One’s options for food in airports might charitably be called “woeful.” Fast food, overpriced, overcooked hamburgers in pseudo-sportsbars, it just isn’t a friendly scene for your average sandwich enthusiast. I was surprised, then, to happen upon Klein’s Deli. Formerly a standby in the Portero Hill section of San Francisco, Klein’s has apparently taken up residence in two locations inside San Francisco airport. With their roster of sandwiches named after notable women of the 20th century, I thought I might finally happen upon a good airport sandwich. I ordered the Piaf, the legendary singer transmogrified into roast beef, cream cheese, horseradish, dill pickle and tomatoes on light rye. There will come a day when I bring you a report of an amazing airport sandwich. That is not today. The Piaf is a decent sandwich. It’s a fine concept; roast beef, cream cheese and horseradish would nicely compliment each other if deployed in the right proportion. That’s the issue, though, isn’t it? Cream cheese isn’t bold in flavor but it is perfectly capable of drowning out other notes, and there simply wasn’t enough horseradish here to stand up to it. The few thin slices of pickles also weren’t up to the task at hand. This could have been a really great sandwich, in a perfect world you’d see tender, in-house roasted beef, and enough horseradish to let you know it was there. But this isn’t a perfect world, and the sandwich I got, while tasty enough, just wasn’t that great.
This sandwich was quite a pleasant surprise! When I order a torta I expect a particular construction and style, the center of which is a large fluffy roll. As you can plainly see in the above photo that is not what I got. This sandwich was served on a thin roll grilled crispy. The carnitas and the guacamole were decent enough but unspectacular and the sour cream was a bit heavy handed but all together this sandwich was a nice change of pace from the standard. I have been accused in the past of holding too fast to the traditional idea of what makes a sandwich and I have always offered in my defense that I do not object to things done differently, only things done poorly. This sandwich is a perfect example, it was not at all what I was expecting but it was quite good.
The Porky’s Revenge, Hank’s Eats, Polk St, San Francisco, CA
I have sat down to write this post several times and each time I have refrained from doing so. This blog is supposed to be a celebration of things, an honest expression of a love. That need not include, I thought, rantings from me about intent and honest representation and the proper axis of a sandwich. No one likes a curmudgeon and so up until now I have avoided all of this discussion. I will apologize in advance for what I am about to say but I cannot take it anymore.
Though I have been known to spend quite some time considering a menu there was no such lengthy deliberation at Hank’s Eats. The Porky’s Revenge advertised slow roasted pork shoulder topped with tomatoes, onions and Hank’s Special Sauce. I expected just the kind of simple but delicious sandwich I’ve been seeking out these days, and what I got might best be described as an overgrown taco!
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.
There are sandwiches served on rolls, even sandwiches served on rolls that weren’t sliced all the way through. What separates them from what is pictured above is that, despite a lack of care or effort from whomever wields the knife, they intend to be sandwiches. They align themselves in the proper way, as we have known sandwiches for hundreds of years.
Items like the Porky’s Revenge are closer to the taco or even the hot dog than they are the sandwich. I have no grudge against an establishment that wishes to sell such an item, and indeed there are times in my life when that’s just the kind of meal I might enjoy. Those times are not when I have ordered a sandwich.
Before I get to the sandwich, I’d like to talk about Jerk for a moment. Jerk seems to me to be terribly underrepresented in America’s ethnic cuisine scene. Chinese food is of course ubiquitous, with Japanese restaurants doing their best to keep up. Italian and Mexican are both big time players, with enterprises ranging from your finest neighborhood Taqueria to the Olive Garden. Indian food is the little guy, but any area with any real population density is sure to feature its fair share of Indian restaurants. The same cannot be said of Jerk. Jerk is not going to present itself to you; Jerk must be sought out.
Jerk is a matter of balance. All cuisines are a matter of both ingredients and technique, but rarely are both halves so equally important. The jerk rub is a thick brown paste of allspice, peppers, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, brown sugar and ginger. The mix is too robust to be called delicate, but I assure you too far in the direction of either heat (Scotch Bonnet peppers are no small matter) or sweetness will ruin everything. The cooking must be equally nuanced, with the meat grilled over low, indirect heat, with as much smoke as one can muster. Calling it grilled is almost a misnomer. The smoke mellows the rub, slowly coaxing out the layered flavor and bringing the sweetness and the heat to their perfect meeting point.
You can find Jerk marinades in any supermarket. I have tried them. They are….they are not so good. They contain things like corn syrup, and even if you grill your meat at home, your grill is going to be too hot and not smoky enough. That much sugar and that much heat is the Jerk equivalent of treating a high wire like a diving board. It makes a big mess and it’s going to ruin every one’s appetite. It’s best to leave Jerk to the professionals.
Primo Patio understands Jerk. The chicken sandwich fell apart as I ate it, the connective tissue having been eaten away by the steady but careful application of heat. The flavor was aggressive, the allspice so-very-close to overpowering, brought back by the brown sugar and the cinnamon. It was not as spicy as some rubs, but the peppers let you know they were there. The roll was soft, which ends up being rather important. A hard or even crusty roll would not serve the tenderness of the meat. No one wants to grind away at a roll while the meat is long since gone. This was jerk done right; When one orders a jerk sandwich one runs the risk of getting something that just sits in a marinade before going over a gas grill for 4 minutes a side, and I cannot tell you how pleased I was that this was not the case. Primo Patio gets it, the investment required for proper jerk, the equal parts that must be weighed, considered, and laid in their proper roles. This is a fine sandwich.