Looking for an unusual gift? Carol and Elliot Schwartz may have just the thing: a print of Erdenheim artist Nancy Beck's painting of a sandwich, not any sandwich but the cholesterol-elevating, gut-expanding Schmitter, grilled at the Linc, the ballpark, and McNally's Tavern, the lively Chestnut Hill dive.
The only problem with the print ($200 framed, $90 without) is it makes you seriously hungry. Fortunately, the Schwartzes include a coupon for the gastro-art's inspiration. Their gallery is a short walk from McNally's - longer if you've had a Schmitter and a pint.
"A steak and salami sandwich that comes with cheese, tomatoes, fried onions, a secret sauce, and a paramedic," my friend Steve Lopez once wrote. He observed that the Schmitter contains all four food groups - a good thing, since it's 800 calories.
The Schmitter is, Beck points out, "fun and gloppy." You can leave McNally's or an Eagles or Phillies game with half the sauce on your shirt.
Consequently, the Schmitter is a fragrance and an aphrodisiac, if you still have the energy. The concoction is a registered trademark. It has inspired two works of art, Beck's oil painting hanging on the bar's north wall and Becky Roller's illustration adorning McNally's T-shirts.
The Schmitter is named not for Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, as is frequently assumed, but after the beer and Dennis Krnich, a tavern regular in the late 1960s who imbibed only Schmidt's, hence his sudsy sobriquet.
Hugh McNally, an Iron Chef of the griddle long before there were Iron Chefs, or before cooks became chefs, invented the sandwich one night after Krnich's late shift at Chestnut Hill Hospital (fittingly, a medic helped create this sandwich). McNally burned the salami, mixed together a version of Russian dressing, and - voilà! - the culinary marvel was born.
No one involved can remember the exact year, though it's likely to have been 1968 or '69.
"I didn't write any chronicle. If it flies, it flies," says Krnich, who now lives in Pittsburgh. "I don't have an ego. Well, I have an ego, but not an inflated one."
Krnich's not particularly surprised or impressed that the sandwich named for him enjoys such a long, illustrious, and now artful history. He takes some pride that, as a construction worker, he helped build Citizens Bank Park, where 900 Schmitters are sold at every home game.
McNally's is the sort of place that's so wonderful and authentic that today people spend millions trying to create new bars to look this old. You could stage The Iceman Cometh here, except the place is too convivial. Next year, the joint turns 90.
Rose McNally, who lived in Port Richmond, started McNally's Light Lunch in 1921 because her husband, Hugh, and other Route 23 trolley drivers had no place to eat when they reached the end of the Germantown Line. Chestnut Hill was that sort of a place then. Rose had a shack with a potbellied stove and served one soup and sandwich daily.
Six years later, McNally's found its permanent home across the street at 8634 Germantown. "It was a working man's bar. Women didn't come in," says Anne, the fourth generation in charge, along with sister Meg. Rose passed the bar to her son Hugh, and then his son Hugh, Anne's father. For years, the bar had no phone or clock.
"Without either," Anne says, "men wouldn't be in a rush to get back to work."
Anne made the place family-friendly and smoke-free in 1998, almost a decade before the city caught up. Still, some old habits die hard. Up until recently, McNally's had no sign, resembling a speakeasy long after Prohibition. You had to know what you were looking for.
Gallery owner Schwartz points out that he has a McNally's sandwich named after him, the Elliot Turkey Burger, and he's right to be proud. It's a noble goal, worthy of a bucket list. Once upon a time, I had a sandwich special named for me at Bonanza on Vine (rare roast beef, tomato, mayo, horseradish on rye). "You may have a Pulitzer," I'd say to some friends, "but I have a sandwich."
Then, alas, Bonanza closed.
The Schmitter has proved to be far more durable - and a powerful narcotic. Some years ago, a family member set out for some holiday shopping, first stopping at McNally's to fortify himself with a sandwich and a Harp. The bar became his only stop, so he purchased two pint glasses and a sweatshirt for what became known as "the McNally's Christmas." The print wasn't yet available.
The Schmitter inspired Beck after her husband ordered one. She's something of a portraitist of Chestnut Hill gustatory offerings. She painted crabs from the Top of the Hill market and a cake from the Night Kitchen, both of which have sold. But perhaps her masterpiece is the Schmitter, which Beck donated last year to the bar. Since people ask all the time to buy the painting, she made high-quality prints.
To this day, Beck has never had a Schmitter.
She prefers McNally's GBS - three cheeses, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuce on a kaiser roll, named after vegetarian George Bernard Shaw, one of Hugh McNally's favorite authors.
To Beck, the appeal of the Schmitter is its sheer aesthetic pleasure. "I was not tempted," Beck says. "I'm not a big meat person."