Egg and cheese sandwiches are often just that: egg and cheese on a roll or bagel or toast. Just as often, they co-star a choose-your-own breakfast meat, be it bacon or sausage or ham. But arguably the most festive version, especially during Hanukkah, features a crispy, chewy latke.
The latke, egg, and cheese sandwich on house-baked challah from B&H Dairy in Manhattan's East Village has technically been available for years, yet only just became a permanent menu item.
"One of the things that drives my eating is being able to go to a restaurant and put together disparate elements to make something even better," Lawrence Weibman, the de facto creator of the sandwich, told me over the phone.
Weibman doesn't work for B&H. He's a regular customer, as well as a video producer and food-lover, who runs the Instagram account @nycfoodguy. He's always on the hunt for the most exciting dishes at restaurants, even if they're not on the menu—yet.
The native New Yorker moved to the East Village in 2008 to glimpse some of the "old" New York that constantly appeared in books and movies, but wasn't in his neighborhood growing up: "To me, the East Village is one of the few areas left in the city that still has true bohemian soul. This is a place that embodies the last vestiges of the New York of the past. B&H embodies [that feeling]."
B&H does represent classic New York charm, where restaurant employees know the names of their regulars, and vise versa. Weibman is just as familiar with the owners of B&H, Ola and Fawzy Abdelwahed, as well as the restaurant's cooks and front of house employees, as they are with him. Sometimes, they'll name specials after certain customers.
"I said you're more than welcome to create your own dish. In the beginning, it was just a conversation," Ola told me over the phone, describing the evolution of Weibman's sandwich from suggestion to menu item. At first, she was skeptical: "Potato pancake inside of the egg sandwich? But he said, 'It's delicious,' so I said 'Okay, I'll try one.'" Her thoughts now? "It's awesome, everybody loves it."
The addition of a latke to an egg and cheese sandwich was, as is the case with many ingenious creations, an unplanned yet illuminating success. "I was probably craving bacon one day," Weibman said. As B&H is both a pescetarian and Kosher establishment, an alternative came to mind: an order of their salty golden-brown potato pancakes, one of which he slid onto the egg and cheese sandwich. "What goes better with squishy and melty, than crispy-crunchy? It's all about sandwich construction."
Speaking of construction, Weibman has thoughts. "Fried eggs, over medium, with American cheese. You want to be able to squeeze down and have that yolk in the middle, not on top." The challah—B&H's homemade signature—is untoasted: "You want the squishy bread, because you have to be able to smush it down a little to fit it in your mouth once the latke goes in, unless you're a boa constrictor."
And of course, there's the condiments factor. For Weibman, that's salt and pepper, plus ketchup and hot sauce. Staying true to his brand, Weibman didn't just go for the hot sauce on the counter. "The guys who work there have their own stash of hot sauce in the fridge . . . sometimes they had a ghost pepper sauce. The real secret was to ask for the hot sauce in the back." He says that extra heat, with the sweetness from ketchup, are non-negotiable.
Until just recently, to get this sandwich at B&H, one had to order an egg and cheese sandwich and side of potato pancakes, then rearrange accordingly. Yet, as Weibman got to know the cooks and owners more, he felt comfortable requesting the whole sandwich ("a trepidatious ask," he added).
When he first shared photos of the sandwich on Instagram, he noted it was an off-menu creation. "But then people started coming in and ordering it. They have other dishes named for regulars. I'd mess with [Ola] and be like, 'Where's mine? I'll take a sign!'"
"I said, 'Next time we print the menu, I promise we'll put your name on it,'" laughed Ola, relaying the same story. "Some new customers see it online, and say they want it just like the photo. For me, it was something new. It's very popular."
Recipe: Latke, Egg & Cheese Sandwich, Inspired by B&H
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Makes: 1 sandwich
- 2 thick slices challah (or brioche in a pinch)
- 2 slices American cheese
- Olive oil or butter, for frying eggs
- 1 or 2 large eggs
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 latke (recipe below)
- Hot sauce and ketchup, for serving, optional (but not really)
- 1 pound Russet potatoes (about 3 medium), scrubbed
- 1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons matzo meal or Panko breadcrumbs
- 3/4 teaspoon teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Sandwich: Place bread on a cutting board. (If you'd like, you can toast it first, but @nycfoodguy does not.) Layer the cheese on one slice of bread.
- Heat oil or butter in a small nonstick skillet. Scramble or fry the eggs to your liking (at B&H, they're served over-medium for this sandwich, but live your life). Season the eggs with salt and pepper, then slide them over the cheese. Place a latke over the eggs. If you'd like, smear a bit of hot sauce and ketchup over the latke, then top with the second slice of bread.
- Carefully cut the sandwich in half, and serve with extra hot sauce and ketchup if desired.
- Latkes: Fill a medium bowl halfway with water. Peel the potatoes and plop them into the water (this prevents the potatoes from oxidizing. Grate the potatoes through the large holes of a box grater, then transfer back to the water and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Remove the potatoes from the bowl and transfer to a clean kitchen towel. Gather the towel into a package and use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible into the bowl, then return the potatoes to the towel. Drain the water from the bowl, but leave any potato starch that's accumulated in the bottom—we'll use it in a bit.
- Place the onions on top of the potatoes. Using the towel, wring and squeeze as much water as possible from the potatoes and onions into the sink. Transfer the potatoes and onions to the bowl with the reserved potato starch.
- Crack the egg into the bowl along with matzo meal, salt, and a few good grinds of pepper. Use your hands to combine the mixture well, making sure to scrape up and combine any potato starch from the bottom of the bowl.
- Line a sheet pan or a large plate with paper towels. Pour oil into a large nonstick or cast iron skillet until it reaches about 1/4-inch up the sides. Heat over medium-high until very hot and shimmery. Test this by adding a piece of potato from the latke mixture to the oil: If it sizzles immediately, you're good to go. If not, wait a couple more minutes and try again.
- Scoop up a scant 1/4 cup of the latke mixture and gently drop it into the oil. Use a fork to spread the batter into a 4-inch pancake and cook until deeply golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Depending on the size of your skillet, you can fry 2 or 3 latkes at a time. Transfer the latkes to the paper towel-lined sheet pan and sprinkle each with salt. Repeat until the batter is used.
- Let a latke cool slightly, then transfer to your sandwich. This recipe makes about 12 latkes, which is of course too many for one sandwich. To save yourself some work the next time you crave a LEC, let the latkes cool completely, wrap tightly, and freeze. To reheat, defrost and warm in a 300ºF oven until crispy and heated through.