Sam's, the old-time Cobble Hill Italian place, is known for its coal-fired pizza. But some time ago, a foodie friend who knows his stuff recommended I stroll in some afternoon and get one of their heroes to go.
I finally got around to it yesterday, walking through the front and back rooms of the empty eatery to the small window, by a small cash register, that looks into the kitchen. I ordered a meatball hero. It took ten minutes. They wrapped it up beautifully is white paper and tin foil. I would have stayed hot for an hour if I had had somewhere to go. But I didn't. So I ate it right outside, on the sidewalk.
My friend was right. It put the crunchy, tough, chewy heroes you get at most pizzerias to shame. The bread was soft and fresh, the meatballs inside it moist and delicate, the sauce savory and not too spicy. Most heroes are heavy and sink like a rock to the bottom of your gut. This one was airy and light. (The picture above does not do it justice.) I had no trouble eating the whole thing in one sitting.
The next day I went back and order a sausage Parmesan hero and took the time to observe how they did it. The key seems to be that they treat the roll and the filling as two separate dishes which should be prepared differently. The filling goes in the pizza oven to heat, while the bread is placed just outside the oven, where it gets warm. The bread is later placed in the oven for a short time to develop a light crisp. Most hero places put the filling on the bread and then heat the whole thing together for about 10 minutes, rendering the roll horribly hard and crusty.
After the roll is taken out, sauce is spread in thin layers on either side of the loaf. The sausage is the put in carefully, bit by bit. I also noticed that they slice the sausage lengthwise, in thin strips, thus avoiding the big, unmanageable chunks that sometimes get in the way of eating a hero.
Sam's is going to have a hard time getting me to order a pizza from now on.