A Fork on the Road: John's Hero King

For a bite of Brooklyn, head to John’s Hero King, a South Florida outpost of the Bensonhurst original that’s famous for gigantic Italian hero sandwiches. On Monday there’s hot pastrami with Swiss and spicy mustard. Tuesday it’s hot turkey with baby Swiss and brown gravy, and Friday brings calamari parmigiana. Roast beef is available every day along with hearty pasta dishes like baked ziti and rigatoni with vodka sauce.

Robert Cicero grew up in his parents’ deli in Bensonhurst, considered Brooklyn’s Little Italy. He learned to cook during summers with relatives in the small town of Vizzini in southeastern Sicily. In 1968, John and Marie Cicero started offering cooked food. They became known for roast beef heroes with melted “mutz” (mozzarella), grilled onions and a dark gravy known as midnight sauce – a secret recipe that tastes like a reduction of beef jus and browned onions with a dark roux base. Fans buy it by the tub. Robert and childhood buddy Steven Cassalino partnered to open the Hallandale Hero King in October

The bread is what makes their sandwiches: crusty on the outside, moist and chewy within, baked specially for the shop in two sizes for hot or cold sandwiches layered with high-quality cold cuts and cheeses. A legacy of Arabs who brought rice and citrus to the island, Sicilian arancini (little oranges) are rice fritters stuffed with chopped pistachios in cream sauce or meat and peas, battered and deep-fried. Crocche are potato and cheese croquettes, best enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon. You can also make a meal from the steam table, where there’s Italian sausage and bell peppers, broccoli rabe stewed with garlic and red pepper flakes, fried ravioli filled with herb-flecked ricotta, and boneless chunks of chicken in sweet and spicy sauce. Or get chicken or eggplant parmigiana made to order.

Anyone who can eat a whole hero here is a hero in my eyes, but if there’s room, there’s cannoli.


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