The Deli Express Chuckwagon sandwich: A love story

Cooked properly, cheesy goo can be one of the most delectable treats known to man.

Cooked properly, cheesy goo can be one of the most delectable treats known to man. Courtesy of Deli Express

The aroma of gasoline, ham, and cheese are inextricably linked in my memory bank.

My mother, single and resourceful, always had to multitask. She’d put the pump in the gas tank, hand me a 20, and tell me to pay for the gas, and get myself a Chuckwagon. I dutifully did, because I was an obedient child, and I love Chuckwagons.

The Deli Express Chuckwagon is 4.5 ounces of John Morell ham, drippy cheesestuff, and a poppy-seed Kaiser roll that teases apart the line between liquid and solid once heated. The satisfyingly squishy burger bun of today’s smash burgers have nothing on the microwaved Chuckwagon bun.

That gas station microwave was technology that existed long before the home microwave was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. The Chuckwagon’s packaging instructed which number to push on the microwave, promising and delivering a perfect result each and every time.

Regardless of how young, drunk, or hapless one may be, just match the numbers, and in moments a hot, drippy dinner will be yours.

I’ve reached out to Eden Prairie-based Deli Express, the maker of the Chuckwagon sandwich, multiple times to no avail. Evidently, they do not have cause or desire to discuss with me my long-beloved sandwich. So I shall do my best to unearth the secrets of ham-stuffs and cheese- stuffs between liquid bun, without the assistance of Deli Express corporate heads.

Calories: 360
Fat: 10 grams

I should say this is altogether reasonable for a snack that adults consume under cloak of darkness after multiple whiskeys. For my eight-year-old self, it was adequate fuel for an evening.

Deli Express has been in the sandwich-making business since 1955, which would have made it a relatively trusted brand for my mother, who was born just four years earlier. Something of a mercurial health nut, she went from macrobiotics (lots of brown rice, barley, millet, oats, etc.) to the McDonald’s drive-thru window without apparent misgivings, probably based on how busy she was in a given week.

After a week of macrobiotic brown rice dinners, Chuckwagon nights were very, very good nights indeed.

The number one selling convenience store sandwich nationwide, Deli Express has an impressive product line, including croissant sandwiches, chicken salad, “Sub Selects,” and sausage, egg, and cheese. None of which interest me. My heart remains true to the Chuckwagon.

The lack of internet interest in the Chuckwagon is depressingly low. In a universe with YouTube channels devoted to hamsters eating tiny burritos, I found but one sad YouTube video of a guy reviewing a vending machine Deli Express sandwich, and it wasn’t even a Chuckwagon.

But on second thought, hoovering a Chuckwagon by the wan glow of a Cutlass Supreme dome light transcends review. You have at play a few unequivocal truths:

  1. Your mother loves you and wants you to be fed and happy. Sometimes this means a gas station sandwich, and you’ve got no other reason than to adore her in this moment.
  2. Sometimes things that come wrapped in plastic taste better than those that do not. Let’s not quibble about this.
  3. Hot molten cheesy goo is one of the world’s natural wonders. Treat it with respect and you shall reap untold rewards.
  4. I have never not finished every single bite of a Chuckwagon.

The purity of certain things defies logistical breakdown. Science may well understand water, air, and fire, but mathematical equations and theorems have no edict over hot ham and cheese out of a hot box and then a cellophane bag. Neither do the inconsequential scribblings of a food writer.

With that, I’ll do the right thing and go eat a Chuckwagon.