Sundevich is tucked away in an alley. I might not have even found it if not for the small chalkboard propped outside the door. The chalkboard read “SUNdeVICH – NOW OPEN.” I submit to you that this announcement was an almost superhuman display of modesty. The chalkboard should have read, at the very least, “VISIONARY AT WORK.”
I stood a few steps in from the door, staring at the chalkboard menu. I was paralyzed. I’d come expecting a good sandwich shop, an out-of-the-way gem. I wasn’t prepared for what I’d found. Consider The Cairo: hummus, cucumber, brined vegetables, walnuts, and fresh herbs. Or The Beirut: skirt steak, hummus, tomato, brined vegetables, and fresh herbs. Even the more simple sandwiches seem brimming with promise. The Athens: lamb, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and tzatkiki. The Madrid: chorizo and chimichuri. Their stated mission, local ingredients and global flavors, seems ripe for pretentious indulgence. Yet the menu is full of wonderfully creative sandwiches, one after another begging to be tried. Sundevich was not my first stop of the day and standing there looking at the menu I nearly came to tears facing the ugly fact that I was only going to be able to eat one of the sandwiches. I was leaving the DC area early the next day, too early to even pop in and grab another sandwich on my way out of town. No, I had to look at these offerings, make my choice, and live with it. Life isn’t fair, dear readers. Over and over again we hear this from parents and other adults as we grow up. We never really believe it though, do we? In our hearts we doubt it until one day we stand there, the warmth of our dreams departing us, the cold of reality cementing its grip.
I went with The Istanbul: Ground beef and lamb, sumac onions, tomato, yogurt spread and fresh herbs. After I made my order I saw the gentleman behind the counter put a patty of lamb and beef on a skewer and place it over the grill. Meat cooked to order! It’s one thing to get that in a sit-down restaurant, but in a counter-based sandwich shop it’s beyond rare. Any concerns I had that Sundevich would be high concept/low execution went out the window. The sandwich itself cemented my feeling that Sundevich is something special. The bread had a noticeable crust without being a chore to get through, the meat was well spiced but didn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients, the yogurt sauce and the herbs (chiefly cilantro and big leaves of fresh mint) made a tremendous pair, a tangy and sharp back and forth playing over the whole sandwich.
I’m haunted by that menu. DC isn’t one of my regular destinations and it may be a year or more before I get back. When I do return, though, it will be on an empty stomach and I intend to make a beeline for Sundevich. I’m going to line them all up in front of me: The Kingston (jerk chicken, spicy slaw, salsa, garlic mayo), The Shiraz (beef tongue, pickled vegetables, mustard), The Ifshan (souffle of (spinach, mushroom, walnut, barberry), feta) and more. I probably don’t have the appetite or capacity to make it through the whole menu, but that won’t stop me from trying.