Town Hall Deli is having a birthday – and it’s a big one.
This month, the South Orange institution turns 90. To celebrate, the owners are offering their iconic Sloppy Joe Sandwiches for $19.27 in honor its inaugural year. The special runs February 20 – 28, offering almost $4 off the regular price.
While the local sandwich shares a name with the sweet, tomato and beef gravy-on-a-bun version, it tastes nothing like it. The deli’s is a double-decker with two types of meat, cheese, homemade Russian dressing and coleslaw that’s pickled and then dried off so that it doesn’t melt the bread. These ingredients layer on a squared-off loaf of Pullman rye that’s sliced horizontally, resulting in a tall rectangle. Cut into eight squares, it’s enough lunch for two or three people.
While a typical day sees 40 to 50 Sloppy Joes cross the counter, Town Hall Deli’s busiest are Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday. This year, Matt Wonski, who runs the restaurant with his father Tony Wonski, the current owner, said they made more than 10 times that amount for game day.
The super-sized sandwich came to South Orange in 1934 when then-mayor Robert Sweeney asked the original owners to reconstruct a sandwich he’d enjoyed on vacation at a place called Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Eatery in Havana, Cuba. They obliged and a New Jersey legend was born.
Since then, the restaurant has changed locations four times and owners three times, but much of the staff has remained the same. Only three cooks have manned the kitchen since it opened. Jack Burdorf, whose father Heinz was the original owner and uncle the first cook, still comes in to work.
Matt, who said he started off “peeling eggs and washing dishes like everyone else” when he was a student at Seton Hall Preparatory School, called Jack a legend. “Everybody knows Jack,” he said. “We have 70 to 80 year-old women come in. They’ll put their make-up on by the counter.”
Today, Matt puts to use the knowledge he gained as a recent graduate of Montclair State University’s Nutrition and Food Science program with a concentration in Food Management. Emphasizing classic flavors, he added take-out dinners and homemade soups and desserts to the menu. He also started offering the preservative-free turkey, beef and corned beef roasted in-house as sliced cold cuts available by the pound.
Matt said he finds a happy medium between adapting to the times and being true to the deli’s roots. “Everything is very simple,” he said, “And that’s why it’s good.”
Town Hall Delicatessen, 74 First Street, South Orange NJ
8:00am – 8:00pm Monday – Friday
8:00am – 6:00pm Saturday
9:00am – 5:00pm Sunday.
They also overnight ship nationwide via Goldbely https://www.goldbely.com.