Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
When you go to Cheese 'n Stuff, you know exactly what you're getting: expertly made deli sandwiches, served in a delightfully old-fashioned setting.
Cheese 'n Stuff has been serving classic delicatessen fare since 1949, operating out of the same storefront near the intersection of Central and Camelback for its almost 70 year run. Even if you've never stopped by for breakfast or lunch, you've probably admired the deli's iconic globe-shaped rooftop sign, which was restored to its former vibrant glory two years ago.
The friendly vintage aesthetic of Cheese 'n Stuff is a big part of it's appeal. But the main attraction here is the extensive selection of top-notch sandwiches, which feature American deli staples like Boar's Head meats and Tillamook cheese.
Every day around lunchtime, neighborhood office workers trickle into Cheese 'n Stuff for classic sandwiches served with a side of friendly small talk. Owner Stan Zawataski, sitting behind the counter in the same spot where he's been sitting for roughly 40 years now, operates the shop with help from daughter Crystal. The Zawataski's have owned Cheese 'n Stuff since the early 1970s, and the multi-generational mom-and-pop doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
It's not unusual for Cheese 'n Stuff newcomers to freeze up at the counter. There are dozens of hot and cold sandwiches on the menu — everything from bologna to liverwurst — which means it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed. You could eat here every day for a month and never repeat a meal.
Bestsellers include The Doughboy, a hearty turkey and bacon sandwich made on ultra-soft sourdough bread. Perhaps the shop's most famous sandwich, though, is The Tyler — a sliced turkey sandwich dressed up with Muenster cheese, avocado, hot mustard and pepperoncini. The Tyler was featured in Esquire a few years ago, as part of the magazine's "Best Sandwiches in America" list.
The menu has continued to grow over years; print-outs advertising the deli's many specials paper the wall behind the counter. A recent addition is the "Cactus Jack," a sub sandwich heaped with turkey, salami and pepperjack cheese. Like so many of the deli's sandwiches, it's finished off with shredded lettuce, tomato slices and mayo.
There are so many lunch possibilities at Cheese 'n Stuff, but might I recommend The Haturo? It's perhaps the meatiest house specialty sandwich ("Nine ounces of meat!" the menu says), a couple solid inches of ham, turkey and roast beef served on your choice of bread. It's layered with provolone cheese and punched up with Italian dressing and mayo. Try it with the deli's soft yet gorgeously crusty submarine rolls. It's a quintessentially Cheese 'n Stuff sandwich: incredibly simple yet delicious, and wholly satisfying.
Apart from sandwiches, Cheese 'n Stuff offers a selection of desserts, candies and import food items; the shop has become a lifeline for East Coast and Midwestern transplants looking for hard-to-find Scandinavian staples like lutefisk, or lufse, a Norwegian flatbread that the shop keeps in stock during the holiday season.
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Cheese 'n Stuff might not be famous for its pastrami, or revered for its exhaustive selection of house-cured meats. But this neighborhood spot offers something that seems increasingly rare these days: it's a steady and reliable neighborhood institution whose appeal never diminishes, and whose sandwiches rarely disappoint.
Cheese 'n Stuff. 5042 North Central Avenue; 602-266-3636.
Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Closed Sundays.
The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff