With an event to attend over the holiday, I happened to make up a batch of an associate’s smokey chipotle bacon pimento cheese, a dip based around smoked cheddar with two extra hits of smoke from the chipotle peppers and the bacon. It’s as good as its reputation suggests, and as I do with most delicious things my mind turned to how it might best fit in a sandwich. Another associate suggested some peppery greens, and from there I was off.
The cheese has a strong flavor, and I didn’t think just greens was going to be enough, so I included a decent (but not excessive) amount of sliced London broil (from the deli counter, not homemade.) That brought a flavor that was substantial enough to not be overwhelmed, but not so substantial that it would drown out anything else. The greens in question were sauteed dandelion greens, as I thought those might have the best chance of standing up to the cheese. A little hot dog cart style onion sauce added a note of sweetness, and the whole thing went between two slices of sourdough.
Because there’s no good reason to make one sandwich when two will do, I also put together a number with the same basic outline, but a few differences: the flavor on the meat went up, from London broil to pastrami. Accordingly, the flavor on the greens went down, from dandelion greens to broccoli rabe.
Overall, I think the dandelion greens are the winner here. Originally my associate had suggested arugula, and I think that level of pepper would also work, but I prefer the more assertive dandelions. It manages to push back against the richness of the cheese in a way that turned out to be crucial. The pastrami, while flavorful, just seemed to obscure the overall dynamic. Sandwiches, after all, are about harmony as much as they’re about anything else, and the pastrami just didn’t play right. Still, all in all a decent sandwich and one that was quite good is a fine result from a little leftover dip.
I’ve spoken before about how I don’t respect the hamburger, and part of the reason that’s the case is that I feel it brings out a rather senseless enthusiasm in people. They end up piling anything they can think of on top of a hamburger patty, or adding several more patties, or some other such thing that lacks any kind of balance, harmony, or restraint. So imagine my delight to find Burgerim, an establishment that celebrates hamburgers not by what might go on top, but what might go in. The primary choice to be made at Burgerim is what manner of patty you want, and it’s not a short list: beef (standard, kobe-style and merguez), chicken, turkey, ahi tuna, veggie and lamb are all options. There are a variety of sauces that pair with the patties: pesto, harissa and garlic aioli are just a few. I went with the kobe-style beef with pesto and the merguez with harissa, and both were delightful. Perhaps equally importantly, both were moderately sized and easily taken in hand. If an overstuffed, towering burger can be taken as a sign of insecurity, Burgerim has nothing but confidence in their product.
I tend to come at sandwiches from something of a traditionalist perspective. The standing archetypes of the world of sandwiches are what they are for a reason, and if you’re going to play around with them you should have a very good reason for doing so. The reuben is a good example, as it seems particularly prone to “takes” and “re-imaginings” and “total nonsense.” Picture, if you will, a standard reuben with a healthy dose of avocado along for the ride. The above sandwich is a far cry from such ghastly examples, and it is to Vine Street Deli’s credit that it is so. Their Red Baron is hot pastrami and red cabbage sauerkraut on pumpernickel, with the standard swiss cheese and Russian dressing. There are two reasons this sandwich works: The first is that they didn’t push it too far. The ingredients are straight 1-to-1 swaps with standard reuben ingredients, and not particularly imaginative ones at that. One might criticize them for sticking so close to the tried-and-true, but when the tried-and-true is so good you won’t find me among the critics. The second reason relates to what I said above, about the necessity of a good reason for futzing around with the thing in the first place. I don’t know if the hot pastrami was the driving force behind this sandwich coming together, but it more than justifies the effort. It’s peppery and immensely flavorful, walked back just enough by the cheese, dressing and slaw. The result is an exceptionally well balanced sandwich and a nice change of pace for any reuben enthusiast.
The Franklin Phenomenon is a very good sandwich, but in addition to being fine on in its own right, it also stands as a good lesson. With turkey, monterey jack cheese, spinach, tomato, red onion with a chipotle mayo on pretzel bread, it’s hardly anything fancy. But between the use of spinach (rather than just lettuce) and pretzel bread (over something a little more typical) it’s clear that there’s a bit of extra effort involved. It doesn’t take much, which makes it all the more tragic when you find yourself in an establishment that isn’t going to bother. Luckily that’s not the case at Locali, and as a result you have a well-balanced, simple, tasty sandwich.
I’ve talked about the tragedy inherent in tuna fish before, but the short of it is that one day (possibly not far off soon) it will all be gone, and when it is gone it will be to our deep shame that most of the tuna we ate was dry and flavorless. Fundamental LA is a regular feature here at On Sandwiches, and I figured if I could trust anyone to do justice to tuna fish, it was them. The tuna conserva sandwich was billed as evoo, herbs, shallot, olives, tomato, avocado and lettuce on 12 grain. It was all of those things, but given their relative strengths I can’t help but feel olives should be written in bold, or perhaps twice. The olives really outshined everything else here, large, firm and briny. That would be fine on some sort of olive sandwich, but I came for the tuna. It was totally lost and it occurred to me that the sandwich could have been pulled chicken just as easily as tuna fish. Compounding all of this was that this is tuna conserva, a fancy sort of preservation involving poaching that carries an implicit promise of higher quality. Tuna salad is one thing, but if you aspire to tuna conserva the least you could do is leave the olives at home. I’ll doubtlessly be back at Fundamental LA, it’s still clear they’re aiming high and they have a number of other delicious sandwiches, but this one is a miss, and all the more tragic it’s a miss with tuna fish.
I suspect that if I were to list the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, breakfast sandwiches would be over represented on the list. There’s something a little cheap about them – between the bacon and the fried egg, it’s a little bit tough to make a bad one. That’s no excuse for not giving it your all, though! Take Chaumont Bakery, for example. The fried egg is joined by beef bacon, melted provolone, greens, mayo and mustard. That last item is no footnote, and the bright, tangy notes from the mustard made this a fine sandwich. And it doesn’t stop there! Chaumont Bakery, being a bakery, really has some stellar bread. In many places baguettes aren’t quite what they used to be, the stiff crust yielding to an American palate that prefers things a little softer. Not so here, where a stiff crust surrounded tender insides that made the perfect sop for the egg yolk. The average breakfast sandwich is already pretty good, when someone minds the details as well as Chaumont Bakery did it’s nearly perfect.
I don’t respect hamburgers. I like them, they can be tasty as all get-out. That’s almost their handicap; a decent burger is tasty enough as it is, leading far too many establishments to simply coast in with minimal effort. Those that do apply themselves frequently end up featuring something like this:
The humble pastrami burger isn’t enough, so throw a hot dog on it. It’s a barely-restrained mess, and that’s coming from a roadside stand. Taken in any gastropub or New American establishment the patty would be two or three times that size, much to the detriment of anyone trying to pick it up and eat it. But that’s not what you see at the top of this post, and I’d like to take a moment to sing the praises of the sensible hamburger. The Manly Burger from Umami Burger, aside from an unfortunate name, is a burger with beer-cheddar cheese, smoked salt-onion strings and bacon lardons. Sandwiches tend to come down to balance and harmony, and if you can’t have both, having a whole ton of just one sometimes makes things work. There’s very little balance here, it’s a rich medley of salt, fat, salt and more fat. There’s plenty of harmony though, and this was a surprisingly good hamburger. I’ve had Umami Burger before and declined to feature it here, finding the truffle-oiled offerings to fall short of the hype. The Manly Burger is genuinely good, though, doubling down on a very particular flavor profile to excellent results.
I didn’t make it to the Burger Bar on my last trip to Las Vegas, so I was unable to commune with the divine number that is The Rossini. I did find myself in Paris Casino, though, and under the faux Parisian sky sits a faux cafe. There I found the burger et foie gras, a combination of angus beef, caramelized apples and, naturally, foie gras. If I couldn’t make it to The Rossini, this would have to do.
Asking it to compare to a sandwich I so treasure isn’t exactly fair, I know, and it was clear within a bite that this is no Rossini. But evaluated on its own merits, it was really quite good. I like foie gras a lot, ethical concerns noted and dismissed in the name of flavor, and it brings a fatty richness that, when added to a juicy burger, tiptoes at the edge of too much. It’s walked back by the tart sweetness of the apples and the sweet tartness of the gastrique, leaving the whole thing rather well rounded and quite tasty. And what a relief that was. If you can’t eat the burger you love, friends, love the one you eat.
I was all set to complain about how this was a downright pitiful shortrib grilled cheese, a sorry offering when compared to the numerous examples available elsewhere. (Notably, the shortrib mac and cheese at Lemonade.) Short rib isn’t roast beef, its very presence is a signal of higher ambition. To put it in a grilled cheese is inherently indulgent. The Melt is one of those upscale joints, the kind of place that thinks the only problem with fast food is that the menu design is lacking. I understand the impulse, but consider this, from The Melt’s promotional materials: “this fast casual eatery combines chef inspired, all natural, wholesome food with innovative online ordering technology in an eco friendly environment.” Chef inspired, all natural, wholesome food is all well and good, but is it really asking so much that there be enough of it?
I eat more vegan/vegetarian cuisine than your average person for whom it is not a lifestyle. I think a lot of it is pretty tasty stuff, but given that I also consume a fair amount of meat I tend to be less impressed with it than my vegan or vegetarian associates. Much as I malign bacon around here, faux bacon is a sad, sorry copy of the real thing. That’s likely to be true no matter how tasty faux bacon is, and in my estimation that’s too bad. I’ve had more than a few things that probably would have been more enjoyable if I didn’t have an unfair comparison to make.
Which brings us to Native Foods, who, for this particular item, steer clear of the issue. Elsewhere on the menu it gets a bit problematic, but this here just lets jackfruit be jackfruit, and I’ll be darned if I wasn’t seriously impressed. The jackfruit has a real body to it, a good chew, and smothered in a smoky sauce and paired with an Asian slaw it makes for a fine sandwich. There’s some filling creep, but nothing beyond what you’d expect from the style, and the bun is soft enough that you can press down enough to keep most of it together. There aren’t many faux-meat sandwiches that are unqualified successes, but I’m very glad to have found one.