The irony is not lost on me that National Sloppy Joe Day is always the day after St. Patrick’s Day. This is hardly a coincidence, as someone must have known the cravings that only this comfort food staple would cure after an evening of Irish stouts and spirits.
It’s sloppy time, my friends, and two local restaurateurs who recently appeared on the Food Network have created modern expressions of this iconic sandwich that first hit the food scene in the 1940s.
C.J. Hamm’s fondness for the Sloppy Joe began in his pre-kindergarten years. It was in regular rotation on the Hamm family dinner table, as well as in the cafeteria once he advanced to elementary school.
“That Sloppy Joe, served on a plastic tray right there in the lunchroom, was seriously a thing of beauty,” said Hamm, executive chef and owner/partner at Mulligan’s, 9403 E. Golf Links Road. “It was something that I immediately recognized from home, and I later came to realize that it was the perfect depiction of American comfort food.”
Hamm told me that putting tomato sauce on ground beef and scooping it onto a bun is certainly nothing new. But his version, which he calls the Sloppy Jose, includes “hints of where I’m from,” with a little spice brought in by this native Tucsonan.
The Sloppy Jose at Mulligan’s starts with Certified Angus Beef slow simmered in a house-made chipotle pepper barbeque sauce. It’s then ladled onto a fresh brioche bun and topped with a vinegar slaw.
“The crispness and freshness of the slaw helps to cut through the richness of that kicked-up barbeque sauce that our slow cooking process produces,” he said. “Trust me, this isn’t your regular old Manwich meal.”
On National Sloppy Joe Day, Hamm prescribes the Sloppy Jose for those who require a little TLC after an evening of Irish-style imbibing.
“This is a big and hearty bun that can sop up whatever needs sopping, and the richness of the beef together with the smoky notes from the sauce should do the trick,” he said. “It’s hot, sloppy, and perfect.”
A more refined version of this otherwise sloppy sandwich is the Tailored Tony, or what its makers call “Sloppy Joe’s dapper cousin” at Renee’s Organic Oven, 7065 E. Tanque Verde Road.
Renee Kreager wouldn’t say that she’s particularly nostalgic about the Sloppy Joe, but she learned to make the sandwich at an early age as one of three kids raised by a single mom who worked full time.
“We all needed to help mom at home, and that meant keeping the house clean and cooking,” said Kreager, who owns Renee’s Organic Oven with her husband, Steve. “It was one of those super simple things to make and throw on a crappy potato bun.”
Her iteration of the classic sandwich is made with local grass-fed beef cooked in an organic marinara, topped with roasted organic red peppers, a basil chiffonade and melted provolone cheese, served on homemade focaccia bread.
If your Irish eyes are frowning on the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Kreager said they’ll be smiling once again after you try this dish.
“This is the perfect amount of bread, meat and cheese, which is what I think you’ll be needing,” she said.
National Sloppy Joe Day is March 18. Please eat responsibly.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.