The Baltimore corner store sandwich that helped me fall in love with breakfast

At the cheap carryout spots on my block the clerks always used to ask, "With or without jelly?" 

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published March 3, 2023 12:01PM (EST)

Toast popping out of a toaster alongside bacon, eggs, cheese and jelly (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Toast popping out of a toaster alongside bacon, eggs, cheese and jelly (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

For $50, you can have five star-level gourmet breakfast sandwiches every day for a week. 

"How's a bacon, egg and cheese from the bodega?" Linda, my former  publicist, shot me in text. "I'm in the store now." 

"Turkey bacon, I don't eat pork, and add jelly," I reply. 

"That has to be a Baltimore thing, you people crack me up!" 

Linda, a New Yorker,  worked on my book "The Cook Up," but a few years earlier, she also worked on "Grace After Midnight," a memoir by "The Wire" star Felicia "Snoop" Pearson. Linda recalled Snoop, who is also a Baltimore native, ordering the same sandwich religiously during their press run. 

"Girl that sounds nasty," she would tease Snoop, who would  proudly say, "It's the only way." 

I agree with Snoop. My mom, my dad, my siblings and everyone required jelly on their egg sandwiches. And other than that exchange with Linda, I normally don't get a reaction when ordering the bacon, egg, cheese and jelly. That is probably because people with all kinds of palates understand that the savory bacon with the sweet jelly make for a perfect pair, like pasta and wine. 

The bacon, egg and cheese sandwich has been eaten since they invented the pig, but the jelly makes it special–– the age-old sandwich can't call itself a delicacy without the jelly. I've been ordering the sandwich from corner stores around Baltimore for so long that I can't remember when it entered my life. At Bo Bo's Kitchen or Lee's, the cheap carryout spots on my block that also sold trash bags, penny candy and frozen cups — the clerks always used to ask, "With or without jelly?" 

Because they knew that extra ingredient was vital. 

So, a typical bacon, egg, cheese and jelly sandwich requires one slice of American cheese, a teaspoon of Welch's grape jelly, two pieces of bacon (pork or turkey), one egg mixed with salt and pepper fried hard — all between two slices of basic white bread. This retails for about $3 to $5 anywhere from Baltimore to New York. This is what I grew up on, what raised me, what helped me fall in love with breakfast; however, this is not why we are here.

Bacon, egg and cheese — with jelly
1 servings
Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook Time
10  minutes


(With prices from Whole Foods)

Brioche Rolls, 6 ct - $6.39

Cabot Cheddar- $5.99

Applegate Turkey Bacon- $8.99

Eggs- $4.79

Olive oil spray-$4.49

Organic strawberry jelly - $4.39

Organic curry powder- $6.99

Organic cayenne pepper- $6.99



  1. I typically use Challah or the Brioche listed, and toast them lightly before I do anything. Then I fry the bacon. 

  2. While the bacon is sizzling — slice the Cabot Cheese into thin squares. When the bacon is finished, degrease if necessary and place it to the side. Warm up your egg pan and spray it with olive oil. 

  3. I try to avoid salt when I can and since bacon is practically made of salt, I don't put any in the eggs. Crack two eggs and mix them with a little curry powder and red pepper–– please season to taste. I go for over hard, but over easy is delicious as well. I recommend placing the sliced cheese into the center of the eggs and then folding that egg perfectly so that no cheese escapes, but make your eggs your way because this is your sandwich. 

  4. Spread a thin layer of jelly on each piece of bread, and then assemble your sandwich. After your sandwich is together–– place it back in the pan and fry, smashing in a panini style, until the bread is toasted to your liking. Remove it from the pan and slice in half. 

Cook's Notes

  • The final product is hardy, delicious and when I eat them, I'm normally able to skip lunch. 
  • I also order the sandwich when I'm about and about in Baltimore or at bodegas wherever I can find a bodega–– but never with American Cheese. You don't have to use cheddar, but I think many of us understand how much American cheese sucks. This sandwich has grown with me even as I grew out of American cheese.
  • Now, my friends who eat pork always tell me that the pork bacon is 1000% times better on this sandwich and takes everything to the next level — but I don't eat pork. If you are a pork person, please use pork. 
  • Also abandon the cayenne if you aren't into spicy–– and enjoy, it's a local  banger that I' love to take national. 


By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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