Wenzel ’04: The athlete, the legend, the sandwich

Alex Berggruen ’10, a weekly consumer of Alpha Delta Pizza’s campus-famous Wenzel sub, said he was introduced to the sandwich when his roommate, Hyatt Bailey ’10, ate his first Wenzel and insisted that Berggruen try a bite. Berggruen told Bailey he was not hungry, but his roommate insisted that he try it. He took a bite. And, he says in blissful retrospect, “my eyes were opened to a whole new world of flavor.”

When asked who the sub was named after, Berggruen admitted he did not know. But he said he imagined Mr. Wenzel would be a god-like figure with “a long white beard, long white hair, and in a large, flowing robe — presumably in heaven.”

The late-night snack of choice for many students, Alpha Delta Pizza’s Wenzel sub hides a storied history between its buffalo chicken, lettuce and tomato.
Nick Bayless
The late-night snack of choice for many students, Alpha Delta Pizza’s Wenzel sub hides a storied history between its buffalo chicken, lettuce and tomato.

Berggruen’s description does not match the actual physical appearance of Eric Wenzel ’04, but judging by the popularity of the sandwich that bears his name, Wenzel’s image on campus — if most Yalies knew him — would be close to god-like.

Mustafa Dagiden, a manager at Alpha Delta Pizza, said his restaurant often serves 150-200 Wenzels on the average weekend night. In a city best known as the birthplace of American pizza, the Wenzel is the most popular item on campusfood.com, a Web site where students can order food for delivery from their favorite local restaurants.

A former All-American goalie for the Yale lacrosse team and three-year starter for the Yale football team, Wenzel was also a brother of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Current fraternity brother Eric Senn ’10 said he still hears stories of the legend that is Eric Wenzel, a student whose late-night request — “chicken cutlet, lettuce, tomato, cheese, some mayo and I wanted it all covered in hot sauce” — sparked a campus sensation.

Its cult appeal on campus notwithstanding, the Wenzel sprang from humble origins. Wenzel said he went to Alpha Delta one Saturday night during his junior year, because it was convenient at the time. Wenzel lived nearby on Lynwood Avenue, he said, and liked the guys who worked there.

Dagiden said he thinks the hot sauce was the key ingredient in the sandwich that was soon to be a phenomenon. “Wenzel said to me, ‘Put hot sauce on the chicken,’ ” he recalled. “Then we tried that, and everybody loved it.”

Unexpectedly enamored of his new creation, Wenzel began patronizing Alpha Delta with increasing frequency, each time asking that the cooks prepare his namesake sandwich. At a certain point, Wenzel said, he was eating two or three of his sandwiches a day. His friends quickly caught on to his new obsession and began to try it out as well. Eventually, he said, “Everyone was ordering the sandwich. They’d say, ‘Hey Wenzel, get me one of those subs that you get.’”

Based on word of mouth alone, the sub became a hit on campus, prompting Alpha Delta — which had previously prepared the sandwich specially at the request of Wenzel and his friends — to add it to the restaurant’s permanent menu. Alpha Delta mangers first named their new creation “Venzel’s Sub,” the phonetic German pronunciation of Wenzel’s name, but Wenzel was quick to have that fixed.

Wenzel’s growing status as a campus celebrity received a jolt, however, when he was injured in a car accident early in his second semester senior year that killed four of his friends, leaving only Wenzel and two others alive.

When the Alpha Delta employees heard about the accident from one of Wenzel’s friends, they immediately began closing up shop so they could visit him — until they learned that he was not taking visitors because he was in a doctor-induced coma.

When he woke up two months later, Wenzel’s focus was far from the lacrosse and football fields, not to mention his favorite kind of chicken sandwich. Upon awakening, Wenzel had to put his mind to remembering how to talk, read and write.

Wenzel suffered internal injuries, broken ribs, a broken collar bone and a facial fracture in the crash, but pulled through against steep odds. After months of rehab, he came back to Yale and graduated in just five years. As a fifth-year senior, he volunteered as an assistant coach for the lacrosse and football teams.

Jordan Ellis ’07 said in an interview with the News in 2004 that Wenzel’s presence was inspiring. For Wenzel, Ellis said, “The fact that he can still be out there means a lot to him, and we can see that, and it makes us appreciate being out there all the more.”

At his commencement in 2005, Wenzel was presented the Amanda D. Walton Award, given to an “outstanding athlete who has excelled on the field of play and who has shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges.”

But Wenzel’s reputation as an outstanding athlete will eventually be forgotten, he said.

“Years down the road,” he said, “people might have no clue about those things — but there’s a good chance people are still coming in and ordering Wenzel sandwiches at Alpha Delta Pizza.”

Today, when Wenzel returns to Yale for games, students and alumni he meets often tell him what avid fans of his sandwich they are.

“I’ve even met some people who do not believe that I invented the Wenzel, saying ‘There’s no way’ as if there was some other guy who made it,” he laughed.

Still, it is not just Yale students who crave the Wenzel, Dagiden said — it has also proven popular among locals, as Wenzel’s firsthand experience can attest.

“I literally witnessed some New Haven locals fighting over the first Wenzel that came out of the oven,” Wenzel said of one late-night trip to Alpha Delta.

Indeed, Wenzel’s name is now part of the campus vocabulary. Zoe Ballance ’10 said an ex-boyfriend once tried to use the Wenzel to pick her up, saying with a smile on his face, “Do you want a Wenzel? I have one back in my apartment!”

People build their legacies in different ways, Wenzel said, and he does not mind that he will be best remembered — at least in New Haven — for his famous culinary creation. He said, “I am proud of it.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Awesome article about an awesome sandwich.

  • Hell yes

    Thank God for articles like this, about legendary Yale men.

    On a side note, this sandwhich gives you flaming shits the next morning.

  • alum

    Um, am I missing something? How is this sandwich different from a Buffalo Chicken sandwich? I've been to several sandwich shops that sell sandwiches that are essentially identical to the Wenzel: chicken cutlet (or grilled chicken) cut into pieces with Buffalo sauce, some mayo or Bleu Cheese dressing and lettuce and tomato. I see nothing original about this guy's sandwich. Not to say it isn't delicious, though.

  • Joe

    It's not just a buffalo chicken sandwich. You've clearly never had a Wenzel! You wouldn't be posting that comment if you had.

  • Real alum

    #3, eat my shorts. Haha, go back to Harvard.

  • Snack Attack!

    This article was written in good taste. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article about a good sandwich and a good man. Wenzel is a ledgehammer.

  • Alum

    You are right, I've never had a Wenzel. I graduated before he even came to Yale. But please, do tell me how it is different from a Buffalo Chicken sandwich? I am curious.

  • Joe

    I don't know exactly what the difference is ingredient wise. The use of mayo in conjunction with their own original hot sauce might have something to do with it. Sure you can have a buffalo chicken sandwich — but a Wenzel is more than that. You have to see for yourself. It's like saying, what's the difference between a cheeseburger at McDonald's and a cheeseburger at Louis' Lunch?

  • Y05

    To the Alum;

    Most buffalo chicken sandwiches are breaded chicken filets tossed in buffalo sauce, smothered with blue cheese dressing.

    The Wenzel is a bit different. The hot sauce is not buffalo wing sauce, it is more like the hot sauce you find at a lot of the middle eastern restaurants around New Haven, so that's a big difference. The other is instead of blue cheese or blue cheese dressing, its some sort of regular cheese and mayo.

    Overall the sandwich tastes very different. You should make a point to grab one during your next trip to the 'Have.

  • Alum

    Thank you for clarifying the difference between the Wenzel and a buffalo chicken sandwich. I agree it does sound a bit different. I will certainly try one out next time I'm near AD Pizza.

  • Captain Obvious

    Hey, I have a great idea for a sandwich: put some steak, some onions, some green peppers, and some cheese on a roll. We'll call it…

    Point being, a Philly cheese steak sandwich tastes different everywhere you go. That doesn't mean that it's not called a cheese steak.

    To claim the Buffalo chicken sandwich as your own invention is lunacy.

  • Wenzel Pride

    Captain Obvious
    Just because it has hot sauce and chicken does not make it a buffalo chicken.

    buffalo chicken / wings are prepared with blu cheese - or if your from the mid-west ranch, not mayo, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

    please refrain for making any more comments since you clearly have no idea what your talking about

    cheers wenzel

  • Anonymous

    The Wenzel is certainly delicious, but I prefer other buffalo chicken sandwiches in New Haven, Roberto's Diner on State Street in particular. AD's late hours do give it a huge bonus in using a Wenzel as a means for picking up women though.

  • Captain Obvious

    Wenzel Pride:

    Buffalo chicken / wings are not prepared with blue cheese--the blue cheese is served on the side.

    http://www.jimssteakout.com/

    Page 4 of the menu.

    I think Alpha Delta / Wenzel should sue Jim's Steakout--an institution in and of itself--for ripping off perhaps the most obvious sandwich ever invented…

    …and then they should make a run at the turkey club.

  • Max Lanman

    I just wanted to note that comment #12 was not posted by Eric Wenzel.

    Please keep the comments civil.

    Thanks,
    Max Lanman
    Yale Daily News

  • Joe

    I just ate a Wenzel, and it was absolutely delicious.

    Captain Obvious:
    After just eating this sandwich, I've confirmed that it is unlike any other sandwich I've eaten before. I've eaten many buffalo sandwiches before, this tastes nothing like a buffalo sandwich.

    Sourcing some random dude's website does not make your argument reasonable in anyway.

    Stop spewing BS from your mouth and take a bite of a Wenzel. As the dude in the article said, your eyes will be opened to a "whole new world of taste".

  • Y90

    Back in the day, there was a somewhat famous sandwich at Park Street Subs (it was back behind Davenport at Park and Elm) called the Carmen--named after Carmen Ilacqua who graduated in 1985. If I recall correctly, a Carmen was cheesesteak with sauteed mushrooms and pepperoni. Park Street also did something that sounds very similar to the Wenzel. I think Park Street must have closed in the late '90s. There's a mention of it on this aged thread from a food website below. Next time I'm in New Haven, I'll have to have a Wenzel (since it looks like I won't be having breakfast at the Doodle)

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/157524

  • Anonymous

    i think it's reasonable to say that they named the sandwich after the kid because he ate a lot of them, but it's completely unreasonable to say that he "invented" it.

  • again

    Again, I don't think anyone should comment on whether or not the sub is original, if they haven't eaten a Wenzel.

    I'd also like to go back to a previous point made.
    Louis Lunch Cheeseburger: A McDonald's Quarterpounder
    Wenzel: To a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

    Also, someone previously noted that it is not "hot sauce", it is their homemade sauce. Hot sauce is watery in terms of its density, the sauce on a Wenzel is of the same density as BBQ sauce.

  • Olly Finding

    Nick, Always a slight problem when doing a phone interview…. hard to be clear and hear everything discussed. Newbury Street is the preppy location in Boston, not the latter… if that roads exists.. We do not have any concrete plans on launch dates however and will continue further research over the next few months.

    Yesterday Jack Wills had yet another mention in The Times, this time alongside Prince Harry featuring in GQ's Best Dressed Men of 2008.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/men/article3663337.ece

    If you have any further questions about the brand or event ideas email olly@jackwills.com

  • final point

    your louis lunch vs mcdonalds example is awful.

    a wenzel might taste different than other buffalo chicken sandwiches for a variety of reasons (oven temp, frying oil, etc.), but that doesn't mean that it is some sort of new, ingenious concoction thought up in alpha delta pizza in the early 21st century. Those ingredients (and the concept of buffalo wings/sandwiches in general) have been around since buffalo's anchor bar launched the buffalo wing to worldwide fame in the 1960's. wenzel invented nothing--he merely asked that a buffalo chicken sandwich be made with ingredients that alpha delta had on hand. he had nothing to do with the hot sauce that alpha delta used (unless he invented that as well, which is unlikely considering they probably buy it by the drum from some variety of restuarant distributor, although i wouldn't put it past his ego to claim primacy to as well). he wasn't the first person to combine those very same ingredients on a sandwich, even in new haven. the fact that alpha delta named their version of the buffalo chicken sandwich after him is fine, because he is the person who prompted them to add it to the menu.

    but he didn't invent it.

    the delusions of grandeur expressed in this article and the above comments are ridiculous.

    "but the hot sauce is different! it's just so different! There's cheese!"

  • PC Heyday

    Park Street was amazing, had a sick video boxing game, and sold June's homemade peanut-butter cups. Bulldog (ADP's predecessor) offered a cheesesteak with bacon and a fried egg on it. Solid entertainment all around.

  • final final point

    This is my impression of that guy:
    "Look, I'm the guy who posted comment #20. I've never had a Wenzel, and yet I continue to talk about it as if I had. Oh and also, I'm pretentious."

  • anonymous

    I LOVE TO EAT WENZELS EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK INCLUDING SUNDAY

  • CHARLES PC91

    Ah, Park Street subs - man were they good. Best cheesesteak I've ever had, and I eat the usual suspects in philly regularly.

    Alpha Delta just made awful pizza in my time. Have to try the Wenzel next time I'm through

  • Robbie

    The girl who took this photo is very beautiful. I’d like to say that I’m going to work up the nerve to tell her that myself, but I probably won’t. So I hope she sees this.

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