Sunday, January 30, 2011

On sandwiches

Joey Tribbiani may not have been the brightest nipple-shaped ceiling lamp in aisle 9 of Home Depot, but he was a genius in my book because his favorite food was sandwiches. Guess what? My favorite food is sandwiches, too. Twinsies!

I love spreads, and breads, and meats, and cheeses. I had a challah, butter, ham, cheddar sandwich for lunch everyday for a week and stopped only because my heart couldn’t take anymore. And, though I like the variety and possibilities that wiches offer, I am always drawn to one of the simplest combinations: the fresh mozzarella sandwich.  Every respectable sandwichery has a version of this caprese salad between bread. Whether a sub or a Panini, the basics are the same: fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil.
I grew up eating mozz subs from the UM in Hyde Park—ingredients included: tangy balsamic vinegar and chewy ciabbata.  The UM is since defunct, and the Medici has taken over their deli responsibilities for the neighborhood, keeping, albeit slightly transforming, the sandwich of my childhood.  This new mozz sub is more “elevated,” if you will, as it swaps out the romaine lettuce for stylish mixed greens and a basil-speckled vinaigrette replaces the dark splashes of pure balsamic. 
At BU, where I studied the foreign culture of New England, I found a new incarnation of my sandwich.  On focaccia. Crispy salty crust, deep olive-oil flavor, rosemary or caramelized onions?  Sold. However, it is in Chicago that I found the best mozzarella sandwich I have ever had.  It’s from famed cheesery, Pastoral, and I think the secret is in the deliciousness of each of their ingredients. To begin with, their fresh mozzarella is the best. Creamy, tender, rich—you can taste the “fresh.” But what makes the sandwich oh-so good: basil-fennel pesto. Incredible. I crave this sandwich.
I do eat other sandwiches.  And I like dedicated sandwich places.  Alex and I recently tried grahamwich, Graham Elliot’s new sandwichery that, speculation has it, will compete with Rick Bayless’s XOCO.  In two words, grahamwich was overhyped and under-delicious.  In one word, it was lame.  Some items were over-seasoned (the popcorn was soggy from truffle oil and parmesan), others were bland (pulled pork tacos to die from).  The grilled cheese was pretty good, but any grilled cheese is good if the cheese is melted and the bread is not burned.  A disappointment, to be sure.
And in no way competition for XOCO, whose cubana torta knocks my face off.  “Smoked Maple Creek pork loin and bacon, black beans, avocado, artisan Jack cheese, chipotle mustard.”  Bangarang, Rufio.  I suffer from white-people-can’t-handle-spicy-food syndrome (among my many syndromes), but I eat this sandwich until my lips, tongue, and throat are on fire and then I keep going.  It is fantastic. Smokey bacon, creamy avocado, sharp melted cheese, and bread that is grilled crisp on the outside but still fluffy on the inside. The cubana is as delicious as this picture is blurry (my b, I was hungry). 
Don’t be a fool and go to XOCO during the Saturday burbies-who-like-Top-Chef-Masters lunch rush. And don’t be a fool and order the salad because your vegetable quota for the day is low, you’ll just end up eating Alex’s torta (and you know he doesn’t like that).  Finish your XOCO experience with churros and cinnamon soft-serve. This is a necessity for me because I have a sweet tooth (and because the ice-cream soothes my over-heated mouth (and because churros taste like magic)).  It is cinnamon perfection in both of its components, hot fried dough dripping with cool soft-serve. 
In grahamwich’s defense, they also had a tasty cinnamon soft-serve with apple pie toppings. I still recommend the churros... because they are churros.
While on the subject of dessert, I should also mention my favorite post-dinner sandwich.  From the Purple Pig, this sweet Panini combines chocolate, banana, and marshmallow into a decadent between-bread indulgence. From fried manchego to shaved brussels sprouts with pecorino, everything at PP is good, and this goody is no exception.
So that’s how I feel about sandwiches... and churros, apparently. They are versatile, satisfying, and at their best when the simplest ingredients are used.  To steal a line from Mitch Hedberg, I like sandwiches all-encompassingly. 
Grahamwich on Urbanspoon
XOCO on Urbanspoon
Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine on Urbanspoon


  1. I'm hungry. And I want that cinnamon softserv.

  2. Ditto that. I'm hungry too. I want a sandwich, specifically one with fresh mozz, tomato and pesto.


    But to focus. Now I want a bagel sandwich. Great reviews!