From time to time esteemed members of the larger community of sandwich enthusiasts have a tale or idea too good to be kept to themselves or only shared privately. In these instances, On Sandwiches is happy to feature these contributions. In this case, Sarah Sprague brings a story about weary eyes and the saving grace of sandwiches.
By the time we reached Italian coast I hadn’t eaten a sandwich in nearly two weeks. I had seen beautiful over-stuffed sandwiches in the food halls of Harrod’s back in London, packaged sandwiches on the Eurostar as we sped through France, sandwiches with rich cheeses in Brussels, sausages with dark bread in Prague, ham with mustard in Switzerland and Austria, and all matter of stunning looking sandwiches at the gas stations along the German Autobahn; the latter being most curious to me, as it was nothing more than a market at a rest stop and yet there were these buffets of fresh sandwiches on display, allowed to breathe the fresh air and not wrapped in suffocating cellophane like I was used to seeing back in the States. They were the most appealing looking sandwiches I had ever seen in my life.
We were about thirty minutes away from our destination when we stopped for fuel at a roadside station in Italy. In the shop they were making all sorts of sandwiches for the truckers, each one made to order. We had left Luzern very early — my associate and I had actually stayed up all night watching the final night of the MLB regular season as it went down the wire — with nothing more than a cappuccino and the Tolberone mousses we had indulged in for breakfast filling our stomachs. Upon seeing the sandwiches in the Italian rest stop, I knew I needed to take a stand for our lunch and my sanity.
Traveling with other associates can be difficult. No one wants to impede on their companions’ usual routine. Traveling with your associate-in-laws can be even more difficult. No one wants to offend anyone, nor do they want to disturb any sort of trying familial dynamic. When my associate and I travel, we believe in big breakfasts, a snack — often a shared sandwich, and then a light dinner. This trip had been one large sit-down meal after another and both my associate and I were reaching our breaking point. As we walked back to the car after peeking in the shop, we agreed; we needed a sandwich for lunch. We knew were not going to be able to eat at the rest stop, but maybe once we got into town, we would be able to suggest we take it easy for our next meal.
It was unusually warm fall day, better suited for the busy August vacation month which made our little empty beach side hotel seem like a steal. Their restaurant was closed until evening, but the beach stand was open. A break. Everyone was tired and needed to refuel, the idea of roaming around was unappealing to the associate in-laws. Another break. The beach stand served fresh sandwiches. I could have hugged the woman at the front desk.
By the time my associate and I had put away our bags and changed into lighter clothing, the associate-in-laws had already found the snack stand and were halfway through their lunch. I saw prosciutto and I saw bread on their plates. I couldn’t wait to stare at the menu board for myself.
Tomato and mozzarella sandwiches may be one of my favorite sandwiches. Sometimes with pesto, sometimes with olive oil, basil, no basil, cracked pepper, no pepper. They are simple and comforting while being very dynamic on the palate; they are filling without weighing you down. Of course that was what I was going to order and share with my associate. A sandwich to calm both our nerves and our stomachs.
This tomato and mozzarella sandwich came with just a light drizzle of olive oil and was served on one of the most satisfying breads I have ever encountered. A flaky crust gave way to a chewy middle layer with a soft center. The tomatoes ripe and flavorful, juicy without being watery and tasted tart and sweet. Mozzarella was creamy with just a hint of salt. The olive oil gentle rolled between bread, cheese and tomato on each bite, its nutty richness working as the bass line to the other ingredients’ higher notes. While I ate my half of the sandwich, I wanted nothing more than skip the rest of the trip and stay at the little beach hut for the remainder of vacation.
We got back to Los Angeles about a week later. It was still warm, but I knew my days of seasonal heirloom tomatoes were numbered, even here in California. I wanted to recreate the magic of the day on the Mediterranean, but if I waited too long it was going to gone. I bought bread from one of the city’s finest bakeries. I went to two cheese shops before I felt I had suitable mozzarella. I found the nicest smelling tomatoes. I pulled out my finest olive oil and I made us sandwiches. They weren’t nearly as good as the beach stand sandwich, nor have any other tomato and mozzarella sandwiches been since our trip.