I’ve reviewed a fair number of vegan and vegetarian sandwiches on this blog, and if you dig into the archives you’ll find vegan reviews from a most trusted associate. The reason I do this is actually quite simple: they’re often delicious. At many establishments these sorts of sandwiches are shunted off into their own little corner of the menu, all too easy to ignore. Don’t make that mistake; go looking for meatless options, consider them, and I wager you’ll find a reward is quick in coming. Such is the case with the above, a marinated, grilled portobello mushroom with some white bean hummus. Sure, there’s a cursory bunch of lettuce and a slice of tomato with a bit of red onion, but this is really a two-note song. That’s a difficult thing to pull off, but if you’re surprised that it works I’d wager you haven’t dined on mushrooms recently. It’s a dense, rich flavor, one done a disservice by the frequently-applied “meaty” label. The umami notes that are so present in meat are present in well-prepared mushrooms, but it’s its own food. Let it be so, and enjoy it for such. While the mushroom was the standout here, the hummus was a bit sparse in application. That’s especially unfortunate in that what was there was quite good, garlicky and rich in its own right. I appreciate an establishment watching out for excessive filling creep, but not at the cost of the sandwich overall. This was quite good, but with a little more hummus it could easily have been great.
I’ve taken issue with hamburgers before, because I believe the form encourages excess which only in very rare instances actually excells. But I still go in for one from time to time, largely because the ideal of a hamburger is strong, and when someone makes one with that ideal in mind the result is often really quite good. Take the above burger: white cheddar, roasted tomato, fried onions, spring mix, bacon jam, ketchup and ginger mustard. As a lineup, that’s just a basic bacon cheeseburger. But each ingredient has been carefully considered and slightly upgraded: the onions extra crunchy, the tomato a bit sweeter for the roasting, the bacon relatively unobtrusive in jam form. There’s one apparent misstep and one actual one, and both are worth discussing. The bun looks large and likely to send half the burger out of the side, but it was soft and juice-absorbing and the whole thing held together without any issue. The spring mix looks sparse, and it was. I generally do not care for lettuce as an afterthought; if you think it’s worth having on the burger then put it on the burger. Burgers are generally quite rich, and can easily support an echo of richness in a respectable amount of lettuce. Regardless of the error with the spring mix this was a very, very good burger and a fine example of the form’s higher end.
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.
Community is a restaurant in Los Feliz with no small reputation, and the OMG Lamb sandwich is another example of my faith in the top of the menu. It’s not an infallible rule, but generally speaking, whatever’s listed at Number 1 is likely to be a pretty good bet. I find it to be the item most labored over, the one that started someone dreaming. I don’t know if that’s the case with Community and to be honest…I hope it wasn’t. the OMG Lamb sandwich is good, quite good, but it doesn’t feel revelatory. In short, it isn’t OMG. Well marinated lamb joins cucumber-tomato salad, dressed greens and jalapeno yogurt, on ciabatta, slices so thin as to be flatbread. The lamb is juicy and well prepared but the dominant note of the sandwich is pepper, present with the lamb and echoed in the yogurt and overall there wasn’t much past that note. I’m being picky, because as I said this was quite good. But I’ve been at this long enough that I have to be picky and besides, I’m not the one making divine promises.
A great many sandwiches start as other meals, but very few of them start as soup. It takes a special sort of thinker to turn soup into something hand-held, and it takes an especially talented sort to do it well. Thankfully, Clementine possesses just that sort of person. Gruyere and caramelized onions join braised beef brisket on wheat levain, pressed to warm melted delight and served with a cup of jus. It’s richness upon richness, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do successfully. Contrary to what you might expect, this isn’t essentially without harmony. Everything works in the same direction, and so it isn’t that one side can drown out the other as they both combine for a loud, deliberate note. That’s what you find here, just umami on top of savory, deeply rich and just outstanding. Maybe one of the 10 best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and if you’re anywhere near Los Angeles I cannot recommend it enough.
I have no idea what to make of the cheesesteak. In the past I’ve gotten polite and restrained sandwiches, two words that rarely go with Philadelphia. Another time a cheesesteak with pickles and ketchup in it, something that apparently isn’t unheard of hi Philadelphia but causes the natives I know to cock an eyebrow. It isn’t even that establishments are so hung up on authenticity that they make a bad sandwich, it’s that most of them are hung up on authenticity, don’t make an authentic cheesesteak, and they make a bad sandwich. It’s a strange beast, the cheesesteak.
Take the above. Boo’s Cheesesteaks, like all the others, promises an authentic experience. They come close to delivering, with an honest, cornmeal-dusted hoagie roll, plenty of steak and an honest Philadelphian’s portion of grease. I’d be quite pleased to get that in a sandwich, but I didn’t get it in a sandwich. As you can see, I got it in a pile.
Most everyone who makes cheesesteaks does so by piling stake on the grill, laying cheese on top, then lifting the whole mess into a roll. That’s all well and good, provided you pay attention to how wide your roll is and don’t just flatten it out and dump the whole mess on top. This isn’t just a personal quirk or a question of aesthetics; consuming the above involves folding it around the steak, not over it, and as a result all the cheese is bunched in at the far seam and you’re left with a lopsided sandwich. Getting a bit of everything in every bite is basically the entire point of a sandwich, and with what is essentially a two ingredient sandwich that really shouldn’t be very hard. Sadly, the basics are often neglected in pursuit of loftier goals, with the above-pictured calamity as a typical result.
Apologies 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 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.
I have gone on record as saying that I’ve never had a genuinely good meatloaf sandwich, and I believe that’s because it’s a much more difficult sandwich than most people seem to think. To begin with, making a really good meatloaf isn’t easy, they’re far too often dry and bland. Beyond that the proportions in the sandwich are tough to get right, with enough meatloaf to matter you need a really fine balance of other ingredients, and it just wasn’t something I’d ever seen anyone pull off. Until, that is, I tried the meatloaf sandwich at Mendocino Farms.
In keeping with the typical offering from Mendocino Farms, it’s an upscaled meatloaf sandwich. Wagyu beef joins Japanese mushrooms, steamed kale, horseradish crema and herb aioli on a toasted sesame bun. Previously that kind of thing has missed the mark for me, specifically at Mendocino Farms, but here it seems to be just how to crack the meatloaf sandwich. The meatloaf was rich and not at all dry, the kale was bright and earthy, the mushrooms playing right between the two, earthy and rich. The crema was sharp, and the toasted bun a nicely-yielding shell. As with all sandwiches containing horseradish it could have used more horseradish, but that’s really more a personal preference than any real rule. The last meatloaf sandwich I had nearly had me giving up on the whole archetype, so I am especially grateful for Mendocino Farms’ shining example. Let that be a lesson to me. The way we see sandwiches is as much about our eyes as it is about the landscape, and we’re better served by setting off exploring than by thinking we’ve seen it all.
I tend to come at sandwiches from something of a traditionalist perspective. The standing archetypes of the world of sandwiches are what they are for a reason, and if you’re going to play around with them you should have a very good reason for doing so. The reuben is a good example, as it seems particularly prone to “takes” and “re-imaginings” and “total nonsense.” Picture, if you will, a standard reuben with a healthy dose of avocado along for the ride. The above sandwich is a far cry from such ghastly examples, and it is to Vine Street Deli’s credit that it is so. Their Red Baron is hot pastrami and red cabbage sauerkraut on pumpernickel, with the standard swiss cheese and Russian dressing. There are two reasons this sandwich works: The first is that they didn’t push it too far. The ingredients are straight 1-to-1 swaps with standard reuben ingredients, and not particularly imaginative ones at that. One might criticize them for sticking so close to the tried-and-true, but when the tried-and-true is so good you won’t find me among the critics. The second reason relates to what I said above, about the necessity of a good reason for futzing around with the thing in the first place. I don’t know if the hot pastrami was the driving force behind this sandwich coming together, but it more than justifies the effort. It’s peppery and immensely flavorful, walked back just enough by the cheese, dressing and slaw. The result is an exceptionally well balanced sandwich and a nice change of pace for any reuben enthusiast.