It was almost 40 years ago that my boyfriend Ralph introduced me to a Nicolosi’s Torpedo Special Sandwich. I ate it while standing in the parking lot at San Diego Stadium before an Aztec football game, watching the Italian dressing drip from the sandwich onto the asphalt. I can’t remember if the Aztecs won, but I’ll never forget that sandwich.
A few weeks ago, while wondering where to eat dinner, my former boyfriend/now husband came up with the idea of heading to Nicolosi’s Italian Restaurant in El Cajon for the special. Neither of us could remember the last time we had stopped in for our favorite sandwich.
The first Nicolosi’s was opened in Mission Hills in 1952 by Salvatore Nicolosi, and over the years there have been a few places across the county. There is now one location in San Carlos and a newer one in El Cajon. It sits in the center of the El Cajon Downtown Promenade District with two dining rooms and an outdoor patio. The cozy dining rooms include detailed murals of Sicily, Salvatore’s birthplace. That night the TV at the bar was turned to a NCAA championship game, which made Ralph happy.
We decided to bypass a table and bellied up to the bar. I ordered a glass of Estancia chardonnay for $9.50 and Ralph settled on a pint of Manzanita Riverwalk Blonde for $7. The pizzas, chicken picatta, and Sicilian macaroni and cheese all looked inviting, but we were on a mission for those sandwiches. We decided to both order a large at $13 each — this was no time to share — and asked for the specials to go.
As we sipped our drinks, we watched our server assemble the sandwichs at a nearby food station. She cut the 12-inch homemade white roll (Salvatore was originally a baker) and began to pile on the thinly sliced Black Forest ham, cotto salami, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, onion, and diced tomatoes. The final touch was the Italian dressing made by the Nicolosi family and sold by the bottle at the cash register.
We had arrived ahead of the dinner crowd, and now as they began to walk in our bartender hustled through the dining room seating people while still managing to take care of us. We finished our drinks and headed home.
In our kitchen we grabbed plates and slowly unwrapped our sandwiches. Little containers of vinaigrette were included (we asked for extra), and we poured the sauce on generously and dug in. The bread was soft and smelled yeasty. The lettuce was crisp and the tomatoes tangy. The pepper and other spices in the salami and ham made my mouth tingle, while the smoothness of the cheese settled everything down.
It was everything I remembered. The torpedo sandwiches at Nicolosi’s are like nothing you will find anywhere else.