The Troll – The Original Rinaldi’s, N Sepulveda Ave, Manhattan Beach

originalrinaldisHow aptly named. I enter an establishment, order a sandwich, and I’m served some sort of bread pontoon boat ferrying around a pile of ingredients. The troll. I try to be charitable in my definition of a sandwich. Two pieces of bread, something between then, stacked and intended to be eaten on a horizontal axis. I see this as a definition as expansive as possible without being meaningless, but the boosters of lobster-rolls-as-sandwiches and other similar nonsense have seen it as pedantic, or restricting. But I didn’t settle on this definition just for the sport of it, I settled on it because it’s what fits my idea of what sandwiches are, in their ideal form. The horizontal nature of it is crucial, and the above calamity illustrates why.

The idea behind a sandwich is to bring many things together. This is why we do not set out on a plate a bit of bread, a bit of ham and a bit of cheese and take turns eating each. We put them together because they taste exceptionally good together, and they become more than the sum of their parts. But the togetherness of them, the this-thing-plus-that-thing, in every bite, that’s why horizontal matters. I can close the above not-sandwich. I did close the above not-sandwich, I folded it up and I ate it. It was tasty. Ground turkey, eggplant parm, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, it’s a good lineup and the ground turkey is a nice textural contrast. But it didn’t fold cleanly in half, lining up ingredients with the cheese in the middle. It collapsed on itself, leaving a sort of gradient of ingredients not stacked but laid side by side, with bites to one side favoring cheese, to the other turkey, and somewhere in the middle the eggplant. This is no sandwich at all, but instead a slapdash collection, robbing me of the togetherness that defines the sandwich experience.

This happens far more often than I’d like, where someone doesn’t slice the roll all the way through and doesn’t stack so much as stuff, leaving an assemblage that runs contrary to the very point of sandwiches. For the sake of discussion, I try to forgive this, sometimes opening a sandwich and rearranging, sometimes just shrugging because it’s almost good enough. (The Mousa is a recent example of something that could be better.) But this need not be, friends. This need not be. I do not ask that everyone’s sandwich be exotic, complicated, or anything other than what they want it to be. I simply ask that it be assembled with care and with an eye towards the ideal sandwich experience. And that, friends, means stacking.

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Real Cubano – North End Caffe, Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach

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This is what I understand a Cuban sandwich to be. Roast pork (incuding mojo sauce), ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. In a nod to my understanding, the above sandwich is designated the “Real Cubano” on the menu. That’s quite the bold statement, as many residents of Tampa would insist that a Real Cubano contains a layer of salami. What exactly defines the archetype is a matter of dispute, and I have neither right nor interest in settling the matter. My concern is always the sandwich in front of me, and the sandwich in front of me was delicious.

The pork is the real standout here. As I understand it there’s some smoked salt involved in the roasting. That smoke flavor comes through in the finished product and really adds a stellar layer to the sandwich, turning this from perfectly serviceable to notably good. Everything else is quality and works well together, as you would expect from such a classic archetype, and the result is a very good sandwich. As I don’t particularly care for ham, the Cubans tends to be a pretty rare sandwich for me. All the more delightful, then, when the one I do enjoy happens to be a great one.