gooey melted Swiss cheese, and a generous smear of house-made Russian dressing, all served on locally baked marble rye. The sandwich was satisfying in its simplicity, though I wouldn't have minded a pickle spear on the side or some vinegary sauerkraut for balance. The turkey club was another winner, with toasted sliced sourdough, thinly sliced quality turkey (none of that slimy, processed stuff), Swiss cheese, and veggies. The only thing that would have made it better, as with most things, was more bacon.
I'd skip the salami sandwich, because the overwhelming amount of yellow mustard meant that the tanginess overshadowed the salami. The soft, sliced white bread also stuck to my teeth, and the crust was chewy and seemed stale.
A quick note on price: Although the quality is above-average, these aren't the biggest, nor the most affordable sandwiches you'll find in already sandwich-saturated Downtown Oakland. The turkey club seemed a little pricey at $12, and the portion was big enough to easily finish. The other sandwiches, like the hot pastrami, Italian, and tuna sandwiches seemed more fairly priced at $10, though again, they're on the smaller side, so don't expect to be able to get away with splitting.
But even if your wallet is feeling a little light after a Binney Park sandwich, it's well worth it to splurge for the house-made chocolate chip cookies or brownies. The cookies were dense and buttery with crisp edges, while the brownies struck an ideal midpoint between fudgy and cakey with chewy-crunchy edges. For an extra decadent ice cream sandwich, you can get Straus Family Creamery vanilla soft serve stuffed between cookies or a split-open brownie.
For me, a Binney Park sandwich seems like a worthwhile occasional indulgence — because, let's face it, for the sake of minimizing our carbon footprint, we probably shouldn't be eating kaiser rolls shipped from New York on a regular basis. But for Silverman, good, simple ingredients are part of his everyday life, just like classic, quality clothing staples that never go out of style.
"Food to me is a really, really simple pleasure," Silverman said. "And just the same with putting clothes on in the morning, I take pleasure in putting certain things on. ... You put on a nice pair of boots, it feels a lot better than putting on a crappy pair of shoes, right?"
"My denim, and my Red Wings, and my bacon, egg, and cheese, and I'm a happy man."