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August 4, 2017

ALL THE ROLLS THAT ARE FIT TO BUTTER:

Though of course bread and butter are eaten all over, the buttered roll (or roll with butter, as it is known in parts of New Jersey) is a distinctly local phenomenon. Mention its name outside the New York metropolitan area and you would very likely be met with blank incomprehension.

“Never heard of it growing up in Chicago,” said Michael Stern, a chronicler of regional fare and an author of the “Roadfood” book series, “and really not much beyond Fairfield County in Connecticut.” (Indeed, one can roughly trace the expansion of the buttered roll to the migration of New Yorkers to surrounding commuter suburbs.)

—“Ode to the Buttered Roll, That New York Lifeline,” Sadie Stein, the New York Times, yesterday.

As James Lileks bleats in response:

A Buttered. Roll.

I’ll grant you this: we didn’t have Buttered Rolls as such in Fargo. We had Rolls, with Butter. Perhaps that’s the difference. But when you went down to coffee in the basement after church, you got some rolls – often the type that split apart into three segments – and you put butter on them. Any holiday dinner, any family meal large enough to require a Relish Tray – rolls, with butter.

So the author (Sadie Stein, whose work I enjoyed in the Paris Review) has no idea, really, what life is like out here in the strange land west of Gotham? Nothing needs be known until it gets to New York, and then its presence in New York reflects only the genius of New Yorkers, who have gathered it into their syncretic paradise and made it special. Why? Because it’s special to them.

I could be mistaken, but I don’t believe that Saul Steinberg drew his classic “View of the World from 9th Avenue” cover as a how-to guide to life for cloistered Manhattanites.