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How spicy is your Special?

In which the Battle of the Spicies comes to a satisfactory conclusion, as narrated by Armin Rosen.

spicyI was drunk as fuck the first time I encountered the Spicy Special at 109 Gourmet Deli–but then again, who isn’t drunk as fuck when they first encounter the 109 Spicy Special? Plenty of establishments cater to a more sober, discerning clientele, but the shitfaced among us will always settle for the 109’s signature stomach-churner: a disgustingly delicious combination of cajun turkey and pepper jack cheese, at any hour of the day (between 2 and 5 in the morning), and in any state of mind (drunk). The Special loses a bit of its mystique during the temperate daylight hours, although if you crave for liquefied cheese atop an anemic slice of tomato and some oddly-spiced deli meat on a Wednesday afternoon then I guess you could eat one sober just for curiosity’s sake.

The deli itself is nothing special (although I’m told it’ll deliver cigarettes right to your dorm, which pretty much gives you an idea of what kind of a place this is), but the Spicy Special— the culinary embodiment of many a wasted Thursday, Friday and Saturday night—certainly is.

Which is why I experienced a feeling similar to that of a die-hard Cat Stevens fan upon hearing the Flaming Lips’ blatant rip-off of “Father and Son” when I saw that another of my favorite corner delis had started serving a spicy special of its own.

Uni One deli is an inconspicuous hole-in-the-wall relegated to the barren hinterland between Columbia and the 125th-street commercial district. Its magazine selection is a small and disorganized heap of back issues and second-rate porn; its alcohol offering incomplete six-packs and bottles of Olde English malt liquor. Dimly-lit under the shadow of the Broadway IRT, Uni One is probably one of the few places on earth that actually lacks some of the creature comforts of the 109 Gourmet. That this fourth-rate establishment should have the chutzpah to rip off a creation of such culinary and sentimental value seemed … impertinent.

In the inflated economy as the Upper West Side, Uni’s $4.50 soda/foot long combo earns them the benefit of the doubt (if it didn’t, then forgiveness is officially dead). So with a Uni Del Spicy in one hand, a notebook in the other, and venom in my heart, I asked the man behind the counter when his deli had begun serving the sandwich. He explained that the other deli he owned–yes, the 109 Gourmet–had been serving it for the past 13 or 14 months. In my quest to find the pilferer of the Spicy Special, I had found myself standing face-to-face with its creator.

I was overwhelmed, and curious as to how one of my favorite drinking buddies had gotten its spicy start. Ahmad was evasive, as the creative tend to be, although he insisted that there was no real, material difference between the Gourmet 109 original and the updated version, which includes honey mustard, hot peppers and roasted onion. “It’s no different,” he said. “It’s the same meat, the same company. Sometimes there’s extra meat, but when there’s a lot of meat it didn’t taste as good.” Moderation and simplicity: the secret of the Spicy.

Delis—unlike bloggers—exist in the real world, and the burgeoning midday crowd was making my interview seem more ridiculous by the minute. So I left the deli, walked up to Sakura Park (Uni One’s proximity to the underutilized park is an added bonus), and dug in. While the original Special is more tangy than spicy, its latest incarnation deserves the title—perhaps even spicier and more filling than its southern cousin, making the complimentary soda a welcome addition. Of course it isn’t the Spicy Special, and as I and many other lovers of strong drink know that the Special is equal parts sandwich and experience—namely, the experience of giggling drunkenly as some withered old man stumbles into a couple of frat boys while on his way to the counter to pay for another couple of 40s, while you wonder bitterly why every fucker in Morningside Heights with some kind of substance in his or her system just had to get a Special at 4:30 in the morning. It’s not the Special, but it’s a special. And it does come with free soda.

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  • yo bro says:

    @yo bro 3 (three) points:

    1. what is “digustingly” delicious about the spicy special? it’s minimalist but it’s by no means disgusting.

    2. they’ve been serving that shit for way over a year. dude needs to stop scarfing the pre-made burgers and get his mind right on his own product.

    3. don’t even try to tell me that some 123rd deli with an extra soda and LOTS OF EXTRA SHIT THAT YOU DON’T NEED can actually beat the spicy. For a spicy and a soda at 109, you pay, what, fifty cents more but walk at least 8 blocks less (roundtrip). peppers and onions? who needs that?

    (anyways, great piece)

    1. Amen says:

      @Amen Brother. I discovered the spicy special after a drunken run to mona’s during days on campus and I have never tasted a better sandwich since. To you non-believers, NEVER doubt the glorious invention that is the Spicy Special of the 109 Gourmet (Crack) Deli

  • buck-9 says:

    @buck-9 wednesday nights at lion’s head = waking up with a half eaten spicy special in your hand

  • THE says:

    the crack deli is the best place. it is the only place that would sell me beer before id. and it is the only place that will sell me crack. and spicy specials. i LOVE that place like a shi’ite loves ali.

    1. The Dink says:

      @The Dink This is a great post, 109 Gourmet Deli is a great place, and the Spicy Special is an incredible sandwich! (Much agreed on the glory of sneaking a spicy into 1020!) BUT, SHAME, oh SHAME, on those who refer to the home of the Spicy as “The Crack Deli”. Just because black people hang out outside of it doesn’t mean they sell drugs, you suburban jerks! Please do not slander the name of such a wonderful establishment, operated by wonderful people, by assuming its connection, or its patrons connection, to the drug trade.

      1. nice says:

        @nice knee-jerk reaction, friend. the “crack” of “crack deli” is in reference to the additctive quality of the sandwiches it serves.

        get your mind right.

        1. The Dink says:

          @The Dink Aye, I have never heard of such reasoning for calling 109 the Crack Deli, and I hope that most people who call it Crack Deli do so because of the food’s addictive quality. But I know for sure of multiple people who refer to it as the Crack Deli because of alleged drug connections, which are patently false. If you refer to 109 as the Crack Deli because you are addicted to its delicious sandwiches, I have no quarrel with you.

  • kate says:

    @kate a *spicier* spicy special? i feel like i’ll be cheating on my old boyfriend with a sexy new and improved latin version. just tell me they deliver..

  • i dont understand says:

    @i dont understand how some people can fail to recognize the triumph that is the spicy special. I try and describe it to non-believers and I am often met with blank stares. Maybe this will help return the lost to the fold.

  • mmmm says:

    @mmmm I discovered the spicy special myself a month or so ago… and it is glorious.

  • enthusiast says:

    @enthusiast there’s another spicy special further down amsterdam. i forget exactly where but at a bodega somewhere between crack del and 105th, i believe. i don’t think crack del originated it, sadly… :( but i bet they do it best!

  • also says:

    @also sneaking a spicy into 1020. pretty much nothing makes me happier.

  • Saladin says:

    @Saladin I dispute this article. The spicy special can and will be (at least in my crew’s case) enjoyed at ANY time of the day, drunk or sober.

    Also, I always heard it was the crack deli because dealers hung out outside. I’ve only been offered weed though, never crack.

    If you don’t think crackheads frequent that deli, you can’t spot a crackhead.

  • new addict says:

    @new addict This article made me go to the CrackDel and buy my first Spicy Special. Well worth the trip, next time I’m buying two.

  • Hyder says:

    @Hyder Genius at its best and worst, simultaneously.

    Next time you’re back inside that Dantean circle that is 495, remind me to take you to the BWB in Wheaton. Insane cock is, quite literally, on their menu.

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