The Big Lobo — Lobos Food Truck, Los Angeles

bigloboI will fully admit that I ordered this burger knowing roughly what I was getting, but I have a point that I needed to make, despite having made it before and knowing that I will feel compelled to make it again in the future. This Hamburger Is Too Big. It is two patties, cheddar and jack cheese, a fried egg, guacamole, and bacon. That’s not a bad lineup, but look at the thing. It’s lopsided upon arrival, stacked so large that it cannot be consumed in any spiritually meaningful way. It’s a bite of this, and a bite of that, and then a moment chasing around everything that fell out during the previous two bites, and then a moment to wipe one’s fingers, and then a moment to sigh, and then back to the burger.

Understand that this is not a categorical stance on hamburgers. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had was a hamburger. But something about hamburgers pushes people to go beyond the limits of good sense, and I cannot figure out what it is. I would suggest to you that that list of ingredients need not be a burger at all, but I am aware that a ground beef patty brings a savory depth some folk cannot do without. That’s fine. But why on earth are there two?

I feel a bit unfair singling out the Lobos Truck here. Needless to say, this is a problem one can find in burger joints both chain and local, upscale and down, anywhere and everywhere. I don’t know where this ends, but until that day I remain perplexed and disheartened.


Breakfast Sandwich – Chaumont Bakery, Beverly Ave, Beverly Hills

chaumontI 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.

BBQ Jackelope Sandwich – Native Foods Cafe

nativefoodsbbqI 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.

On the Importance of Effort – General Sandwich Discussion

poblanofrescocornerbakeryThe above sandwich is the Poblano Fresco from The Corner Bakery. Chicken, roasted red peppers, avocado, white cheddar and a jicama slaw, with chipotle lime mayo on a Poblano Cheese Bread. The below is the Chicken Torta from Fundamental LA. Chicken, tomatillo salsa, guacamole, cotija cheese, crema, jalapeño peppers and iceberg on a bolillo roll. Neither of these sandwiches are particularly great, but only one is forgivable.

fundamentalLAchickentortaRegular readers will know that I’ve made this point before, but not so explicitly and in a single post. Put simply, it is perfectly acceptable to aim high and fail, but it is far from OK to aim for the middle. The top sandwich isn’t bad, exactly, it’s just boring. The chicken is bland, the bread more cheese than chili, and really the whole thing stinks of resting solely on the slaw. “Jimicia!” goes the thought process. “That’ll impress the rubes.” The slaw itself is also bland, and while chipotles and limes are both fine ingredients, it surely says something about vision if the only way someone thought they could be brought to a sandwich was to ensconce them in mayonnaise.

The bottom sandwich has shredded chicken that was re-grilled to give it a bit of a crust, but it didn’t hold together tremendously well and when combined with a slightly-too-soft roll the whole thing fell apart in the eating. The flavors were good but not quite up to what I’ve come to expect from Fundamental LA. Further, when you’re putting forth something like tomatillo salsa, the competition in Los Angeles is so strong that it’s tough to get away with anything less than great.

One thing this is not about is that one of these sandwiches is from a hip restaurant and the other is from a 150-location strong chain. The processed food industry is as advanced as any other these days, and any manner of product can be distributed in a stable form, at scale. Slow cooked chicken, for example, cojita cheese or crema, none of this is out of The Counter’s reach. They simply don’t think it’s worth the effort, or they honestly think that the top sandwich is a better concept than the bottom. That’s why it’s unforgivable. Because it’s lazy, because it presents nothing you have not seen before and it expects you to be grateful for that. There are a lot of ways to make a good sandwich, but there isn’t a single one that ends up insulting the person eating it.

The Troll – The Original Rinaldi’s, N Sepulveda Ave, Manhattan Beach

originalrinaldisHow aptly named. I enter an establishment, order a sandwich, and I’m served some sort of bread pontoon boat ferrying around a pile of ingredients. The troll. I try to be charitable in my definition of a sandwich. Two pieces of bread, something between then, stacked and intended to be eaten on a horizontal axis. I see this as a definition as expansive as possible without being meaningless, but the boosters of lobster-rolls-as-sandwiches and other similar nonsense have seen it as pedantic, or restricting. But I didn’t settle on this definition just for the sport of it, I settled on it because it’s what fits my idea of what sandwiches are, in their ideal form. The horizontal nature of it is crucial, and the above calamity illustrates why.

The idea behind a sandwich is to bring many things together. This is why we do not set out on a plate a bit of bread, a bit of ham and a bit of cheese and take turns eating each. We put them together because they taste exceptionally good together, and they become more than the sum of their parts. But the togetherness of them, the this-thing-plus-that-thing, in every bite, that’s why horizontal matters. I can close the above not-sandwich. I did close the above not-sandwich, I folded it up and I ate it. It was tasty. Ground turkey, eggplant parm, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, it’s a good lineup and the ground turkey is a nice textural contrast. But it didn’t fold cleanly in half, lining up ingredients with the cheese in the middle. It collapsed on itself, leaving a sort of gradient of ingredients not stacked but laid side by side, with bites to one side favoring cheese, to the other turkey, and somewhere in the middle the eggplant. This is no sandwich at all, but instead a slapdash collection, robbing me of the togetherness that defines the sandwich experience.

This happens far more often than I’d like, where someone doesn’t slice the roll all the way through and doesn’t stack so much as stuff, leaving an assemblage that runs contrary to the very point of sandwiches. For the sake of discussion, I try to forgive this, sometimes opening a sandwich and rearranging, sometimes just shrugging because it’s almost good enough. (The Mousa is a recent example of something that could be better.) But this need not be, friends. This need not be. I do not ask that everyone’s sandwich be exotic, complicated, or anything other than what they want it to be. I simply ask that it be assembled with care and with an eye towards the ideal sandwich experience. And that, friends, means stacking.

The Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich – General Sandwich Discussion

I’ve had my fair share of thanksgiving sandwiches. Not that it’s a tremendously complicated matter requiring some strict recipe, but all the same I thought it might be beneficial to consider what important considerations are involved in taking thanksgiving leftovers to the perfect sandwich.

The issue informing the entire construction is filling creep. Between the stuffing, the gravy, and the cranberry sauce, you’re dealing with a number of ingredients that are all too happy to pitch from hand to plate. No one wants to eat a limp, half-full sandwich and then have to fetch a fork to finish the job, so take some early precautions to avoid mishaps.

Firstly, use soft bread. This is important. Filling creep results when the frictional hold of your ingredients can’t bear the pressure of your bite, and the easiest way to reduce the pressure of your bite is to make sure your bread yields easily. The turkey is the toughest thing on the sandwich and whether it’s sliced or shredded there’s unlikely to be much resistance to your tooth, so once the bread gives way the whole thing should come away in a clean bite. But if you’ve got a stale or well-crusted roll containing things, good luck finding any sandwich remaining after you pull the old clamp-and-tear. Toast if if you want some crunch to things, but avoid a sturdy crust.

Personally, I like sliced bread, as seen in the Nobadeer from Jetties, pictured above. Avoid rolls like the one seen in the Thanksgiving on a Bun from The Village Bakery.

Using soft bread introduces the risk of things turning soggy, so one must compensate. A thin (and I emphasize thin) layer of mayonnaise on each piece of bread will help keep things from getting sloppy. If you don’t like mayonnaise, a thin layer of butter would have the same effect. If you don’t like either, careful sandwich construction and a haste in consumption should steer you clear of any trouble.

The third factor in filling creep involves ingredient ratios and layering technique. I can’t rightly tell you how much stuffing or dressing or anything else to put into your sandwich, but I beg you to remain sensible. Have two sandwiches if you suffer from insatiable hunger, don’t build yourself a tower that will only topple to terrible disappointment. Keep your gravy on the lesser side, my advice is to toss shredded turkey in a few spoonfuls of gravy, don’t just pour it directly on to your sandwich.

As for the stuffing and the cranberry sauce, some schools of thought put the turkey between the two, others put the two together on one side of the meat. It’s a question of aiming for one shifting layer instead of two, or instead trying to keep them apart so as to not allow them to combine their mispositioning power. I happen to think both settle about equally, so just run with whichever seems more sure in hand.

Above all, allow your layers to come in slightly as you build up. This allows the top slice of bread to bend down slightly and form a cap, allowing your hands to seal if off at the seams, keeping everything tidy as you eat. It’s a delicate trick that makes all the difference in the finished sandwich.

I think that covers most of the groundwork, but this is something that tends to vary quite a bit from person to person. I hope that your thanksgiving sandwich game plan steers you to a fine result, and I hope that if you’ve got some strong ideas you’ll share them with me.

General Sandwich Discussion – Stately Sandwiches

Like any enthusiast I try to keep my eyes open for things related to that which interests me. To go only by ones own instincts can yield great things, but it’s a hazardous path. Stately Sandwiches is something that made the rounds a while back. It’s a series of photographs like the above, sandwich ingredients laid out in a things-organized-neatly scheme and photographed. The site features additional snapshots of people making and eating the sandwiches, but the formal product is what you see above.

I’m torn. This is clearly a project born in a love of sandwiches, a deep love. I’m hesitant to criticize that. But at the same time, look at the above and think about muffulettas you’ve know. Is there any relation? Consider Massachusetts:

The peanut butter and fluff is all over the board! With many of the photos it’s at least possible to imagine that you might collect the ingredients, put them together and then have a sandwich, but the above is just a mess. (An aside: kudos to them for not making Massachusetts the lobster roll, as so many are tempted to do despite the notable fact that a lobster roll is not a sandwich.)

“Someone is taking photographs of a different sandwich for all 50 states,” an associate told me. I wanted to love it, I really did, but ultimately such sterile, detached displays simply fail to call forth the hunger and heart-song that set upon any enthusiast that sees a photo of a fine sandwich.

General Sandwich Discussion: The Pat LaFrieda Steak Sandwich At Citi Field

New York City celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda has taken his talents to Citi Field. Last night the meat master debuted a filet mignon steak sandwich stand at a game between the New York Mets and Miami Marlins. The sandwich features hand-cut 100% black angus seared filet mignon, Monterey jack cheese, sweet caramelized onions, and is served with a secret au jus on a custom-made and toasted French baguette.

Food Republic

I want to talk about something from the mission statement. Specifically, I want to talk about the first sentence: I believe sandwiches do not get what they deserve. Sadly, that remains as true today as it was when I wrote it. The above sandwich is a Big Deal. It comes from a famous chef, it sells for $15, the au jus is a secret, and it’s stuffed with filet mignon. Now, I haven’t eaten this sandwich. I don’t know when I’ll next get to Citi Field, so I’m not sure I’ll ever eat it. But I’ll tell you this: I bet this sandwich doesn’t rate much higher than “not bad.”

Pat LaFrieda probably loves sandwiches. I have no reason to doubt that. But in the mission statement I didn’t say that sandwiches don’t get the love they deserve, I said they don’t get the respect and study the deserve. Mr. LaFrieda may love sandwiches, but he does not respect them. I am hesitant to cast aspersions on another sandwich enthusiast, but based on the above sandwich that conclusion is inescapable. This sandwich is a conceptual failure, it is the ugly product of a severe misunderstanding, and it is most assuredly not the work of someone who understands sandwiches.

This is a cheesesteak sandwich. It’s steak, cheese, onions, on bread. Separate from the steak sandwich, the cheesesteak is its own category. It has its own reason for being, and that reason doesn’t really take into account filet mignon. The idea behind a cheesesteak sandwich is that you can cover for using dry, low qualify beef by covering it in cheese. The beef you’re using is going to lack moisture and it’s going to lack richness, so you pile some cheese on top to compensate. The two things work together, and you have a successful sandwich. That’s how sandwiches work. If you’re making a sandwich with something as nice as filet mignon, you don’t need the cheese. Now maybe, maybe there’s a play to be made here in terms of turning one thing up (rich, moist steak) and another down (dry, aged cheese.) But that’s not what’s going on here. Pat LaFrieda, for reasons that surely escape me, figured the best play here was Monterey jack.

A well respected associate and I were discussing this sandwich, and I think he covered the issue with the cheese quite well:

“Grocery-store cheese (in other words, that which you find hanging on the wall), I think, is for fixing something. It has a noble purpose, yes, but that purpose is a band-aid. It’s what you keep around when you take your burgers off the grill and realize they’re too dry. But if your meal is already good … I mean, it’s like someone wheeling in Anchorman on a TV cart into the movie theater when you’re trying to watch goddamn Raging Bull. It’s distracting, and the entire experience is reduced to what you just added.

According to the article, it’s a three-inning wait to get your hands on this sandwich. Three innings, $15, and your entire experience is reduced to Monterey jack cheese. I don’t know what kind of world in which that kind of thing happens, but it isn’t a world where sandwiches get what they deserve.

Chipotle Chicken — The Village Bakery & Cafe, Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

As our esteemed founder discovered, the Village Bakery & Cafe is definitely an establishment that knows what it is doing. (Unlike some other establishments we could name.)

The Chipotle Chicken was a very satisfying sandwich that was well worth my time. The sauce was flavorful and not overpowering and the delicious bun both enhanced the experience and masterfully curtailed any danger of filling creep. The true triumph of this sandwich, however, was the simple fact that the chicken was cut into slices. Not deli-thin slices that would more properly called cold cuts, but perhaps twice-filleted and grilled hunks that fitted together to make for a pleasing experience, both in terms of flavor and of texture.

Far too many establishments provide one massive chicken breast flopped from the grill onto a bun and call it a day. Not here. The chicken is purposefully carved and assembled to make for a more pleasing experience. Mission accomplished. It is a simple step and creates a world of difference from the standard chicken breast sandwich. Preferable every time.

BLT & Turkey BLT — Made At Home

Unlike our esteemed founder, I have no such qualms about the presence of bacon. Although I wholeheartedly agree that the fixation on bacon is hackneyed, unnecessary, and already hopelessly cliche, I do enjoy a bit of smoky, salty substance added to sandwiches every now and then. And of course, within a BLT, its presence is mandatory; otherwise you would just be silly. I attempted to create a pair of sandwiches at home using some roasted garlic bread obtained by my closest associate. The first attempt, the simple BLT with tomato, arugula, and mustard, was underwhelming. This was solely my own fault, as I accidentally used far too liberal an application of mustard and overwhelmed the whole of the sandwich as a result. My second attempt was miles better.

For this second sandwich I went lighter on the mustard, used just one strip of bacon and added peppered sliced turkey breast. The result was a flavorful and refreshing sandwich. The peppered turkey really sang and was pleasantly augmented by a minimum amount of bacon and mustard. The bread — with cloves of garlic baked in — matched up immensely better with the turkey than without.

When discussing sandwich meats, let us not overlook our dear friend the turkey, which — much like vodka in mixed drinks — can often become anything a sandwich requires. It is the most malleable of sandwich meats, which is a feature to be admired, rather than derided.