Mike Mantikas' culinary career spans more than 30 years and two continents. He trained as a chef in his native Greece and worked on cruise ships before moving to Brooklyn in 1969 and from there to Atlantic City in 1990, where he runs Perry's Cafe at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Atlantic City.

When he's prepping the ever-popular chicken salad sandwich at Perry's, it gets the same careful attention he applied to whole lobsters at high-end restaurants in New York. It's all food to him, equally deserving of careful preparation. In fact, the simplicity of a sandwich leaves even less room to mask flavorless ingredients with fancy sauces.

But experience tells Mantikas it doesn't have to be expensive to taste good.

"Sometimes, when you buy expensive imported cheese, you lose some flavor and that's not good. You need something in the middle, not first class," he explains. "It's like when you order a filet mignon; there's no fat, nothing at all. But when you order a sirloin steak, with a little fat, it has more flavor."

When it comes to meat, he applies a different standard of quality to ensure his corned beef, pastrami and roast beef sandwiches are top notch.

"You have to choose a roast that's tender and juicy, it should look moist," he advises, when asked for tips on making the perfect roast beef sandwich. "You need to look at the whole roast when they cut into it. It should be smooth, no strings or grizzle; you don't want to bite into that."

High quality roast beef is kept fresh and sliced "very, very thin" only after guests order their lunch at Perry's. For a roast beef melt, Mantikas throws about 5 ounces on the grill for just a few seconds, turning it rapidly to avoid toughening the meat. He butters the grill itself - for that all-important moisture - but keeps the heat to a mere 200 degrees to seal in the flavor without drying out the meat.

Perry's soups are served with a thick slice of "homemade Mike's bread." But even though it's a source of pride for the long-time chef and baker, he doesn't let his ego get in the way of a good sandwich. He uses good old rye bread, grilled to toasty perfection, and serves his hot roast beef melt with pickles, chips and anything else the customer wants.

Contact Felicia Compian:

609-272-7209 or FCompian@pressofac.com