It takes something special to remain on the Providence culinary scene for decades. Hudson Street Deli has been around since 1942, and has kept lunch the best part of the day (and dinner because the sandwiches are so big) ever since. We met up with executive chef Travis Bahia to learn more about the art of sandwich making.
Can you put your finger on any one thing that makes Hudson Street really stand out?
I personally believe it’s our bread. We get fresh baked bread every day from Crugnale’s Bakery. They make our bread just for us – you can’t purchase it in the store or at other delis.
We’re also different because we have a signature [way we layer our sandwiches]: we put all of our veggies and sauces on the bottom. I don’t know how it started, but it’s been like that forever and we’ve just stuck with it. Also, people don’t realize how big our sandwiches are. I’ll ask most first-timers, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Many say, “Oh, I’m ready,” and then take half of it home.
How have you put your stamp on a menu beloved by so many people?
I came up with The Bahia sandwich. It’s made with pastrami, bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce and garlic mayo on a spinach bagel. The meat is heated, the cheese is melted and the bagel is toasted. And I usually add an egg if it’s breakfast time. That’s my go-to.
Also, if a guy builds a sandwich we’ve never seen before, we might name it after him. We just did that with “The George.” It’s a vegan breakfast sandwich made with tofu and vegan cheddar cheese. He always comes in and orders that, so we put it on the menu.
What’s the number one rule for making a great sandwich?
It’s all about balance. For instance, if you get a ham sandwich you probably don’t want to put a salty cheese with it. The ham is already salty enough, so I’ll put something like a Swiss or cheddar cheese [on it] instead. I also try to structure the sandwich so the whole experience is consistent. When I sprinkle on the chopped onions, I want to evenly distribute it so every bite is full of flavor. Also, each sandwich on the menu should be made the same way. If you order a Dexter and I order a Dexter, the tomatoes should be in the right place in both sandwiches. Attention to detail is key.
I see you guys have vegetarian and vegan options. Is this the evolution of the deli?
We didn’t do that for a while, but when Chrissy and Bryan came in as owners, they turned the menu around and offered up these new creations. It’s the best thing they could’ve done. Now we have two separate grills: one for vegetarians and vegans, and one for carnivores. We also use spices to flavor our vegan and vegetarian ingredients to make them taste like our meat sandwiches. This way no one misses out.
If you had to choose, which would be your favorite sandwich?
I have to say the Armory. Everything in it is finely chopped. I feel that when you’re eating a sandwich, there shouldn’t be a lot of chunky bits. The Armory is filled with garlic mayo, banana peppers, roast beef, Provolone cheese, hot sauce, salt and pepper, and then pressed. The press adds a little crunch with every bite, and it’s all soft and warm on the inside.
What sandwich choices would you recommend to a first-time guest?
For a cold sandwich, you have to go with the Italian. That’s the one we’re known for. It’s been on the menu since this place opened in 1942. For a hot sandwich, I’d say go with the Rhode Island’s Best Reuben. That sandwich is a staple here. It’s got corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on marble rye bread. We heat everything up so it’s warm and toasty when you get it. And, once again, that bread gets pressed to add a little crunch.
Hudson Street Deli
68 Hudson Street