Andrew Kelley opens, very delicately, a small bag of granulated garlic, and dumps it into a metal bowl with more spices. The dried garlic forms a tan mound around the colorful spices, looking like psychedelic dunes on some fantastic planet. Kelley swirls the spice dunes around with his hand. The rub will get patted into the entire landscape of the brisket, where it’ll hang for another 24 hours. This particular brisket has been curing, immersed in a water bath, for two weeks. It smolders in a suitcase-sized smoker in the small “kitchen” (it’s just a room, really) for 14 hours. Then, the brisket must cool before Kelley slices it into thin sheets.
It’s the main component of the brisket pastrami, one of Andrew and Adriana Kelley’s newest sandwiches, at the 40-something-year-old New York Sub shop that’s truly unlike any others in the area. Yes, there are many sandwich joints in Dallas Fort-Worth. Few embody the sensations that you experience once you’ve walked inside: there are the jangly doors, the 11 different kinds of ice-cold root beer clanging around in the fridge, the Rolling Stones blasting over the radio, the SMU dude shouting out one of the numbered combos (many with Italian-imported salami) from the decades-old menu, and—oh yes—the glugging machine that’s churning lip-popping, real grape soda.
There are multiple sandwich spots in Dallas. Few have endured the challenges of pepperoni sandwiches that shoulder the baggage of the past.
“A lot of people have been coming here for a long time, and they liked the classic sandwich that Mr. Ken Harkness [the former owner] was making,” says owner and cook Andrew Kelley. “But when he started this in Dallas in ’74, your choice was Hormel. It was all processed. So, I wanted to take a classic cold cut shop and keep the menu the same—but elevate the cold cuts to 2018.”
Just after 10 in-the-morning, the Kelleys sweat to get the shop open by lunchtime: There’s a hulking mound of lettuce at the slicer, fire truck-red tomatoes stacking up, and the intoxicating aroma of cookies—oatmeal-raisin ones that are straight from Adriana’s mom’s recipe—filling the dining room. The Kelleys bought New York Sub, polished off the dust and reopened it, almost two years ago. They spent all the money they had to get it off the ground. You’ll find them, most days, sheering ham, greeting customers, working the register six days a week.
“I’ll be honest with you,” says Andrew Kelley. “I had no idea what I was doing for the first year. And every day I’m still learning.”
Costs rose slightly after they opened their doors, as it tends to do when the ham is harvested from a pig’s leg as opposed to a column-shaped pink loaf. When lettuce is not bagged with an unpronounceable inert gasses to keep it fresh, some costs may go up. Some long-term NYS customers were peeved.
“I think people think a sandwich should be a five-dollar footlong,” he says. “You can do it, but look at what comes out about people who do that—they put actual sawdust in their bread.”
The taking-it-for-granted factor is common with longstanding business. Some owners make it look easy. Here’s the rub: it ain’t. It never ever has been. The Kelleys got noticed once at the grocery store, as he tells it: “you’re the guy who runs New York Sub,” a stranger said. “But what’s your real job?”
To make the new NYS work, Adriana Kelley sliced her pay after leaving her job as a medical assistant. They live in a two bedroom apartment with their baby.
“I try to take more days off, but sometimes it’s hard,” Adriana says. “We try not to make the staff work every day.”
Stopping in on a weekday, the line starting to curl around the Sun Chips, Andrew Kelley piles thin sheets of pastrami into a Reuben. “You getting a Reuben?” he asked. Nodding, he piles ribbons into a toasted roll, along with cheese and triangles of pickles. It’s juicy, salty and delicious. If crafting a Reuben from scratch is not a real job, then let’s move to the place where it is.