Mr. Electric — Zelda’s Corner Deli, Westminster Ave, Venice

zeldaApologies for the wide-open shot, but the Mr. Electric didn’t come sliced and didn’t look like much from the side. But open it up and you get a clear look at exactly what makes this sandwich work: crispy prosciutto. The Mr. Electric is sliced turkey, prosciutto, avocado, provolone, pickled jalapeno, baby greens and tomatoes on a baguette, a lineup that could easily be something fairly pedestrian, were it not for the crisp on the prosciutto. It gave the sandwich a crunch it wouldn’t otherwise have, and together with the richness of the avocado and the saltiness of the prosciutto, things were well balanced and tied nicely together.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of sandwiches here by now, and if I’m totally honest this one seems destined to slip into the archives, never to be mentioned again. But before it goes I’d like to use it to draw attention to the slim gap between something like “pretty good” and something like “meh,” an ugly little word that nonetheless offers an honest assessment of much in life. This sandwich was only good because someone took the time to crisp up one of the ingredients, and it makes me wonder about every sandwich that’s ever failed to impress me. Did they all lack just one thing, some small change I couldn’t quite see? How far were they from what they could be, and how did they not make the step? How many of them are there, forever cemented as lost opportunities? No matter. This one was not, and all the more delicious for not being so.

The Mousa – Storefront Deli, Hollywood Blvd, Los Feliz

storefront deliStorefront Deli is another establishment with more than its fair share of hype, and the reputation is not entirely undeserved. It’s run by the same people responsible for Salt’s Cure, which I understand to be a fine restaurant that routinely puts out all manner of delicious, exciting food. Storefront Deli, as the name indicates, is an attempt to give that spirit an everyday sort of veneer, to make a supremely innovative potato salad available all the time, on demand. The ingredients are lovingly sourced and even more lovingly prepared, with plenty of house-cured this and that. In the Mousa’s case it’s salami cotto, bologna, sopressata and provolone on a fairly-soft roll with hots, red onion and lettuce.

This is a very good sandwich, and it costs $12. Sandwiches in Los Angeles are expensive relative to a lot of other places, and there have been plenty of sandwiches on this blog that cost that and more where I haven’t found the price worth mentioning. It’s worth mentioning here, though, for the very simple reason that this sandwich is almost certainly not worth $12.

Some time ago I covered what I consider the platonic ideal of the grinder, and this sandwich should not be confused with that one. This one is dealing with more subtle flavors, putting forth a much smaller serving and asking the consumer to pay attention to the details. Those details are exceptionally well crafted, and the result is likely as good as this sort of sandwich is likely to get. But they’re still just cold cuts. Some associates may disagree with me on this, but at the end of the day bologna is still bologna. The ceiling on lunch meat just isn’t that high, and that isn’t likely to change despite the efforts of well-intentioned artisans.

So the thing is that the $12 price may be entirely justified. It may even be necessary—making money in the restaurant game is no small task, and I begrudge no one their need to set prices where they need to in order to succeed. With the highest-quality meats being brought in, and much time and care put into their preparation, it seems reasonable to me that this sandwich would be more expensive than a similar sort of sandwich that doesn’t have the detailed quite so well thought out. But the question of whether or not the price is justified has to come second to the question of whether or not it’s worth it. In my estimation, it’s not. All the care and attention in the world does not save cold cuts from being cold cuts, and if all that care and attention means you end up with a $12 sandwich, I’l be seeking my sandwiches elsewhere.

The Baczynski – Veselka, 2nd Ave, New York, NY

The Baczynski is Polish ham, Ukranian salami, and Podlaski cheese. So that’s two points for Poland and one for the Ukraine, if you’re keeping score. It also comes with a pickled vegetable relish, which as you may note is not pictured above. That’s because it came in a little metal condiment ramekin, tucked off to the side. I don’t care for that kind of presentation in general, because I ordered a sandwich and not a hobby kit. If the establishment things the relish makes it a better sandwich, include it. If not, don’t. Simple. I don’t mean to drone on with complaints, but there wasn’t quite enough of it either, as it all had to fit in a little one ounce container.

What makes all of the above so terrible is that once I did the legwork of including the relish, this was actually a pretty tasty sandwich. The relish was heavy on the cauliflower, not something found in most relishes, and it put just the right twist on what would otherwise be more-or-less a ham and cheese sandwich. But between trying to spread it around myself and finding it too thing when I did so, this sandwich can’t be said to be more but an unrealized success, and I don’t know if there’s a worse kind.

#4 – Denaro’s Deli, Veteran’s Plaza, Dumont, NJ

New Jersey is a land of nearly endless diners and delis, stretching along county routes and tucked everywhere you could think. The variance in quality is nearly endless, but the locals will generally steer you in the right direction. In my case, I was directed to Denaro’s, where I got the enormous sandwich shown above for $4. I thought this was a world where even the most meager, miserably foot long is $5, but apparently there are still decent, honest people selling submarine sandwiches.

As for the sandwich itself, it was quality. Regular readers know that I am no great fan of cold cuts, but it is worth noting that it is hardly fair of me to judge the whole category by their worst offenders. (That’s ham, for the record. Ham is the worst.) Stepping outside of the pedestrian cuts you often find a nice salami, capicola, or even some version of ham that isn’t the pink monstrosity found in so many tragic sandwiches. That’s the case with the #4 at Denaros, a mix of capicola, salami, provolone, and prosciuttini, a peppered ham that goes a long way towards improving the concept. There’s nothing special about the accouterments, just your usually lettuce/tomato/onion/oil & vinegar, but all of that capably executed plus a healthy dose of mustard, and you end up with a pretty fine sandwich, and for $4 it’s a pretty fine sandwich for a pretty fine deal.

The Kaiser – Coach House Liquors and Deli, S De Anaza Blvd, Cupertino, CA

I recently read Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Eats Lunch, and I found it to be an interesting book. It presents a certain way of thinking about food with a heavy focus on thinking about inputs, demand, and how other such market forces might influence things. One of the suggestions is to seek out restaurants where the cost of operation is subsidized by a related enterprise. A family run restaurant attached to a motel owned by the same family is one example, restaurants at the back of a casino another.  Upon realized that Coach House had a well stocked deli counter stuck in the middle of a moderately upscale liquor store, I thought back to Cowen’s advice. The reasoning here is that liquor stores tend to do good business, and therefore there would be less pressure on the restaurant to squeeze the maximum profits out of everything. That’s where you run into pre-packaged avocado spreads, tired and wilted veggies, that sort of horror. And indeed, that’s what I found: the gentlemen manning the sandwich counter told me everything was cut fresh for the day, nothing was packaged. Subsidized by the surrounding liquor, the risk of wasting some food isn’t such a dire threat to the owner’s margins, and a better sandwich than might otherwise be had is the result.

The Kaiser is corned beef and pastrami, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickled jalapeños, and it was a fine sandwich. What seems logically reasonable holds true in practice. The ingredients were fresh, the price fair, everything you might expect from an establishment with some relief from the pressure faced by most. Thinking about it, this isn’t the first time this thinking has yielded me a fine meal. Bibo’s NY Pizza, one of the better places to get a slice in San Jose, was formerly located off the back of a liquor store. My own beloved Bánh Mì Saigon is in the back half of a jewelry store. This isn’t your average way to find a fine sandwich, looking around for something that might be riding some other business’ coat tails, but I suggest to you that if it results in a sandwich as tasty as the above it’s as fine a way to search as any.

Roast Chicken And Pepperoni – Ace of Sandwiches, El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA

There’s something unsettling about a place that boasts gourmet sandwiches and serves mostly cold cuts. I have mixed feelings about cold cuts, as I have discussed before, but surely even their boosters would admit they hardly jump to mind when one thinks “gourmet.” With some 50 or 60 sandwiches on the menu, most based around cold cuts and spreads, Ace of Sandwiches really comes off as an excellent deli more than anything else. There’s no shame in being a deli, of course, unless you’re running around claiming to be something else. I don’t know how I’m supposed to have faith in your enterprise if you don’t.

The sandwich above was listed as the special of the day and came recommended by the staff. It’s sliced roast chicken, pepperoni, mozzarella, red sauce, and red onions on a wheat roll. That’s a tasty if not particularly daring lineup, but I can appreciate a simple classic. Or I could, anyway, had the quality been a bit higher. I found the chicken to be dry, and the red sauce insufficient to cover that up. That makes two strikes against the gourmet idea, and I’m disinclined to wait around for the third to show up. There are too many sandwiches in the world to be tried, too many other eateries to explore, to sit down more than once with any joker insisting it’s an ace.

Canter’s Reuben & Eddie Cantor’s Delight – Canter’s Deli, S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV

Canter’s, a delicatessen based in Los Angeles and about which I have previously spoken, operates an outpost in Las Vegas’ Treasure Island Casino. While in town sometime back, I made it a point to stop by to see how the sandwiches on offer stacked up against the ones in Los Angeles. The Reuben, I am happy to report, remains a song of the heart, a pile of deliciously salty pastrami and moist sauerkraut. The sandwich itself is just as good, but, as you might expect, the atmosphere is a bit lacking. The Canter’s in Las Vegas is just stuck in a corner of the gaming floor, the floor’s jarring shift from hectic carpet to checked tile making it appear exactly what it is, a secondary appendage, an afterthought. It suffers from that permadusk that so pervades any and all casinos, you order from one window and grab your food from another, and there’s no one to top up your supply of pickles. In short, it lacks charm in just about every way something can lack charm. But it’s in an area that’s light on really high-quality sandwiches, so it’s still well worth your time.

The same cannot be said, sadly, of all of the sandwiches. The Eddie Cantor’s Delight, for example, is an ostentatious number that would be a towering failure if they even bothered to stand it up. Stages Deli, another venerable institution prone to missing the mark, at least made a display of their sandwich. Compounding the sin that is serving a sandwich with a fork, the Cantor’s Delight comes lying prone, having already surrendered to its faults. It’s not that you can’t pick it up, turn it right side up and go at it, it’s that they’re telling you you need to. The combination of pastrami, corned beef, turkey, ham and swiss cheese isn’t a terrible idea, and they’re even basically in proper proportion, but the sheer size of it renders the whole thing nearly useless. There’s no way to attack it that gets everything at once, and so you’re really left eating a couple of different sandwiches, a bite from one then a bite from the other. There’s a time and a place for that, but it isn’t when you’ve ordered a single sandwich. Eddie Cantor surely made quite a mark in the world of music, and it’s a good thing he did. His contributions to the world of sandwiches aren’t worth two dimes, be they marching or not.

Salami & Provolone – Whole Foods

 

 
On a recent Friday afternoon, I found my energy lacking as I attempted to transition between responsibilities and more personally rewarding pursuits. A pick-me-up was needed, and so naturally I went looking for a sandwich. Whole Foods happened to be conveniently located, and knowing that my esteemed colleague has found some good sandwiches there, I went to see what they had on offer. I found a sandwich of peppered salami, provolone cheese and pesto on “New York Rye,” which was then pressed in a standard sandwich press. It turned out to be just what I needed. The pesto was liberally applied to both the top and bottom slices of bread, giving that flavor the verve to stand up to the spice of the peppered salami. The meat to cheese ratio skewed heavily in the favor of meat, but better that than the alternative. (That’s my preference, of course, and if you prefer the other way that’s your business.) The press left things crisp and warm, and just like that I had started my weekend on the right note.

Slummin’ It: Ham & Turkey, and Bacon Club on Wheat Bread – 7-11

We all have moments where we fall prey to cravings. If you’re reading this there’s a good chance that your average craving, like mine, is for a sandwich. And when these cravings strike we are often able to seek out our local favorite, or a new establishment we’ve had our eye on for a while, or we simply head to the kitchen and see what we can put together. But what happens when that need strikes in less opportune times? I headed out with the full intention of buying this sandwich, but in my mind I was imagining a situation of much uglier circumstances. I pictured myself stranded on foot, heading through an unfamiliar city, beset by a foul mood or a string of bad luck. In such a situation I might say to myself that I just want a sandwich, any sandwich will do. What sandwich am I most likely to come across? Is it likely to be any good? If, in my darkest moments, I put my faith in fate and just go for the nearest sandwich, am I likely to meet satisfaction or further dismay? This is almost certainly geographically specific, but if dropped at random the only thing you’re more likely to come across than a Subway is a 7-11. So 7-11 was the natural choice to explore this hypothetical set of unfortunate circumstances, and 7-11 is where I went.

Look at the name of the sandwich for a moment. Ham & Turkey, and Bacon Club on Wheat Bread. Why is the first “and” an ampersand and the second one the full conjunction? It feels as if the cold cuts and the bacon have been segregated somehow, almost placed in different philosophical categories. What necessitated this? The label also includes “with tomatoes,” but doesn’t include the information that lettuce is present. Again, there seem to be two sets of rules for two different ingredients. It’s hard to overstate how unsettling I find that. But I went to the 7-11 for the sandwich, and I was not going to leave empty handed.

I went into this with pretty low expectations, but this sandwich still managed to fall short. The tomatoes are tasteless mush, the ham and turkey are flavorless & uninspired, and the bacon…the label doesn’t mention that the sandwich contains mayo, but it does. It contains a lot of mayo. This is likely to protect the bread, but it’s so much mayo that it manages to match the bacon in intensity of flavor. Granted, it’s particularly bland bacon, but just consider that. The sandwich featured flavors of bacon and mayonnaise in about equal proportion. If that sentence doesn’t horrify you, well, let’s just say you and I worship at different churches. I only ate half of this number, because while I’ll swallow a bitter pill in the service of sandwich blogging, swallowing two is just silly.

Returning to my earlier hypothetical situation, what I learned in eating this sandwich is not very comforting. It raises the question of whether any sandwich is better than no sandwich at all, an issue which I am not prepared to settle at the present moment. It’s a larger question than this sandwich can answer, and I hope that the next time I consider the issue I’m not in a strange city, walking the streets desperate for a sandwich, any sandwich at all.

The Godfather – All About The Bread, Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA

As I spent some time last week maligning Subway for their woefully inadequate bread, I thought it would be as good a time as any to talk about one of the better offerings out there. In the Subway post I mentioned that I can forgive people for crowing about great bread, and All About the Bread is certainly crowing. It’s in the name, of course, and they make sure to inform you that the bread is baked fresh every 30 minutes. I’m not exactly sure what that means. Am I getting the bread that’s fresh out of the oven? Do you take a batch, sell what you can in a half hour, then throw the remainder away and start fresh? While the specifics are hazy the implication is clear: This is fresh bread. As for the rest of what’s on display here, The Godfather is a pretty standard Italian sub. The ingredients vary a little depending on where you are, and All About the Bread features spicy capocollo, mortadella, prosciutto, ham, salami and provolone on the namesake bread. I thought it was OK, but enough of my associates proclaimed it too heavy on the mustard and hot peppers that I feel obligated to pass that information on to you. Considered apart from the sandwich, though, the bread was spectacular. The crust is marvelously crisp, having bubbled up into a crackly shell just waiting for your bite to smash through. The interior of the bread is soft and light, not tasteless but willingly playing a supporting roll to the sandwich. Although I would likely steer clear of The Godfather again, they offer a number of other sandwiches your humble enthusiast is anxious to pair up with that outstanding bread.