Catfish Sloppy Joe Sliders. I saw a version of this sandwich in Esquire magazine several years ago. Esquire rated Rick Moonen’s recipe one of the best sandwiches in America. That sandwich was a full-sized Catfish Sloppy Joe served on a super soft potato bun. What’s so amazing about this sandwich (his version or mine) is the familiarity of it. Yes, I realize the Sloppy Joe Sandwiches of your youth were not made from catfish (necessarily??). But it’s not the choice of protein that makes a Sloppy Joe so familiar.
It’s something more basic than that.
Some foods are memory triggers. For me sandwiches have the ability to take me back to childhood more than any other category of food. So a Catfish Sloppy Joe Slider, or a man-sized Manwich-style Sloppy Joe have the same effect. They’re like time machines transferring me back to a middle-school hot lunch line, where hair-netted lunch ladies ladle heavy spoonfuls of tomatoey beef onto sesame-studded hamburger buns.
They familiarity doesn’t stop there. At least not for me. Rick Moonen’s recipe is served very much like the lunch lady versions from my adolescence. By that I mean plain. Even in those days I tended to personalize my food. Most of the boys scarfed these sandwiches down without even peeking under the bun. That’s because in middle-school the lunch hour is practically as competitive as P.E. class, and often just as stressful. The more aggressive boys at my table were typically in a race to see who could eat the sandwich the fastest. When that form of domination began to bore them, they’d surely run off to see if they could trick the lunch lady into a second sandwich– so they could prove their superiority all over again.
Not me however, I’d sit quietly (and hopefully out of their peripheral vision) and lift the bun to consider how I could dress up this boy’s version of a Manwich. Potato chips, crunchy pickles, or maybe something from the salad compartment of my indented lunch tray. You just never knew how creative I could get with a Sloppy Joe. Though I admit a Catfish Sloppy Joe was (at that point in my life) a little beyond my imagining.
Today however a Catfish Sloppy Joe feels just right to me. So I peeked under the bun of Mr. Moonen’s sandwich and chose a few creative additions and alterations of my own. I don’t think he’ll mind my adaptations, however. Because what really matters is the place your mind goes to when you pick up one of these Catfish Sloppy Joe Sliders and take a bite. Once you feel that familiar slow drizzle of tomatoey sauce beginning to slip down your chin, you’ll feel just like a 12-year-old trying to avoid the loud boys at lunchtime. GREG