If you find yourself in a place that offers a roast pork hoagie but not a cheesesteak, order the hoagie. I need no other signal that a sandwich is going to be quality; if you realize that the real story out of Philadelphia isn’t what everyone says it is, you’re probably going to make a sandwich I’ll enjoy. The above was no exception. Thinly sliced roast pork, collard greens braised with a smoked ham hock, smoked gouda and mustard on a soft hoagie roll. Just the right sort of harmony a great sandwich needs: rich, earthy, smokey, deep and with a slight tang. A Cut Above is a high end butcher shop, the kind of place where it would all be too easy for them to just insist on the heritage of the pork and expect that to carry the sandwich. The pork here is of fine provenance, no doubt, but they also care enough to put together a darn good sandwich.
How good is half of a great sandwich? Not half as in sliced down the middle, as so many sandwiches are, but half in incomplete, lacking. That’s the question that confronted me at Ô Bánh Mì. They have a Friday special consisting of recently roasted pig, and I have to say as far as that goes it’s stupendous. It comes with jus and it’s unbelievably rich, and the tender pork is perfectly met with crispy skin. Anyone starting with that is well on their way to an outstanding sandwich, I figured, but that’s the rub: on their way.
I have long extolled the virtues of the bánh mì, and I have done so at length. The reason I love the sandwich so much is that I believe it to be the perfect example of what a sandwich can be. A good sandwich is about balance and harmony; it can’t have too much of any one thing, and it all has to work together. A central filling, pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro, jalapeño, cucumber and the wonderfully buttery Vietnamese mayo. It balances savory and sharp, richness and spice, sweet and tang. Often found on really great bread, a well-made bánh mì is perfect.18
But what if it’s not well made? What if, like the above, it is completely devoid of pickled vegetables and cucumber? What if some establishment had decided that their pig roast was so great the rest of the sandwich was superfluous? Well, friends, I put it to you that you’d be left with a sandwich that wasn’t really all that great. A sandwich, after all, is to be considered as a whole. In that light, I hesitate to endorse the above. It’s genuinely great pork, but long time readers will know that there’s little that cuts at me worse than a sandwich driven to mediocrity by a halfhearted effort. It didn’t have to be this way, I want to cry. This could have been a great sandwich.
I love the bánh mì. A bánh mì is the reason this blog exists. There are 28 separate bánh mì reviews on this site. If there’s someone who’s been to more bánh mì places than I have, they aren’t blogging about it. So when I look at the above…it’s wrong.
Marinated steak, pickled vegetables, a spicy coleslaw, fried onion rings, tomato, jalapeño, cilantro, a teriyaki glaze and sriracha mayo. That’s a far cry from what I know the bánh mì to be, what with the onion rings, the tomato, the coleslaw, the teriyaki. It’s just a mishmash of pseudo-Asian ingredients and the sort of fried indulgence for which Fat Sal’s is known, and they have the gall to call it a bánh mì. Teriyaki?!!?
The thing is, I’m not sure I care anymore. This was a good sandwich.. Sweet, spicy, tender and crunchy and really just balanced from top to bottom. I’ve held fast to dogma for a long time, claiming to be some arbiter of something I didn’t invent and can’t claim to fully understand, and maybe it’s time to be done with that. There’s room in this world for the pure experience, but there has to be room for the rest of it, no? This was a really tasty sandwich, and maybe that’s the last word.
I like a good steak sandwich, but I especially like one that isn’t just steak and cheese. The Peruvian steak sandwich at Mendocino Farms couldn’t be farther from such a thing. It’s steak marinated with aji amarillo chili peppers, Oaxaca cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes, and shredded romaine on a torta bun. Overall this was delicious buy the aji amarillo peppers packed quite a punch, a heat that drowned out other elements of the sandwich, notably the herbs in the herb aioli. Still a tasty sandwich, but it seems as if this almost-but-not-quite-spectacular sandwich is becoming a hallmark of Mendocino Farms. That’s a pity, but it does give an enthusiast good reason to keep giving them a chance.
Continuing their habit of bringing culinary-geography-oddities to Los Angeles cuisine, the Top Round sandwich above features Provel cheese, a processed cheddar/swiss/provolone cheese that’s particularly popular in St. Louis. It has a loose, gooey texture and here it joins horseradish cream, roasted mushrooms and the namesake roast beef. That’s a fine lineup that works for all of the obvious reasons; it has a deep, rich flavor balanced by earthy, savory mushrooms and spicy horseradish. But more than a simple, well-designed sandwich, I’d like to point out a bit of execution here.
Eleven. I have featured 11 sandwiches on this blog that I said needed more horseradish. There were another half-dozen or so that I ate but never featured here. “Needs more horseradish,” I said again and again, and I had basically resigned myself to this being the case for every horseradish-containing sandwich I ever expected to be served. But the above sandwich changed that. It had a proper amount of horseradish, with a fine heat throughout the sandwich and a few bites that really took it to the palate. Horseradish is an assertive ingredient, but included halfway it only serves to tease. Some of the sandwiches at Top Round fall prey to this trap, but thankfully not the one with “horse” in the name. The Horse & Hole is a fine sandwich with plenty of horseradish, and I couldn’t be more delighted to pay such a rare compliment.
Not even two months ago, I was eating a chimmichurri rib eye sandwich and bemoaning the lack of chimmichurri options in the world at large. Last Saturday, I walked into Wally’s cheese shop and caught sight of the special. Wally’s specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches, but this was something a bit different: pastrami, chimmichurri and aged Gruyère. Now, despite my having featured Wally’s before I imagine this was just a coincidence, but what a delightful coincidence it was! The rich, herbal chimmichurri was well paired with the smoky pastrami, and the nuttiness of the aged Gruyère rounded things out in a way that was hardly expected but really quite successful. This is not a sandwich without risk, the flavors involved could easily have clashed. But this is exactly the sandwich I was talking about when I wished chimmichurri was used more widely, and I salute Wally’s for accepting the risk and coming out with something delicious.
Sometimes I wonder how things might have gone if the meal had been described as “chicken, then waffles.” Were it pitched as sequential instead of additive perhaps we could have avoided the chips, the drink syrup, the scented candle, and all manner of other things suggestive of chicken and waffles but really just twisted summation. What I’m driving at here is that in the past I have insisted that chicken and waffles may arrive at one’s table together but they are not meant to be consumed as such. Many people can and do switch back and forth from one part of the meal to another but I’ve never seen anyone flip the chicken on top of the waffle and go to down on both at once*.
It will not surprise long-time readers in the least that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes, and the above notion is a good example. What does it harm me if folks want to have their chicken and their waffle in one bite? Not a bit, as it turns out, and maybe there’s even a point to it. The above sandwich is a waffle, a fried chicken breast, coleslaw and a mustard/mayo combo, and it is quite tasty. I’m not sure it’s as tasty as they would be separate but combined, or whether there isn’t a better bread to use, but in and of itself it’s really not bad. The waffle is sweet with a bit of crunch to it, echoed in the crunch of the chicken, with the sweetness playing well against the mustard and the coleslaw. It still feels silly to me but, in the grand scheme of all the sins a sandwich can commit, silly really isn’t so bad.
*Perhaps this is just me and my associates, though? Maybe everyone at Roscoe’s dumps it all into the same bowl the second I step out the door.
The last time I had a porchetta sandwich it was the high-wire act of nothing but meat and bread. Not so at Gjelina, where the porchetta joins rosemary, fennel, garlic, salsa verde, and arugula on a bialy. I’ll cut to the quick here: this was fantastic. Perhaps top-10 fantastic. Bialys are rare in Los Angeles so it’s a delight not just to find one but to find a good one, with all the crunch that comes from the bagel’s non-boiled cousin. The pork is exquisitely prepared, savory, rich and crunchy. The garlic, rosmary and fennel are an aromatic, herbal delight, and the salsa verde brings enough heat to bump up the rest of the crew. This was rather modest in size and not quite so modest in price, but such things are to be expected in Los Angeles. That said, I think the size is just right. I’ve dug into some really rich sandwiches only to find myself overwhelmed less than halfway through, and I’ve come across more than one rube who thinks that if some is good than surely too much must be great. There’s a restraint at work at Gjelina and the result is a finely tuned sandwich, delicious from first bite to last.
Simple Things has been featured at On Sandwiches a few times, and they’ve become a trusted source for a good sandwich. My point with this post isn’t about this specific sandwich, which was in fact good. (Sliced ribeye, roasted cherry tomatoes,
onion jam, arugula and chimichurri on ciabatta. A fine lineup.) My point here is to talk about chimichurri. In its simplest form nothing but parsley, garlic, oregano, olive oil, and vinegar it can be tweaked a thousand different ways. It’s delicious, and as I ate this sandwich I wondered why on earth we don’t see it more often. I can’t count the number of sandwiches I’ve seen that are meat, greens, and horseradish. That’s fine, I’ve loved more than a few of them, but surely we would be better off if the vibrant notes of chimichurri were not so hard to find. It can’t be logisitcs, chimichurri is something of a cousin to pesto and that’s everywhere, in grocery stores both freshly prepared and in lesser, shelf-stable forms. Simply put, I can think of no reason this sauce shouldn’t appear much more often than it does, and I salute Simple Things for working to change that.
Bread Lounge is a bakery on the far side of downtown LA, and they’re serious about what they do. With an on-site bakery it’s hard to go wrong, and the olive loaf ciabatta the sandwich came on was outstanding. Great bread can bring a sandwich a long way, but it’s never the whole story. Thankfully, the sandwiches at Bread Lounge seem to have received as much attention as the bread. The Have A Ball is so named due to the starring meatballs, made from a mixture of pork and beef. They’re joined by a smoky aioli, cherry tomatoes, arugula and a healthy dose of Emmentaler cheese. A simple lineup but an effective one, as the meatballs and the cheese come together for a different take on a classic, with the Emmentaler’s contribution of a deep, rich tang an especially welcome contribution. The arugula cuts the richness with just a bit of pepper, and the aioli and the tomatoes round things out. Sandwiches at Bread Lounge come on your choice of bread, and I went with the olive loaf at the suggestion of an employee. It was delightful, and I can’t wait to try it again on one of their other offerings.