Dungeness Crab Salad Sandwich – Billy’s Boston Chowder House, E Main St, Los Gatos, CA

When one has strong opinions about any given subject, it is all too easy to settle in to a position where one’s own thoughts and philosophies are the only correct ones. We know that what we think is right, and therefore if someone else thinks something different, well, they must be wrong. After all, if they were right then they would think what we think. The world, of course, is much bigger than can fit in even the most inflated head, and all of the issues that we have settled in our own head have been settled countless times by countless others, all to equally satisfying conclusions. All of that is to say that this wasn’t the crab salad sandwich that I would have made, but it was still very good. I would have preferred larger, meaty chunks of crab, and this was smoother in consistency, the crab present as finely chopped floss. Not my first choice, but there was plenty of it, it had a fresh, bright flavor, and I can deal with it. The avocado was a nice touch, and the lettuce and tomato unobjectionable. I would have liked a bit more lemon as well, as a squirt of fresh lemon juice really took the sandwich up a level, but with a scant slice available I could only treat half the sandwich. The choice of bread reflected someone giving things some thought: a hard crusted loaf would send a soft filling like crab salad sliding all over the place, you’d be scooping it off your plate rather than enjoying it as a proper sandwich. But that mistake was well avoided here, as a soft roll paired perfectly with the interior of the sandwich.

I’ve had a couple not-so-great sandwiches lately. It would be all too easy to grow discouraged, retreat into myself, stay home, make myself a crab salad sandwich, and putter on powered by self-satisfaction. But I’d be missing things I didn’t even know I was missing, robbed of unknown unknowns without ever knowing it. The next time I finish a sandwich with a frown on my face, I will I think of this sandwich. I’ll think of this one, and I’ll know that I’ve simply got to keep going, that someone out there is putting together a sandwich I’d never even consider, that it’s waiting for me, that I’m going to find it, and it is going to be delicious.

Tuna Melt – @YC, E Taylor St, San Jose, CA

@YC cafe is a coffee house, one of those numbers that’s tucked into the corner of a block of new condos. It really seems like espresso and pastries are the focus, but there’s a half dozen or so sandwiches on rge menu. Breakfast sandwiches seem to be the specialty, but I wasn’t really in rge mood for eggs. So, figuring I might be degrees of separation from the specialties, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I ordered the tuna melt, the proprieter asked me if I wanted cucumber and onion included, and I settled in.

Some time ago I wondered just how much impact context had on sandwich quality, and that’s a question that comes up again with this tuna melt. Contextually, it had two things going for it. The first was rgw aforementioned uncertainty, and the second was that it was a cold, rainy afternoon. A grilled sandwich on a day like that is pretty much the definition of “hit the spot,” isn’t it? So with those two things going for it, I was pretty darn pleased with this sandwich. Canned tuna, some cheddar cheese but nothing special, a bit of cucumber and onion, @YC seemed to have made a pretty good something out of not much. It was warm, cheesy, buttery, crunchy goodness, and I don’t think I could have asked for much more.

Fried Catfish Po Boy – The Louisiana Territory, San Francisco Bay Area


The Louisiana Territory is another Bay Area food truck, and their Po Boy is a fairly standard offering: Fried catfish, lettuce, tomatoes, special sauce. All of that is perfectly satisfactory, the fish is moist and the sauce, bearing a strong resemblance to tartar sauce, pairs nicely. It was a tasty number, and I want to be perfectly clear about that. This was tasty. Here’s what it wasn’t: A sandwich. Let us return briefly to August of 2009, and our review of the now-closed Hank’s Eats:

The idea of what is and is not a sandwich comes down to the obvious and the intent. The obvious is the precious few simple qualifications that must be met, namely bread on the top and the bottom and some other ingredient in the middle. The intent is what makes it a sandwich and what ends up disqualifying the Porky’s Revenge. In order to be a sandwich the intent must be for the food to be eaten aligned horizontally. It is in this that we find sandwiches in harmony with our mouths and indeed our larger selves. It is in this that we find each bite encompassing the sum total of the ingredients in the sandwich, all of them represented in their proper proportions. It is in this that a sandwich becomes a sandwich.

It might not be clear from the photo, but the bread for the Louisiana Territory’s Po Boy isn’t sliced horizontally. It isn’t sliced at all. The loaf is hollowed out to a thin crust, then filled with ingredients. Now, I’m going to get a bit pedantic here, and if other people aren’t willing to join me I hold no grudge. That said: Whether this is or isn’t a sandwich is not just an academic distinction. In filling a hollowed out roll, everything is to be mixed together. You construct a salad, then stuff that salad into a casing. A sandwich, as we all know, is constructed in layers. A big part of what matters is what I mentioned above, that each bite (ideally) contains the sum total of the sandwich. A great many sandwiches do not meet this ideal, but similar to serving a sandwich with a fork in it, to stuff a roll with a salad is to surrender without even making an attempt. The torta I had recently at Casita Chilanga didn’t feature a bit of everything in every bite, but it is intention that makes that an honest failure and this a sin. The mixture at Casita results from an abundance of starring ingredients and enthusiasm. Here you’ve just got catfish and friends, all thrown together, taking your chances. You surrender all control over the arranged presentation of ingredients. If that’s the choice an establishment makes that’s their business, I simply ask that they not sully the good name of sandwiches with the lackadaisical attitude.

Crab Cake Sandwich – Dogfish Head Ale House, West Diamond Ave, Gaithersburg, MD

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As the name leads you to believe, Dogfish Head Ale House is a brewpub centered around the Dogfish Head brand of beers. I enjoy libations and spirits as much as the next person, but as always my primary concern is the sandwiches. One might expect that any establishment that attempted both fine beer and fine food would fall short in at least one of those categories, likely the food. My experience, happily, has been quite the opposite. Cambridge Brewing Company in Massachusetts and Stout in New York City have always treated me well. So how did this Ale House stack up against some of my old favorites? Well, this wasn’t a bad sandwich, but you can see for yourself there just wasn’t much there. The crab cake was first rate, fresh tender crab and plenty of it. Beyond that, there wasn’t much going on. There was a leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato on the plate, something which I find to be a bit of an annoyance.

An associate recently asked me why it was that I preferred to order a sandwich as-is, asking for no modifications and often not asking in advance whether a sandwich will come one way or the other. My answer was that I wanted to see the sandwich someone else is capable of, not the sandwich they’re capable of being coached to make. Standing behind a sneeze guard and hollering instructions to some poor sap in crinkling plastic gloves and a greasy visor is not my idea of a good time. You make the decisions, I say, I’m here for the results. So getting a plate that features an unadorned patty, lonesome on a bun, lettuce and tomato adjacent, well that just browns my avocado, so to speak. If you think the sandwich needs them, add them. If not, don’t. You handed me a menu when I walked in, not a ballot. I digress.

The sandwich did come with a house made tarter sauce that was quite good, and together with the quality crab this was a more than servicable sandwich. I’ve had some pretty fine crab cake sandwiches, so in eating this one I was a bit lost, thinking of onions, or roasted red peppers, or lightly dressed slaw, or pickled jimica, or thin spices of cucumber dressed in a spicy mustard, or anything else you might add to a crab cake sandwich to make it special. With those in mind, it was hard to get excited about this sandwich. It wasn’t bad, but it’s hard to love something that announces itself as an echo.

Filet-O-Fish – No. 7 Sub, Broadway, New York, NY

I was excited to try No. 7 Subs. I’d heard them spoken of fondly by other bloggers I respect, but it was more than that. One person described them as “avant-garde,” and it was with this in mind that I looked forward to sampling their wares. I’ve got a quick way to describe the sandwich I had, and it isn’t “avante-garde.” It’s “lousy.” The above photo quickly gives away the main issue: Where’s the filet? This is a $9 sandwich. I get that it’s Manhattan. I’m no country rube, eyeballs shooting out of my head when confronted with big city prices. I’ll pony up for any sandwich, even almost ridiculous amounts. $9 isn’t going to bankrupt me, but when I part with it I expect something more substantial than an undersized filet hiding in the middle of a bread brick. (I should note that the above picture only depicts half of the sandwich I was given.) That only thing you can really see in the photo is bread and cheese is fitting, because that’s about all the sandwich was. There was cilantro in there, and a roasted tomatillo-chili mayo, but neither made themselves known. All I got was a dense roll and too much American cheese, much to my disappointment.

I should have known what I was in for as soon as I set foot in the door. The menu features a pulled pork sandwich, and that pulled pork sandwich features feta cheese. Cheese on pulled pork has come up here before and…an associate once remarked that “No one who puts cheese on a pulled pork sandwich has ever, or will ever, be loved.” That’s a nice summation of my thoughts on the matter. The associate I was dining with at No. 7 Subs had the asparagus sandwich and was kind enough to let me sample it. Her fortunes were no better than mine, as overcooked asparagus sunk a nice granny smith/cashew dressing. “Avante-garde” is probably a fair way to describe the sandwich shop, but they’re aiming high without securing the basics. They’re trying to paint a masterpiece with a rumpled paper bag and a dried out set of watercolors, and it’s a sad sight. This isn’t falling short via trying something that didn’t work. It’s falling short via not trying, and I can’t get behind that.

No. 7 Subs does brisk business, so it’s possible I simply caught them on a bad day. I would be doing my wonderful readers a disservice, though, if I gave them the benefit of the doubt. If you’re searching out a good sandwich in Manhattan I’m sure you’ll have someone telling you how good No. 7 Subs is. I suppose you might have your reasons for taking their word over mine, but if you’re putting stock in the word of your humble sandwich enthusiast, that word is “avoid.”

Lobster Grilled Cheese – LA Cafe, Spring St, Los Angeles, CA

The lobster grilled cheese sandwich from LA Cafe in downtown Los Angeles.The Lobster Grilled Cheese at LA Cafe is $9.99. That’s the tell. The price of lobster fluctuates, of course, so with something that doesn’t go for ‘market price’ the only thing a restaurateur can do to protect their margins is to fiddle with the amount of lobster involved. Priced somewhere around $20 you might be confident you’d get a fair helping of lobster, but at $9.99 you know you aren’t in for too much. I still wanted to see how the whole thing worked, so I ordered it anyway.

As an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich this would be a strong success. The bread had a wonderful buttery crunch, the cheeses used played together well and brought a smooth flavor with just enough tang. Everything that needs to work in a grilled cheese worked. But the inclusion of lobster makes it an upscale grilled cheese, and by those standards it’s a failure. The lobster, first and foremost, was lost in the cheese. Without substantial, meaty chunks the subtle flavor of the lobster was completely overwhelmed, leaving you to suss through each bite, hunting for the lobster purely by texture. It was there, but with a few exceptions it was diced too fine to stand out. That, I imagine, is a product of there not being enough of it – forced to use a small amount and wishing to distribute it throughout the sandwich, small pieces are the only option. I found myself wondering if a handful of large chunks could have stood with some filler. Had I gotten a sandwich with a few large chunks of lobster and some artichoke hearts or mushrooms, would I have felt cheated? I suspect I would have considered it fair, given the price. Another option might have been dressing the lobster in lemon before adding it to the sandwich, hoping the citrus would cut through the cheese and let flavor of the lobster shine through. In any event, neither these remedies nor any other were present in LA Cafe’s Lobster Grilled Cheese, and so I cannot call the sandwich a success. It would work very well if you did more to highlight the lobster or if you removed it entirely, but as it stands it misses the mark. This sandwich stands as a strong example of what I’m talking about when I say I don’t hold it against someone for aiming high and falling short. Someone clearly wanted a grand sandwich here, and by one constraint or another they were prevented from achieving what they set out for. I wish them better luck next time, and I make no strong mark against them in my book.

Fried Egg & Anchovy – Made at Home

I like anchovies. I like them quite a bit, and I’m a bit bewildered that they’ve got the reputation they do. The chewy fish run right up to the edge of “Mercy, this is too salty” and, in my opinion, stop just short. I think they’re delicious, but they’re not the easiest thing to incorporate into a meal. They’ve got quite an attitude, and they’re prone to standing at the forefront of a dish regardless of where you put them. So while I’m quick to try and incorporate them into a sandwich, the boldness they bring is of particular concern. A good sandwich, as we all know, relies on balance. What could stand against the anchovies? My thoughts quickly turned to eggs. A perfectly fried egg, the yolk warm and runny, is incredibly rich. That seemed like just the thing to balance out the anchovies.

I started with a large roll, spreading roasted garlic across the top and laying a bed of caramelized onions and tomatoes on the bottom. Now, I must admit that I can be a man of appetite and I’m unlikely to open a tin of anchovies then put some aside for later. This was where I first cast restraint aside, reasoning that I had a full tin of anchovies, so they all ought to all go on the sandwich. With that many anchovies, then, I figured that I needed two eggs to achieve the balance I was looking for. That decision, dear readers, would prove to be my undoing.

I like a soft yolk in my fried egg, and so I accept that any fried egg sandwich I make is probably going to be a bit messy. The egg/bacon/avocado breakfast sandwich I wrote about earlier was a bit messy, but the two sandwiches I prepared that day were both tremendous. And that’s the rub, friends. That day two sandwiches, this day one. And the gulf between two fried egg sandwiches and a sandwich with two fried eggs was one I wasn’t capable of crossing. This sandwich was just a complete mess. The roll just couldn’t handle all of that yolk. I was left with hands covered, but afraid that if I put the sandwich down I might never get it back together again. I would like to note that construction aside, this was a good sandwich. The flavors were on point, the richness of the eggs married with the anchovies exactly as well as I suspected it would. But I lost my head in making it, and absent proper restraint I can’t rightfully call this a good sandwich. I tried something and I failed. I learned a few things and I feel my next anchovy sandwich will be absolutely excellent, but there was no excellence here, just a lot of anchovies and a whole mess of egg yolk.

Friday’s Special – The Sandwich Place, Mission St, San Francisco, CA

Friday's Special at The Sandwich Place, San Francisco, CA

The Friday’s Special from the sandwich place is a fairly straightforward sandwich. Beer battered fillet of sole, homemade tartar sauce, red onions and mixed greens drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. Where the sandwich really excelled was in the execution; The fillet was fresh-fried, meaning it still had some crisp to it. On far too many sandwiches the breading & frying is done so far ahead of time that by the time you eat it things are downright soggy. The sandwich could have used a few more onions and a bit more balsamic, a little bit more zing would have filled things out nicely. I must say it was nice to see a sandwich special that didn’t feature cheese. I go back and forth in my thoughts on cheese, and a lot of times it feels as if the cheese is compulsory. Not so at The Sandwich Place, it seems. Cheese wasn’t going to help this sandwich as so they left it out. Good show! On the whole, this was a fine sandwich.

Catfish Po’ Boy – Poor House Bistro, South Autumn St, San Jose, CA

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I mean this as a compliment: There was nothing special about this sandwich. It was a straightforward po’ boy. Fried catfish atop a bed of slaw, tartar sauce and pickles to finish. Everything was well executed, the slaw itself was light and fresh and the tartar sauce was vibrant and flavorful. The catfish in the sandwich was fried to order which is the biggest thing a restaurant can do to ensure a fine sandwich. Other po’ boys I’ve eaten, as well as a crab cake sandwich that was spectacular otherwise, fry their main ingredient ahead of time and wait for you to order it. The result is often a limp, soggy sandwich. Poor House Bistro understands this challenge and rises above it, taking the extra time to make your sandwich after you order it. I assure you that this fine sandwich is worth the wait.

The reason I would praise this sandwich for taking no chances and doing nothing out of the ordinary has to do with how I view the role of the outpost. Every cuisine, and specifically every type of sandwich, has a home. It has a place of creation, a place where it was first refined and loved. It branches out from there, carried to restaurants, take-out counters and lunch trucks by dedicated fanatics or crafty entrepreneurs. It is my opinion that these individuals who take their cherished cuisine out into the world should present it in its classical form. Were I in Louisiana I would happily seek out a reimagined or deconstructed po’ boy but when I sit down for one more than 2000 miles away I want the dictionary definition of the sandwich. That is what Poor House Bistro delivers and I couldn’t think to ask for more.

Whitefish & Fried Polenta – Made at Home

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Any fool can pile ingredients so high that the sandwich is evacuated when you try and hold it. When given the chance to make their own sandwiches young children will often exercise little restraint with condiments. Grape jelly and relish do not compliment each other and if you employ both on the same sandwich you will have failed to achieve what I consider to be the most important element of a sandwich: Balance. In a truly great sandwich every element relates to the others. The flavors of any condiments play off the flavors of the main ingredient, contrasting textures come together to form a whole, and any strong ingredients like cheese or bacon are properly restrained into their supporting roles. It is a delicate harmony but any great sandwich must have balance.

If balance is a delicate harmony, my friends, then I am sad to say that this sandwich was a tepid bleat. I am being harsh, both associates who enjoyed this sandwich with me indicated it was tasty, but I feel to be fair I must be as harsh on my own creations as I am on those served to me elsewhere. The origin of this sandwich was the simple sun-dried tomato. In order to temper their bold flavor a bit I toasted some garlic and roasted a few red peppers and combined everything into a loose paste. Fish suggested itself and so the final major question was that of texture. Now, I believe contrasting textures are important in a sandwich but to always run to diametric opposites is a mistake. To put light, flaky fish on a hard, crusty roll would leave me with a sandwich that all but disintegrated while I tried to eat it. The classic ‘grinder’ ideal has its place but it wasn’t on this sandwich. The roll would have to be soft though in the end I toasted it a bit so that it would have a light crunch before giving way. I decided that my contrasting texture would come from fried polenta and I’m afraid that is where I went wrong. My experience working with polenta is limited and I just didn’t get it to fry up to the crisp I needed for this sandwich. It browned a bit but I was aiming for something more like polenta chips, something with true crunch to sit opposed to the soft fish and a soft roll. The crunch was absent and into its absence fell the entire sandwich.

The sandwich came together like so: The sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and toasted garlic were processed into a paste. The rolls were lightly toasted in the oven. The polenta was fried in a rosemary/lemon compound butter, the fish fillets simply got a little salt & pepper and were pan-fried in olive oil. A bit of mozzarella cheese was added though not too much, as I am ever wary of cheese overpowering the rest of the sandwich. In the final analysis I think that light hand might have been my undoing. The sun-dried tomato paste that I set out to highlight wasn’t as flavorful as it could have been, I included no vegetables and in general went for the minimal sandwich. With polenta fried up right and some bigger flavors I think this might be quite a sandwich. As it stands, though, this was a bland sandwich.