The Il Padrino sandwich at Radici
The Il Padrino sandwich at Radici Credit: Radici on Facebook

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Damn near everyone has a take on why America is so divided. Today, New York Times columnist David Brooks offered one of the more dubious theories.

His self-flagellating column, titled “How We Are Ruining America,” describes a harrowing experience in what is presumably a D.C. sandwich shop, given that he lives here. And it has rightly been the subject of heavy social media mockery.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

He appears to be talking about Radici, an Italian market and cafe on Capitol Hill, which sells sandwiches matching what Brooks describes.

What he didn’t mention is that Radici helpfully translates the word padrino to “godfather” in parentheses in the sandwich description, says Radici employee Marianna.

Asked to read the written description of this sandwich over the phone, Marianna provided this: “genoa salami, capicollo, pepperoni, soppressata, Romaine lettuce, provolone, roasted red pepper, and Italian vinaigrette on French baguette.” (The online menu’s description of this sandwich is very similar and also includes “godfather” in parentheses.)

Brooks jumps from recounting the deli-meat debacle straight into this bit of sociology: “American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion.”

Can’t argue with that. But unless the sandwich chain Potbelly—which serves an Italian sandwich with capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, and salami—is also a tool of upper-middle-class humiliation, next time we’ll need a more convincing anecdote.