Chicken & Waffle Sandwich — Bru’s Counter, Santa Monica Blvd

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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.

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Southern Fry – Plan Check Bar + Kitchen, Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles

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The menu at Plan Check isn’t very crowded, but everything on it seems to have the benefit of a lot of thought. There’s nothing simple, and the southern fry is no exception. It’s nost just fried chicken, it’s jidori chicken, a particular type of breed known for strong flavor. Bacon would be a popular addition but it’s also a lazy choice, and it’s not the one made here. That’s duck breast ham you see pictured, and spicy green pimento cheese and pickles round things out. I’m generally skeptical of the upscaled sandwich—after all, there’s nothing wrong with a simple fried chicken sandwich—but there’s a clear vision at work here and I respect anyone who thinks that they can make something humble into something genuinely special. It’s a successful effort here, resulting in a delicious sandwich. Exquisitely crunchy fried chicken with a strong, meaty flavor, plenty of heat, and a salty sourness from the pickles and the ham. It’s not Top 10 good, but it is well, well above average, and that’s always something worth celebrating.

The Ace of Clubs — The Sandwich Smith, E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA

sandwichsmith-friedchickenThe Sandwich Smith is the daytime scene at a joint establishment, at night yielding to sister establishment Fickle. It’s not the kind of setup you see often, but in my experience such a thing bodes well for an establishment. More dishes being cooked (especially if one or the other is aiming high) means more flavors at play, more experiments, more discoveries that might make their way to your sandwich. It’s not without risks, though. Take a look at the lineup for the Ace of Clubs: buttermilk fried chicken, garlic aioli, honey bbq sauce, feta cheese, avocado and bacon with lettuce and tomato on honey wheat. That’s a fair number of ingredients, and it is no secret that the more things go into a sandwich the harder it is to maintain harmony.

To recap a point made previously, people often think balance is the key to a good sandwich. It isn’t. An anchovy and jam sandwich is balanced, as salty as it is sweet, but it’s also probably terrible. Harmony is what matters, the fact that there’s just enough of everything to work together. The more items involved, the harder it is to make sure that everything’s in proper proportion.

That was the issue with the above sandwich. All the listed ingredients were present, but they were spotty and scattered. That can be a good way to make sure a particular ingredient doesn’t dominate, but I was left without a single bite that encompassed the entirety of the sandwich. I don’t mean to damn the entire thing, there were bites of this that were very good, and even some that were unexpectedly great (fried chicken and feta, particularly). The Sandwich Smith gets points for effort, but the execution wasn’t quite up to the task.

Gasol Chicken – Abbot’s Habit, Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice

abbotshabitAt first glance, the Gasol chicken sandwich seems like an incongruous lineup: chicken with melted swiss, roasted green chili, pesto,lettuce and red onion. But notice that it lacks tomato, a clear signal that this wasn’t quite thrown together. Of course, just because something is given a bit of thought doesn’t mean it’s going to work well. As it turns out, the Gasol chicken works quite well. The lettuce is plentiful enough to be an ingredient rather than an afterthought, and combined with the roasted chili and the pesto there are some fresh, bright veggie flavors that pair well with the chicken and the cheese. So what at first appeared to be a disparate gaggle of ingredients turns out to be a harmonious bunch indeed. That’s the magic of sandwiches, I suppose, and I dare say we’re all much better off for it.

Thai Chicken Satay – The Curious Palate, Venice Blvd, Mar Vista

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The last time I was at The Curious Palate, I noted that a good number of their sandwiches would be quite a bit of legwork to put together from scratch. This is one of them: thai marinated chicken thighs, peanut sauce, scallions, avocado and a sweet sort of Japanese pickles on 5-grain wheat. Even if one were working with leftover takeout (a too-often neglected route to quality sandwiches) it’s still a stretch. But that’s what cafes and restaurants are for, after all.

Effort aside, this was a sandwich that seemed better in concept than it was in execution. Bites that had everything were quite good, with the scallions and pickles bringing bright tang and sweet notes to the sandwich. Where they were absent, though, the peanut sauce and the avocado made for richness on top of richness with little to balance things out. Too much richness, I have found, leaves a flavor profile that seems dull, almost muddy. That’s disappointing, but overall the sandwich clearly falls under the aim-high-and-miss I find so easy to forgive. Perhaps the next time I’m out for Thai I’ll have half my meal boxed up and give it a shot on my own.

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.

Stall 239 – Vermont Ave, Los Angeles

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Stall 239 is a hole in the wall on Vermont, named after the number of the address. Street food is how it’s billed, and given that there isn’t a place to sit down I suppose that’s accurate. There are some classic deli sandwiches on the menu, but what caught my eye was the ‘specialty menu,’ with several interesting numbers listed. The Angry Bird caught my eye and is what you see above, a Taiwanese style fried chicken breast topped with a spicy coleslaw and served on a Hawaiian roll. I’ve seen some conflicting recipies on exactly what makes fried chicken Taiwanese style, but in this instance there was a distinct sweetness to it. That would be a nice contrast for a spicy coleslaw, but truth be told I found the coleslaw to be a bit bland. There’s a strong concept here, but the execution was lacking. Always tragic, that.

stall239-2I also went in for the Kalbi Smash, a combination of marinated Korean short ribs, grilled mushrooms, garlic, fried kimchi and mashed potatoes on ciabatta. I can’t really give this sandwich a fair shake, as the mashed potatoes weren’t ready when I stopped by and so I had the sandwich outside of its intended form. As it stands, though, it was quite good. I would note that that is Dutch crunch bread, and not ciabatta, but given how rare dutch crunch tends to be I’m not complaining. This one hit a good range of notes, sweet, savory, spicy, all playing well together. I’m curious about how it works with the straight starch of mashed potatoes included, so it seems that a return trip to Stall 239 is in order.

Smoked Chicken & Pepper Jam Sandwich – Made at Home

pepper jamI’ve typed three hundred words about this sandwich, twice. I’ve also deleted them twice because I’ve realized that I’m dancing around an ugly truth: This wasn’t that good. It wasn’t that bad, either, but that’s the most damning thing of all. I’ve long railed against the mediocre here, sandwiches without even the courage to be bad. I should make no efforts to spare myself when that’s where I end up, and that means calling this sandwich what it is: just OK. Pepper jam came as a suggested ingredient via Twitter, and I have to say that it left me stumped for quite some time. Brie was a suggestion I got at the same time, and it was no great labor to produce the delightful brie & lamb meatball sandwich and associated numbers. But pepper jam? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s what it says on the tin, a jam made of sweet and hot peppers. It’s got quite a bit of spice to it, but like any jam the dominant note is sweetness. The flavor isn’t complex, but it struck me as quite hard to pair. I eventually settled on smoked chicken and bacon, because it seemed like it might give it a savory depth that would play well with the sweet. Or well enough, anyway.

I hesitate to say that this was the best I could do with the pepper jam. Some things just aren’t meant to be on sandwiches, but I’m not at all convinced this is one of them. I simply didn’t try as hard as I could, settling for good enough, and for this I beg your forgiveness. I intend to revisit the issue. You deserve more, as readers. The pepper jam deserves more, as pepper jam. I don’t see it as a simple task, but it’s a worthy one. As always, any suggestions are welcome.

Not So Fried Chicken – Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, CA

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I can’t figure Mendocino Farms out. The bánh mì I had some time ago was less than satisfying, but they seemed worthy of a second visit. After all, it’s clear they’re putting a lot of thought into their sandwiches. Sadly, I can’t quite figure out what they’re thinking.

The “Not So Fried” chicken sandwich is sliced chicken breast, said to be rolled in something called “Krispies” and accompanied with herb aioli, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, and pickled red onions on toasted ciabatta. There’s a side of barbeque sauce, labeled as chipotle but running with a more generic smoke flavor than the particulars of chipotle peppers. Again, there’s ample evidence of a lot of time and effort, but in all of the consideration given this sandwich it seemed no one stopped and asked “Is sliced chicken breast and breadcrumbs a good combination?” Had they done so, they would have realized no. No it is not. The ‘krispies’ included on the sandwich are large and especially crunchy, but they end up scattered all over and not particularly pleasant. The crust-meat effect they are meant to mimic is largely absent, and the sandwich overall lacks harmony and cohesiveness.

I recognize that this is not a fried chicken sandwich, but if you’re going to offer a substitute, the implication is that you’re doing so because you’ve made some sort of upgrade. “I know a fried chicken sandwich sounds good,” you’re saying, “but wait until you try this.” That’s a perfectly fair proposition, but given that the this in question is sliced chicken breast and overdone breadcrumbs, it was hard not to get stuck on the fact that I could have been eating a fried chicken sandwich. The flavor profile was on-point, the mustard pickle slaw was delicious, but overall any sandwich that does nothing but remind you of what you could be eating can’t be considered a success. This likely won’t be the last time I eat at Mendocino Farms, but I’ll certainly cast a more jaundiced eye on their menu going forward.

Salt and Pepper Chicken Sandwich – Tender Greens, Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA

tendergreensThe menu at Tender Greens is arranged around a choice of proteins, which you can then get on a plate or as a sandwich. Naturally, I went with the sandwich. The salt and pepper chicken jumped out at me for its simplicity with white and dark meat chicken supplemented with garlic, oregano and thyme. Getting it on a sandwich added roasted red peppers and aioli, but overall I was left with a rather simple sandwich. That presents a higher degree of difficulty, because if you don’t get it right there’s no hiding. And that, it pains me to tell you, is more or less what happened here. This sandwich falls squarely into the wasteland that is “tasty enough,” a kind of gossamer expanse where your mind starts to wonder and you forget you’re eating a sandwich at all. No one eating a sandwich should lose sight of the fact that they’re doing so, and any sandwich that can’t assert itself to the level of consciousness is no sandwich at all. I respect what they went for here, something simple and direct, but it was too subtle for its own good. It could have used the spinach that came on the side, it could have used red onion, it could have used the herbs coming in the form of an almond pesto. It had none of those things, and that left it as a rather unsatisfying sandwich.