Shrimp Po’ Boy — The Smith House, Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Some time ago, I ordered a “Shrimp Po’ Girl” from an establishment in Santa Cruz. The sandwich was a veritable monstrosity, featuring such an abundance of shrimp that the enterprise was a sort of riddle of consumption. I gave the shrimp sandwich another shot at the upscale bar and grill The Smith House in a strange area of Los Angeles referred to as “Century City.” The presentation of this shrimp po’boy was a far cry from my previous experience, and indeed it was perhaps a third of the amount of shrimp for right around the same price, if not more (forgive me, but this was some time ago, and the specifics escape me).

And therein lay the problem with this sandwich experience, if indeed there was one. The shrimp and the sauce both had ample flavor, and the bread was the perfect complement. It was an enjoyable sandwich experience, but I was left wanting more. The coverage of shrimp throughout the sandwich was a bit lacking, as there were entire bites devoid of the main ingredient, leaving me chewing a fine lettuce-sauce-and-bread combination, but falling short of the potential. I am happy to chalk this up to a careless line cook, but should I order it a second time and again find a severe lack of the selling point…well then, shame on me.

Tortellini Sandwich — Made At Home

Yet another experimental sandwich this week, hastily thrown together using the leftover ingredients at hand. We’ve got this recession on, you see, and sometimes the desire for a sandwich will overlap with a lack of funds and motivation, resulting in a segment of the Venn diagram that come sometimes lead to regret and embarrassment. Such was the case a few evenings ago, when some leftover seven-cheese tortellini found its way onto a couple of slices of toasted wheat bread, along with Swiss and Parmesan cheeses and a healthy dose of garlic-rosemary pasta sauce.

I am pleased to say that in this case, there was a minimum of both regret and embarrassment. In fact, I consider the experiment a rousing success, at least in the sense that I took the road less traveled and saw my vision through to the end. For some reason, as I was building the sandwich, I was anticipated a warm sandwich in the vein of a meatball sub or a chicken parm. I neglected to realize that cheese tortellini is not a meat product. In fact, it’s already a tiny cheese-filled bread. So the overall experience was somewhat akin to eating a sandwich with bread as the filling, but was much more pleasing than that sounds.

It’s not something I think I would ever try again, but it wasn’t awful, and it was certainly interesting. It wasn’t a bad sandwich, but I don’t know whether I would go so far as to call it “good.” It simply was. Considering the strangeness of this sandwich, I would chalk that up as a worthwhile experiment.

Turkey and Black Bean — Made At Home

A while back, I had an amazing sandwich from Porto’s that featured a black bean spread. At the time, I was struck by the simple elegance of an ingredient that I had never before considered. Recently, finding myself with a small quantity of leftover black beans, I was suddenly moved to try a small sandwich experiment. Hastily thrown together with what I had at home, I ended up with toasted wheat bread, deli sliced turkey breast, sweet hot mustard, the reheated black beans, and some Bermuda onion.

The experience was perfectly fine but nothing too great. The failure of this sandwich was the thrown-together nature of the sandwich. An attempt to make the ingredients at hand adhere to an experimental base could have gone much, much worse. As we have mentioned here before, the journey of your life’s greatest sandwich often begins at home on a lazy afternoon, tinkering with this and that.

 

Grilled Gouda — Made At Home

A couple of weeks ago, my closest associate suggested grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, and of course I agreed at once. After preparing the ingredients, I learned that the sandwiches were intended to be grilled…on a grill. I was game, of course, but very intrigued as to the result of a grilled cheese sandwich prepared out-of-doors.

I am extremely pleased to say that the results were very pleasing indeed. The bread had ample crunch, the red onion had ample snap, the smoked Gouda was neither too mild nor too overpowering, and the fresh tomato added just a bit of sweetness and moisture to the affair. Of the two sandwiches I consumed, the crisper of the two was preferable. All in all, a worthwhile experience that I heartily recommend.

Turkey & Cheese Croissant — Student Bookstore, CSU Los Angeles

Ah, the prepackaged sandwich. I stood in line at the student bookstore, holding this item, and for the life of me couldn’t understand why. Purchased on a whim, I knew, with certainty, that I was in for an absolutely dismal experience. Visions of my colleague’s recent nightmare raced through my head.

Here, however, is our lesson for the day with regard to sandwiches. The lesson of experience surpassing expectation. It does not happen often. All too often, the sandwich falls well short of its potential, or is precisely what you expect, which is its own specific kind of disappointment — the disappointment of mediocrity.

When I opened this sad little package, I was surprised by two things: the first was that the croissant was moist and flaky, rather than the dry and crumbly mess I anticipated. The second issue was the cheese. I had expected — nay, known — that there would be one horrifying square of freakishly orange cheese topping off the affair. Imagine my shock when I saw instead a large, oval slice of what appeared to be genuine provolone — or near enough, at any rate. This sandwich, as with my recent experience at Billy’s was packaged with a packet of mayonnaise, and a packet of mustard. This, of course, is the standard for boxed sandwiches.

The sandwich was not bad at all, much to my endless stupefaction. Certainly, this was far from a “good” sandwich, but when one’s expectation is set at a 1, sometimes a 4 or 5 is heaven on earth.

Turkey Asparagus Affair — Literati Cafe, Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA

Asparagus on a sandwich! I am a fiend for asparagus. I love it so. It is one of the finest of all vegetables. And yet, due to its proportions, I have never once considered including it on a sandwich. When I saw the name of this item on the Literati chalkboard, I could not resist.

I am pleased to say that this sandwich lived up to every expectation. The delivery method of the asparagus (cut in half, with the turkey rolled around each stalk) was inspired. The sandwich came together expertly, and I was happy as a clam. The fresh ingredients used at Literati go a long way toward aiding the experience, as the dairy-free pesto has just enough flavor to be a part of the sandwich without overwhelming the other ingredients.

Asparagus on a sandwich! How the mind reels! What other new delights await us in the infinite genre of the sandwich?

No. 9 (Billy’s Club House) — Billy’s Deli & Cafe, N. Orange Blvd., Glendale, CA

It’s no stretch to say that I’m not exactly the most observant person. Still, I’m always very pleasantly surprised when I notice a new sandwich establishment tucked away in some corner I had hitherto never spotted. Such was the case when I happened to walk by the storefront of Billy’s, which was partially obscured by construction. When I went inside, I was overjoyed to find a legitimate delicatessen and restaurant, complete with sliced-to-order meats and cheeses and black and white cookies.

I looked the menu over and selected the No.9, which was a sandwich with turkey, Swiss, and ham on rye. I got the whole shebang to go, and when I got home, I found all manner of packets included with my sandwich: ketchup, mayonnaise, deli mustard. I dug into the sandwich and experienced the unmistakable flavor of recently-cooked and freshly sliced turkey breast. Phenomenal. The rye was hearty and rich in flavor. All in all, the sandwich was very pleasing, especially considering my having stumbled upon it quite accidentally. Only in looking the menu over again do I notice that this sandwich was meant to have included “Billy’s Dressing.” There was no trace of any such dressing on my bone-dry sandwich, and I selected a packet of mustard and half a packet of mayonnaise to augment to meal. I will have to revisit Billy’s soon and insist on the inclusion of the promised dressing. Only with the knowledge of this missing component do I find the experience sorely lacking in hindsight. But c’est la guerre.

 

Bacon and Lettuce on Bagel — Made At Home

Sometimes a sandwich can taste great and still be frustrating. This is what I encountered during my latest foray into the wonder of bagel sandwiches.

The bagels in this case were the slim pickings of a mid-afternoon supermarket bakery. My first attempt at a simple bacon sandwich was on a toasted cheese bagel, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. Delicious bacon and mixed greens blended well with spicy mustard and combined well with the greasy cheese bagel. It was a great sandwich. And yet…

The slight toasting of the bagel had fried the cheese on all sides of the bagel to a crisp. Eat bite and each squeeze sent shards of cheese and bagel flying everywhere. It was a messy and annoying enterprise. Although the sandwich was tasty and satisfying, I was left strangely morose by the experience.

I repeated the same ingredients on an untoasted wheat bagel a short time later.

This second sandwich, although very nearly identical in all ways to the first, was endlessly more enjoyable. Sometimes the full enjoyment of a sandwich is a very precarious thing. Everything can be in place, everything can taste great, but one tiny little thing can ruin your sandwich experience. What a delicate life we lead.

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich — Johny’s Kitchen, Cal State Los Angeles

I have consumed a great many meals on a good many college campuses in my time. Truly, some of my fondest sandwich memories have come from on-campus or campus-adjacent eateries: the truly spectacular but pricey sandwiches from the Ord Market on the territory that comprises CSU Monterey Bay; the turkey and Swiss croissant microwaved with love and served out of a small shack in the middle of San Francisco State.

California State University, Los Angeles is heavy on the name-brand fast food and light on the independent sandwich shop or eatery. There is, however, a storefront in the food court called Johny’s Kitchen, which appears to be a singular entity. The menu is far-reaching diner fare, and when I found myself in need of a quick breakfast, I gave them a shot.There were half a dozen breakfast sandwich options or slight variation: bacon and egg, sausage and egg, ham and egg, etc. served on one’s choice of bread. I opted for the bacon and egg on wheat, and unfortunately, was served a sandwich that will in no way hold a special place in my heart.

There was a significant quantity of egg…I would say between two and three eggs, and a few strips of bacon served on two pieces of slightly grilled toast. There was no butter on the bread, no seasoning in the eggs, and no other element to the sandwich. It is among the blandest sandwiches I have ever encountered. Even a dash of salt and pepper would have made the sandwich exponentially better. I can’t imagine that the other bread choices of rye, white, or sourdough would have improved the sandwich, either. We talk a lot about the unnecessary inclusion of cheese in sandwiches, but any cheese at all on this sandwich would have been a marked and welcome improvement.

As I chewed and swallowed this massive, warm wad of egg with an extremely slight bacon flavor, I reflected on the fact that one of the breakfast sandwich options was merely “double egg.” I felt a deep sadness for any unfortunate soul who elected to travel that unappetizing road.

Chicken Torta — Eagle Rock Music Festival, Los Angeles

Street fairs and similar festivals are an interesting time for cuisine, particularly in Los Angeles, where the food truck and the street vendor are at the same time a ubiquitous staple and a hipsterish fad. The recent Eagle Rock Music Festival had the featured food trucks you would expect, as well as the open restaurants and scattered food booths along a jam-packed Colorado Boulevard, but also featured an interesting “food court” down a side street. It was at this food court that I saw a large banner over a crowded stall that proclaimed “SUPER TORTAS.” Whether this was a descriptor of the product, a hyperbolic boast, or simply the name of the proprietary enterprise, I could not ascertain. I was merely certain that I would be ordering a torta.

Following a prolonged and too-complicated ordering process, I was presented with a chicken torta and a pork-and-cheese pupusa. Since this is not “On Pupusas,” I shall restrict my commentary to the former.

As I carried my torta the few blocks home, to enjoy my repaste in comfort at the end of a very long day, I did not have high hopes for the sandwich. Certainly I have an ideal against which all future tortas will be measured, which does a grave disservice to both myself and the unfortunate new torta. The chicken torta from the Music Festival featured minced and grilled chicken, lettuce, and tomato. The grilled roll was given a healthy coat of what appeared to be mayonnaise, and a liberal ladle of salsa was applied to the sandwich just before assembly was completed atop the grill.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. By all rights, this sandwich should not have been as good as it was. The chicken was sparse and of low quality. The salsa and grease had soaked through the bottom half of the roll, making it something just this side of “a sloppy mess.” And yet…this torta was absolutely delicious. The marriage of the salsa, mayonnaise, and chicken was approaching sublime. It had far more kick than you would expect from this sandwich, and yet the heat and spice was never overpowering. The bread was of a much higher quality than I expected, and the torta absolutely hit the spot with this weary traveler. My only regret lies in not being able to divine the name of this establishment, so that I may visit their truck or storefront again in the future. Alas.