Turkey Mac & Cheese — Made At Home

Every truly great idea begins with but a germ of that idea, and perhaps this meager sandwich can serve as a jumping-off point for further experimentation at this humble blog.

While preparing a box of “homestyle” macaroni & cheese for dinner (“homestyle” is the type that comes with a small packet of bread crumbs for sprinkling atop the finished product), I decided to make it a slightly heartier meal by shredding a quantity of deli turkey into the mixture. As I prepared to spoon the finished product onto my plate, I realized this might actuality be an opportunity for sandwich making.

Unfortunately, due to available materials, said sandwich would have to be a couple toasted slices of whole wheat bread, onto which the turkey mac and cheese was foisted and bread crumbs added from their packet. The end result was pleasing, but obviously, sorely lacking. I feared the bread crumbs would be lost at best, and wholly unnecessary, but they provided a pleasing added crunch and grit. The turkey married well with the mac and cheese. If I were to do this again, it would certainly be a grilled cheese sandwich. But it needs something more, and it’s my duty to determine what that should be.

With sandwich creation, as in all things, one must live and learn. It is our duty as sandwich enthusiasts to try, and fail, and try again. Anyone can make a sandwich, but the question must always be: “How can I make this better next time?”

The Original — Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, York Boulevard, Los Angeles

Galco’s Soda Pop Stop is a world-famous soda store. The owner and founder of Galco’s had a lifelong passion for all things soda pop, and wanted to collect as many varieties as possible in one place for a thirsty public. He took over an old supermarket and began ordering in every type of soda from every soda brewery, no matter how small. The end result is a can’t-miss haven of carbonated beverages.

Along the back wall of Galco’s, inhabiting the area where a meat and fish counter doubtlessly one stood, is a small area where one can order one of a dozen sandwiches. My first couple of trips to Galco’s were naturally so focused on soda purchases that I didn’t even notice the sandwich counter there. Naturally, once I noticed it, it was added to my list. I have spoken before about sandwiches in unusual venues, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Most of the sandwiches on the board are labeled under the title “Blockbuster” — the Turkey Blockbuster, the Roast Beef Blockbuster, and so on — although the ingredients didn’t hold any clues as to what might be the blockbusting nature of said items. They seemed fairly straightforward and pedestrian (not that this is necessarily a bad thing). Luckily, I spied an item listed as “The Original.” If I’m going to try a sandwich from a soda stop, I may as well go with their first creation, mayn’t I?

The Original is Italian dry salami, mortadella, salami cotta, ham, mayo, mustard, pickles, and provolone on a french roll.The menu takes care to note that The Orginial is the only sandwich served without lettuce and tomato. I felt this was an important distinction to make, and that the sandwich makers at Galco’s knew better than I what should appear on any given sandwich.

I want to take a moment to compare the sandwich at Galco’s with a sandwich from the Eagle Rock Italian Deli. At the Italian Deli, you get fresh-sliced meats and cold cuts that are carved to order and placed on a roll that is baked in-house daily. At Galco’s, you get cold cuts out of a package which are placed on a french roll out of another package. I’m not faulting Galco’s for not having specialty ingredients at a small counter in the rear of a defunct grocery store, but perhaps I am faulting them for the fact that their sandwiches are more expensive than those at the Italian Deli. The overhead on these sandwiches has to be incredibly low, particularly when the mustard in question is of the “yellow” variety.

The sandwich was disappointing in several respects. The various cold cuts, which appear plentiful in the above picture, are bunched up in the center both along the length and width of the sandwich. The spongy bread, although perhaps the highlight of the sandwich, becomes 80% of any given bite beyond the first couple mouthfuls of either half of the sandwich. The other great failing of this sandwich, I believe, has much to do with the quality of the cold cuts used. Such a melange of cold cuts, were they freshly sliced and of a discerning quality, might be pulled off by the Italian Deli (although they usually, and wisely, stick to one type of cold cut per sandwich), but when you have four different types of cold cut all yanked from a package — packages undoubtedly emblazoned with “Oscar Meyer” or “Foster Farms” — and slathered in a hefty coat of mayonnaise and yellow mustard, without even lettuce and tomato (adamantly), the overall effect was that I was eating a bologna sandwich.

I’ve eaten bologna sandwiches often during my lifetime, but I don’t believe I’ve ever paid for the pleasure of someone preparing one for me. And I’ve certainly never paid someone nine dollars for an unevenly-distributed bologna sandwich. The Original could save a lot of money by simply dropping the pretense and offering bologna sandwiches. Then they wouldn’t have to open four packages every day. They’d only have to open one.

 

Bagel Egg Sandwiches, Round Two — Made at Home

The single most popular thing in all of America is football. Specifically, the NFL. In honor of the first Sunday of the regular football season, the day was spent watching the sport on television while making an assortment of bagel egg sandwiches. You will recall that I have touted the glory of sandwiches made on bagels, and this was a great opportunity to stretch that experience out over two meals while watching some sports.

My first attempt, pictured above, was sausage and egg on a cheese bagel. Chicken apple sausage was cut lengthwise, then again cut in half and pan-fried.  Eggs were fried, white onions seared in a pan, and combined on the bagel along with fresh avocado, medium cheddar cheese, and tomato. The end result, although of a pleasing taste, ended up being frustrating to eat. The toughness of the sausage casing and the shape and positioning of the quartered sausage caused no end of filling creep. The sandwich nearly fell apart in my hands as I struggled to hold it together. A lovely sandwich completely undone by the method in which I chose to include the sausage. Had I the opportunity to do this over, I would have cut the sausage into much smaller half-circles or cubes, which I would have then dropped into the egg as it finished frying in the pan. Hindsight, however, is 20/20, and I was left with a good-tasting but frustrating sandwich.

The second sandwich was nearly identical, served on an “everything” bagel, but with one all-important difference: instead of sausage, freshly-prepared bacon was included. This, my friends, was a road well-traveled, but made all the difference. One cannot deny the allure of bacon, but it is with good reason. The bacon was the perfect meat for this sandwich. It added smokiness, saltiness, and crunch, but more importantly, it yielded perfectly to each bite, adding substance without resistance.

A sandwich that holds together is a good sandwich, and sometimes it all comes down to what best makes the center hold. As you can imagine, this is especially true of sandwiches prepared upon a bagel.

Steak Torta — Porto’s Bakery, North Brand Boulevard, Glendale, CA

We’ve visited Porto’s before, and we’re certainly no stranger to either steak sandwiches or tortas. The last Porto’s sandwich featured here was a rare miss from an otherwise exemplary sandwich shop and bakery, and it’s nice to showcase a sandwich that really points out how much the establishment shines when it plays to its strengths.

The steak torta is grilled steak, cotija cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and black bean spread on a French round. The bread, baked in-house, is marvelous. The grilled steak is flavorful, even though it is the normal torta-quality steak you would expect. The true star of the show, however is the black bean spread. Porto’s uses this on several sandwiches, and the first time I took a bite of one, my mind burst into a fire of one vital question: “WHY ISN’T THIS  ON EVERY SANDWICH?” The black bean spread is something that, as soon as you taste it, you wonder why you haven’t thought of it before. It adds a welcome earthiness and savoury element that so many unneeded vegetables can only hope to aspire to.

This sandwich is nothing short of a delight, a wonderful balance of creaminess, firmness, and a wide flavor palate. The bread holds everything together perfectly and although the cheese may be a bit lost, you’ll find the experience pleasing in every way.

 

Western Tri-Tip Sandwich — Wood Ranch, The Grove, Los Angeles

We have spoken before about the very few different options for a steak sandwich. The Wood Ranch, known for its premium meats and barbecue, which you can order in large quantities to take home a la carte, offers only the “chopped meat” version of the steak sandwich, but thankfully does it well. There are two tri-tip sandwiches on offer, and the “Western” option is a bit more intriguing. Consisting of tri-tip, Monterey jack cheese, sauteed onions and peppers, it is served with what the menu boasts is “real au jus,” which makes one wonder what was in all of those other bowls of drippings we have been consuming for years, and more importantly, what is in this one.

When I first ordered the item, I missed the “real au jus” on the menu, so when the sandwich was delivered, I feared that I had mistakenly ordered nothing more than a gussied-up diner French dip. Thankfully, the onions and peppers were flavorful and provided actual taste to the sandwich, in stark contrast to a sandwich like the tepid cheesesteak of North Carolina. The Monterey jack also brought a fine element to the sandwich, rather than being lost. This was a surprisingly well-balanced sandwich, and tasted fine both with the au jus and without. (The au jus was just as flavorful as any other au jus I have heretofore encountered, regardless of its highly-touted authenticity.) Although this wasn’t anything ground-breaking, sometimes a pleasing sandwich experience comes down to whether you can taste the vegetables.

Chicken Fried Chicken Breakfast Sandwich — Black Bear Diner, Bancroft Rd, Walnut Creek, CA

Sometimes, in the service of finding interesting sandwiches, you will find yourself presented with precisely what you ordered, and you will feel a sudden sense of…well, not quite sadness, precisely, but something very near to that. The special promotion at Black Bear Diner at the moment, is a selection of “Chicken-Fried Chicken” items. I loathe the term “chicken-fried chicken,” as it’s redundant at best, and shameless, nonsensical, pandering buzzword-grasping at best. There is such a thing as a chicken-fried steak. That is a steak that is battered and fried in the matter that one would fry a chicken. There does not exist any such beast as chicken-fried chicken. There is merely fried chicken.

Getting past semantics for a moment, let us discuss this creation. Black Bear Diner is a chain of kitschy diners, mostly located in smaller towns throughout Northern and Central California, and their claim to fame is an extensive menu of extremely generous portions at a fair price. The quality of their offerings is, on average, far above your usual chain diner, so it’s a great place for an individual on a budget. The “chicken-fried chicken” breakfast sandwich is a fried chicken filet, scrambled eggs, and gravy served on a biscuit. The biscuits at Black Bear Diner are generally the size of softballs, and not the first thing you would think would make an ideal delivery method for a fried chicken sandwich.

When my plate arrived, I was filled with a strange sense of remorse. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I ordered it, but the reality of the situation seemed extremely daunting. I feared there was no way to eat it without getting a large amount of gravy on my hands, and that fear proved extremely accurate. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the most difficult-to-handle sandwich I’ve ever eaten. It was even easier to eat than the Shrimp Po’ Girl, which was surprising after first glance.

The breakfast sandwich was far too large, which was its first mistake. It would have been far better served on toast or on a roll, which would have eliminated one of the only two elements which made it a breakfast sandwich in the first place. The other breakfast element, the scrambled eggs, were mostly lost in the doughiness of the biscuit, the crunch of the breading, and the creaminess of the gravy. this is a sandwich that would have been far better served with a few strips of thick bacon rather than a couple whisked eggs.

Overall, the sandwich was not entirely objectionable, and certainly very unique, but not at all worth revisiting. It was far too much food, and far too gimmicky, from its ridiculous name to its being forced into the breakfast sandwich role.

One final note: this may be a sandwich that many people would be too “embarrassed” to order, or would feel shameful upon consuming or being observed while consuming. This sandwich blog is delightfully free of any unnecessary societal taboos like embarrassment or shame. We exist for the pursuit of the sandwich, whichever form it may take. We recommend you do the same. You will find this attitude quite preferable to the alternative.

 

 

Pressed Cubano Sandwich — Public House, AT&T Park, San Francisco

AT&T Park, located at the corner of 3rd and King, has been the home of the San Francisco Giants since its construction was completed in 2000. Since its gates have opened, it has become the hub of a brand-new downtown. Eateries, bars, clubs, shops, and other tourist- and family-friendly locations have sprung up for blocks in all directions surrounding the ballpark, and even within it. The “front” of AT&T Park proper is Willie Mays Plaza, a wide expanse of brick and palm trees, statuary, plaques, and two restaurants. One of these restaurants is Public House, which contains a bar and its own entrance to the ballpark.

I was pleased to find several sandwich options on the menu, and picked the most intriguing and, I felt, promising option: the Pressed Cubano. The sandwich included both roasted pork and Niman ham, and was augmented by both Provolone and Gruyere. The finishing touch was a few stray pickles, and the complete sandwich was griddle-pressed and served without further augmentation. The end result is a simply fantastic combination of complimentary flavors. The head chef at Public House is a classically-trained chef with a long pedigree, as is often the case with most eateries in San Francisco. I have learned long ago that when you find a legitimate head chef has placed a sandwich on their menu, you will almost certainly not regret ordering one.

The sandwich contents all blended together into a delightful creaminess, masterfully offset by the occasional snap of a fresh mild pickle, whose flavor simply added as a grace note to the palate, rather than an overpowering and unwelcome crescendo. The true star of the show, however, was the bread. It was, in a word, perfect. It is a rare gift to find a bread that truly completes the sandwich while providing the perfect containment for the ingredients and an ideal texture for biting through. I was over the moon at having been able to eat this sandwich before a lovely evening of baseball. I only hope that someday, all of you can experience the same.

Bagel Egg Sandwiches — Made at Home

One of my greatest simple pleasures in life is making a sandwich on a bagel. It usually doesn’t matter what type of sandwich. I don’t care for cream cheese, so no matter how much I love bagels — and I do love them — my options for consuming bagels usually comes down to “plain bagel,” “toasted bagel,” or “bagel sandwich.” As you can see, one of those options is clearly head and shoulders above the rest.

I found myself with a few bagels over the weekend and no lunch meat. I briefly considered making a grilled cheese or a peanut butter sandwich before remembering that I had eggs, and so I made a monster bagel egg sandwich. I split and toasted an “everything” bagel, to which I added margarine. To this, I added two fried eggs and a slice of muenster cheese. The end result was quite pleasing, particularly with the bits of onion on the bagel adding a welcome, savory saltiness. The margarine was a bit lost, and had I used butter, I feel it would have been lost as well.

The following day, I decided to revisit the experiment with a couple of significant changes.

This time using a sesame seed bagel, I again fried two eggs and added a slice of cheese, but instead of butter or margarine, I went with apricot preserves. Although messy (due to the hole in the bagel), the combination of jam and egg is always welcome, and paired better with the sesame seed bagel than it would have with the “everything” bagel. I feel I made the correct choice with both bagel sandwiches. The only thing I would do differently next time is giving the eggs a liberal dose of pepper. If you find yourself with a bagel, a couple of eggs, and five minutes, you would certainly be doing yourself a favor if you whip up a quick and satisfying sandwich.

Shrimp Po’ Girl — Betty’s Eat Inn, Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA

There are times when the sandwich you want to make isn’t perfectly conducive to being a sandwich. This was the case with the Shrimp Po’ Girl at Betty’s Eat Inn in Santa Cruz. Betty’s is a kitschy faux-throwback diner done right. They refer to their sauces as “Lubes” which are all made in-house, and offer several interesting-looking sandwiches. I opted for the Po’ Girl, and when it arrived, my first thought was, “That’s a lot of shrimp!” followed closely by my second thought, “How am I supposed to eat this?”

Herein lies the drawback with the solid concept of the sandwich: you have a chipotle sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a very generous quantity of fried shrimp on herb dutch bread. The roll is not sliced all the way through and is served resting on its bread hinge, with its contents facing the sky. The sandwich is also served with a steak knife, ostensibly to cut into two easier-to-handle halves. Unfortunately, a multitude of fried shrimp is not so easily halved as, say, a serving of roast beef. I could tell that if I were to cut this sandwich, the whole thing would go to pieces. I at first approached the problem of picking it up, fearful that Betty’s intended for me to eat the Po’ Girl with the toppings vertical, like a hot dog. If that were the case, this item would be forced to fall under the “Not a Sandwich” tag on this blog. Luckily, one given a firm squeeze or two, the enterprise was truly only able to be eaten horizontally, thus getting Betty out of those murky waters of misclassification.

The sandwich had a very pleasing taste indeed, although the sauce could have used a tiny bit more kick and I could have done with a bit more onion than the few strands that were present on my visit. The sandwich was also served with lemon, so I tried a squeeze on a few bites, but preferred the overall effect sans citrus.

The downfall with this sandwich was the difficulty in eating. shrimp kept toppling out of the bottom, top, and side on nearly every bite due to the tricky logistics of unsecured round ingredients combined with “filling creep”. I understand the need for the bread hinge, as there is no telling where the shrimp would end up on a piece of bread that is open on all sides. I believe it is merely the case of the sandwich being too large; if a shorter roll were used, or perhaps slightly less shrimp (although I would never want to deprive myself of extra shrimp), it would be much more manageable.

A good sandwich that comes with a slightly frustrating sandwich-eating experience is not a wash…far from it. This is a sandwich I would gladly have again, but it is certainly an effort to keep it together. A few minor tweaks and the overall effect could be pleasing all around.

 

Pulled Chicken Sandwich — Made At Home

I admit that this is something of a cheat…two cheats, actually. The first cheat is that this coda to our Pulled Porkstravaganza is actually the second pulled chicken sandwich to be featured during the celebration. The second cheat is that, although this sandwich was technically made at home, it was assembled from bought parts.

Inspiration struck at Whole Foods, when I noticed that they were not only selling fresh-made barbecue pulled chicken alongside the soups on offer, but they were also peddling pretzel baguettes, in the same vein as the pretzel roll I had enjoyed so long ago. On the spot, I decided to create something of a simple “greatest hits” sandwich.

I sliced the pretzel baguette and heaped on the pulled chicken, then smeared the top half of the bread liberally with the incomparable Philippe’s mustard. The end result was simple, elegant, and as pleasing as I’d hoped. The chicken was fresh and tender, yet firm, which was key, as it complemented the pretzel roll. I fear that, had the pretzel roll been paired with pulled pork, the pork would not have the weight needed to counteract the very unique bread. The sauce on the chicken was just enough, but the mustard really set the whole thing off. The Philippe’s mustard has a well-earned attitude that cut through the sauce nicely and added zing to the enterprise. (By contrast, I tried a tiny version of this sandwich with Beaver brand Sweet Hot mustard, and it didn’t stand up nearly as well. Beaver is a fine mustard, but didn’t cut through the sauce like Philippe’s.)

In essence, this is a fine sandwich that you can build for yourself if you have access to a Whole Foods. I highly recommend it.