The Italian – Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli, 23rd Ave, Astoria, NY

Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli is a sandwich institution on the west side of Queens. This is their Italian, one of two staples on offer. The body is salami, mortadella, pepperoni and provolone, with lettuce and tomato capping things off. As with any good Italian, there are hots if you want them. They also offers something they call “The Bomb,” which is substantially bigger and adds ham, turkey, and two more kinds of cheese. The Italian is more restrained and is a better sandwich for it.  It’s quality meat and they don’t skimp, piling it high on a locally baked semolina roll that is, without question, the best hero roll I’ve ever had. It has a wonderfully crunchy crust, a strong, chewy body and brings another layer of flavor to the sandwich.

That said, I don’t like this sandwich. I don’t like this sandwich, but I think you should try it. Let me explain. It’s no secret that I don’t particularly care for cold cuts, but I’d like to think that I’ve shown that I’m willing to be fair. Being fair doesn’t obligate me to like something, though, and I think I can be fair to this sandwich without liking it. This sandwich is the platonic ideal of the grinder. Quality meat, plenty of it, and a great roll. This is everything a hero can be, and if you were called upon to defend the whole idea you could do no better than to cite this sandwich. But it just isn’t for me, and I’m happy to admit that’s about me and not the sandwich. I’ll further admit that I’ve made this site a bit personality heavy. Perhaps that makes this the best time to remind you that I’m not the ultimate authority on the sandwiches you eat, you are. I have my opinions and philosophies and I hold to them, but ultimately I can only experience sandwiches for me, and you only for you. So it may seem a bit contradictory to say that I wouldn’t eat this sandwich again but you should, but that’s what I’m going with. Should I find myself back in Astoria with an associate I’ll gladly guide them to Sal Kris & Charlie’s and enjoy a slice of coffee cake while they settle the issue for themselves. I recommend that one day you do the same.

The United Nation – Green Leaf Deli, Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY

There are some really good corner delis in New York City, but they can’t all be good. The law of averages, in fact, would have it that there are just as many that are lousy as are good. And if you’re in an unfamiliar neighborhood, finding a good deli can be a bit of a crapshoot. There are frequently many to choose from and they all seem to serve largely the same thing. You can go by price, by looks, by how popular they seem to be, or just choose at random. You put your faith in fate, get your sandwich and go on your way.

And so it was that I found myself on the upper west side on a bright sunny mid-morning, looking for a sandwich. The Green Leaf Deli seemed as good an option as any, and I admit to being charmed not by the kitschy names for the sandwiches, but by the grammatical tweaks. The United State. The Union Square Best. The United Nation. Singular/plural can throw even the best of us for a loop some time, and I hold no error in language against a good sandwich. Unfortunately, The United Nation was not a good sandwich. Dry, tough prosciutto accompanied dry, waxy mozzarella cheese. Peppers, onions, lettuce and tomato were all present but woefully inadequate and the promised oil & vinegar had barely any taste at all. This was the first sandwich I ate on a day where I figured to eat a good number of sandwiches, and midway through I looked down and couldn’t think of a single reason to finish it. Wasting food is a sin, and wasting a sandwich is likely cardinal. But this sandwich was just no good, and no amount of piety can save a bad sandwich.

The Wild Wild West – Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop, N. Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos, CA

The Wild Wild West at Mr. Pickles is roast beef, ham, horseradish, provolone cheese, and avocado. That’s a list of ingredients I wouldn’t think to put together, but for whatever reason it struck me as the sandwich to get. I’m not going to dwell on that, though, because the story is elsewhere. As is my custom, when the people at Mr. Pickle’s asked me if I wanted everything on my sandwich, I answered in the affirmative. Everything, I learned, was the polar opposite of the inadequate minimalism of The Garret. Here’s what was added to the sandwich: G-Sauce (a garlic sauce of some sort), mayo, mustard, pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and peppers. Looking at that list, it has a stealthy sort of insanity to it. A quick glance and you might miss it, but dwell on it and you’ll realize that something isn’t quite right. The pesto gives it away. Pesto? Pesto is part of your everything? Pesto is an appropriate addition to all of the sandwiches you sell? That just isn’t reasonable. I respect the right of every sandwich maker to go about their craft as they see fit, but I know where the bounds of propriety lie and I have no problem telling you when you’ve crossed them. Pesto? On everything? Pesto? I just can’t quite get my head around it. The G-Sauce is another red flag. If it were there on its own it would be a risky trademark, but in conjunction with the pesto it signals that someone involved took “everything” far too literally.

But lets ignore, for a moment, the concept at play here. Low-grade lunacy it may be, but is it at least well executed? Sadly, no. The pickles and peppers could best be described as “scattered,” the lettuce and tomato similarly sparse. Do they want these things to be part of the sandwich or not? If they’re going to include them then thought ought include them, instead of telling me they’re going to and then leave me to hunt them down in a sloppy mess. And it was sloppy, whatever the G-Sauce is made of it joined forces with the mayo to send the top half of the sandwich sliding all over the place.  I can respect someone who gives a 3 out of 10 concept everything they have, but there’s no forgiving poor execution of a lousy idea.

This was a weird sandwich. The avocado was completely obliterated. When the horseradish was present the sandwich almost seemed to come together, but then the next bite would be all pesto. The pickles and peppers played similar in-and-out games. I tried to make sense of it, but eventually I just had to throw my hands up. I would like to note, though, that the bread was really, really good. A sourdough roll of unknown provenance, it had a hearty crust and some really great flavor. Even given the racket it played host to, the quality of the bread made for a small redemptive note in an odd, odd symphony.