I first discovered Harry’s Sandwich Company after hearing whispers of a legit meatball sub in Harajuku.
Until recently, I truly thought I would never find what I was craving — a decent, no-fuss sandwich, as opposed to something artisanal — in Tokyo, a relentlessly fascinating, yet frustrating, culinary wonderland.
But I’m in luck, because Harry Stanwood, the 32-year-old owner-chef of Harry’s Sandwich Company, had the same problem as me.
With a passing interest in Japan since childhood, Stanwood’s “Japan story” is a familiar one to many who’ve found a new home abroad. He came to Tokyo as an eikaiwa (English conversation) instructor, but quickly realized that his passion for cooking outweighed his desire to teach.
After several years of feeding his hungover friends sandwiches out of his apartment, Harry built up a following doing pop-ups at Good Heavens in Shimokitazawa and in front of Scandinavian craft beer bar OL in Shibuya. In 2018, he finally opened up his own spot in Harajuku.
“Going out to these little bars around Tokyo, whenever I walk in, it’s like the record stops and everyone is staring at me with wide eyes and gaping mouths,” says Stanwood, whose broad stature stands out. “I wanted to open a place that feels like your favorite spot back home. Where anyone can come hangout without having to feel like they’re always going to be the center of attention.”
I eventually find Harry’s nestled into an unassuming apartment building just off the main Takeshita-dori drag, a jam-packed street in Harajuku famous for attracting trendy teens and tourists alike. With the diversity of patrons, 1990s hip-hop bumping from speakers above and the occasional ball game playing on the projector, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d just stepped into your favorite bar in Philadelphia, New York City or San Francisco.
After a brief chat at the bar, I introduce myself to Stanwood as a proud Philadelphian and, without skipping a beat, he offers me that day’s special, a cheesesteak — my hometown’s culinary pride and joy. I accept reluctantly: A cheesesteak is a simple sandwich, to be sure, but easy to screw up if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Stanwood chops up thin slices of generously seasoned beef on the flat-top grill along with caramelized green peppers and onions, all of which he then covers with a few slices of white American cheese — the kind that melts effortlessly and brings the entire sandwich together with rich, gooey cohesion. I am not disappointed; the sandwich has a nostalgic flavor.
“I want to bring people the tastes they remember from back home,” Stanwood says. “When you said you were from Philly, I knew I had the ingredients to make you a cheesesteak, so I just had to make you one. I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous,” he continues with a laugh, “but I think I pulled it off.”
Stanwood’s most prized sandwich is his meatball sub. “I’ve been cooking forever, and after I moved to Tokyo, I started making meatball sandwiches for my friends that would crash at my place after a night out,” he recalls. “Everyone loved them. Eventually I was hosting parties, feeding everyone and people I’ve never even met before would come over to eat, and I’d be like, ‘Wait, who are you!?’ That’s when I knew I was really onto something.”
It’s a mix of well-seasoned pork and beef rolled up into generous portions, pan-fried, smothered in tangy marinara and melty mozzarella cheese, and served between a fresh, crusty roll. Incredibly tender and almost pillow-like in texture, it’s an unpretentious sandwich that Stanwood clearly puts a lot of love into. The meatballs are his dad’s recipe, himself a retired chef, and it’s clear they’re made with fondness and respect for their origin.
A newer spin on an old classic at Harry’s Sandwich Company is the roasted pork belly Cubano.
Stanwood has been serving Cubanos since his pop-up days, but the addition of house-cured, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly is a welcome twist. The pork is rubbed down with brown sugar, salt, chili and garlic, then cured for a week before being roasted with onion and fennel that he gets from a gardening store. It’s layered with salty sliced ham and a solid slathering of neon yellow mustard, with dill pickles to cut through the fatty richness of the pork belly. A blend of Gouda and mozzarella ties the sandwich together with a smoky richness.
Soul-soothing, homestyle mac ’n’ cheese and what Stanwood dubs chocoyaki — chocolate chip pancake balls cooked in a takoyaki pan — round out the menu.
But the best thing about Harry’s Sandwich Company is the simple experience of hanging out. As long as Harry’s is around, there’s a little piece of comfort tucked away in Harajuku.
MS Bldg. 3F, Jingumae 1-16-7, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001; 050-5329-7203; bit.ly/harrys-sandwich-co
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