When Darren Heath opened the first Brooklyn Bridge Deli on Bridge Street in the CBD, he had two goals. “I just wanted to make killer sandwiches and play dope music all day,” he tells Broadsheet.
Eight years and four sandwich shops later, that’s still what he does, but with a turnover that suggests the operator means serious business. “Across the four locations we do about 1200 sandwiches between 11.30am and 2pm every day.”
World Square is the latest branch of the deli, and its queues rival the Bridge Street original. The menu features the same set of hits: Philly Cheesesteak with generous slices of steak, capsicum, onions and electric orange American cheese on a chewy hero roll; spicy Nashville hot chicken on thick slices of dark rye with plenty of tangy house-made Russian dressing; and the star of the menu, an outstanding Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Those in the know order it with pastrami instead.
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There are also burgers, bagels, wraps, sides of fries, plus soft drinks. “We stick to classics. I didn’t want to reinvent the Reuben or the Philly Cheesesteak. These are simple sandwiches using good produce; we cook everything each day in store.”
A lot of labour goes into getting those sandwiches perfect. Pastrami is smoked for eight hours, wrapped in foil and brined before being slow-cooked and sliced for the shop. Sauerkraut batches at different stages of fermentation are constantly on the go (the shops go through up to 10 kilograms a week). Each day, staff grill chicken and lamb, pull pork and slice the massive loaves of bread to get ready for the lunchtime madness.
Heath worked in delis for a decade in New York City and, when he moved to Sydney, he wanted to re-create the atmosphere he loved so much – the intensity during service, the crowds, the noise and, of course, the outstanding hand-held meals.
“We still handwrite all our dockets, we take people’s names instead of giving numbers, the music is blaring, we’re yelling out the orders. We’ve got customers working all day in an office – we want to give them a bit of fun when they come to us.”
Aside from the menu, 1990s hip-hop music and murals of favourite musicians unite the four locations. At World Square, a black and white mural of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Lil’ Kim, Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z presides over a handful of counter seats.
And good news for sandwich fans – Heath isn’t stopping there. A pop-up at Greenwood Plaza North Sydney is coming soon, as is a permanent shop at Barangaroo. He’s also eyeing two more CBD locations. “We’re growing, but it’s really important we keep our essence as a local neighbourhood bodega. We want to feed Sydney, one sandwich at a time.”
Brooklyn Bridge Deli
644 George Street, Sydney