Chroizo Smack Sandwich – TLT Foods, Westwood Blvd, Westwood

2013-06-25 14.04.44My last outing at TLT Foods was truly a bizarre one, but their use of cotija cheese ensured I’d be back. TLT Foods has a strong Mexican influence, and their use of cotija shows a commitment to the depths of that possibility. It’s not something that’s in widespread use, and it’s unlikely to impress most people on name or reputation. Therefore, we can reason, it’s there because someone put a fair amount of thought into the sandwich. So, senseless execution aside, TLT Foods is doing something right.

The “Chorizo Smack” is chorizo, pee wee potatoes, guacamole and oxaca cheese on a telera roll, all coated in a guajillo pepper sauce. That is to say, it’s a pambazo. A Mexican sandwich archetype seen less frequently than the noble torta, the pambazo is a classic combination where the flavor profile has long ago lost all rough edges. Everything involved works remarkably well together, and all that’s left to anyone is to see the standard setup through. This is where TLT Foods falters a tad.

css-tlt2The standard pambazo is grilled, but left too long on the flat-top and the pepper sauce will quickly scorch. That gives the flavor a bitter undertone, something not so objectionable as to ruin the sandwich, but still unwelcome. A pattern seems to be in place at TLT Foods, where very good ideas meet questionable execution. I’ll likely be back again, but what was once wariness has crossed into distrust.

Choripan – Grand Casino Bakery, Main St, Culver City

Choripán is traditional South American street food, first recommended to me by respected associates, one of whom gives a good rundown of it and other associated foods here. It’s a simple sandwich – sausage, crusty roll, chimichurri sauce. Sometimes there’s mayonnaise, sometimes fried onions or peppers, or lettuce and tomato. Ordinarily my reaction to such things on the side is to point out that I ordered a sandwich and not a hobby kit, but given the varied nature of the sandwich I’m inclined to forgive it here.

Needless to say, it’s delicious. A dose of fresh, bright chimichurri will make just about anything sing, from sausage to steak to most any meat, and almost certainly something like tofu or even roasted cauliflower. The main trick seems to be knowing that there isn’t much else required, but all the same I think something like a kidney bean humus might make an interesting accompaniment here. The simple pairing of two delicious, quality ingredients is almost cheating, in a way, but given the delicious nature of the outcome I imagine we’re all only too happy to look the other way.

Merguez Sandwich – Got Kosher?, Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

Merguez is a North African sausage, and the type on offer here is beef, flavored with fennel and cinnamon. That goes on a pretzel roll with harissa, a chili pepper spread that’s really quite delicious, chopped parsley and onions. It’s a simple sandwich, as I believe a good sausage sandwich should be. But the thing about simple sandwiches is that there’s less room for error.

Got Kosher makes their own sausage, their own bread, likely their own harissa as well. I like establishments that do that, both because it makes things more likely to be delicious, and when things fall short I know exactly who is to blame. In this case, the pretzel roll was delicious but the sausage fell short, leaving this sandwich as something less than a success. It’s possible for great bread to carry a mediocre sandwich, but not when there’s this little to back it up. The harrisa was also good, bright and flavorful, but the sausage was dry. It would be tempting to blame the dryness of it being beef, as opposed to pork or some other more moist meat, but the whole point of sausage is you have perfect control over how much fat goes in! If you stuffed it and you cooked it, you’re all out of excuses.

The pretzel roll really was very good, and should I find myself back at Got Kosher I’ll be glad to try something else on the same. It had a deep brown crust and a strong malt flavor, making it all the more sad that the sausage couldn’t keep up its end of the deal.

Nuno – City Sandwich, 9th Ave, New York, NY

 

I always feel a bit of guilt when eating at an establishment with a fair amount of hype, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. Shouldn’t I been down some dingy alley, finding the place no one else has heard of? Wouldn’t their sandwich be better than this one? That’s probably nonsense, but the human heart is not quite so straightforward as a fine sandwich. City Sandwich is just the kind of establishment with a grand reputation, and what’s more the Nuno is a particularly praised sandwich. So I was compounding my own sin, if it can be called that, but I’m not going to apologize for even a second, because this is an amazing sandwich.

The Nuno is Portuguese morcela (blood sausage), broccoli rabe, tomato, collard greens and mozzarella with garlic and olive oil. It’s a timeless archetype—meat, greens, tomato, cheese—and it’s timeless for a good reason. The blood sausage and the broccoli rabe is the winning move here, with the sausage bringing a rich, complex flavor and the greens a bright, earthy undertone. The cheese is melted and stringy, mozzarella a fine choice to not overpower the rest of the sandwich, and the bread is crispy with a tender, yielding crumb. While finding an unheralded gem of an establishment or a sandwich is undoubtedly a thrill, you owe it to yourself to just can it and get in line with everyone else. City Sandwich is one of those times; make your way past the growing mass of newspaper clippings and printed blog posts at the door and have a sandwich. You won’t regret it.

The Special – The Freshly Baked Eatery, N 3rd St, San Jose, CA

As I stood in The Freshly Baked Eatery and considered my options, an employee behind the counter held up a just-sliced length of sourdough bread. “Fresh and hot,” he told me, “ready to go!” I’m not usually one to rush to order, but bread so fresh as to literally be steaming waits for no man. I spied the words “The Special” and “Sausage” and told the man I’d have that. The Special turned out to be custom sausage (said to be a combination of German, Polish, and Yugoslav cooked in beer), and Swiss cheese, served on sourdough with a crispy crust and a wonderfully chewy interior. Naturally, I got “everything” on it, so it also included mayonnaise, dijon mustard, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. I know I’ve complained about iceberg in the past, but here it played as part of a larger ensemble and I would rank it at unobjectionable. The sausage was plenty tasty, with a unique peppery flavor reminiscent of any number of sausages you’ve had before. There was enough Swiss that you could tell it was there, but not so much as to overwhelm anything. Almost everything about this sandwich was done right, but there was one big issue that nearly derailed everything.

Having been poached in beer, the sausage had a tough casing that couldn’t be snapped by the pressure of an average bite. As a result, taking one bite often meant pulling the whole of the sausage with it. Then you have to try to grab on to it with your fingers and stuff it back in to the sandwich, or rotate the whole thing around and see if your eye teeth are up to the task of slicing through, or just give up, eat the sausage, and then deal with what is essentially a cheese sandwich. None of these options are satisfactory, and simply searing the sausages off in a pan before they’re poached eliminates this problem, as the outside becomes crispy and gives easily to the bite. I’m not quite certain what The Freshly Baked Eatery’s setup is, I know they bake their own bread and roast their own meats, but perhaps there are no actual burners involved. If that’s the case, I would advise them to can the subtle beer flavor and bake the sausage. In any case, equipment limitations and my advice and neither here nor there; ultimately this sandwich just wasn’t everything it could have been. The bread was really quite good, though, and given the fine flavors and balance displayed in the rest of the sandwich, it was still quite enjoyable. Perfect sandwiches are few and far between, and I suspect had I gone with the spicy salami or the garlic herb turkey I wouldn’t have had much about which to complain.

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.

Pombazo Original – El Tucan, Bascom Ave, San Jose, CA

The pambazo original from the El Tucan food truck in San Jose.There’s a food truck parked on Bascom Ave in San Jose that rarely moves. Thinking that a stationary food truck might be just the kind of place that would be the answer to my quest for the perfect torta, I stopped by after a bike ride. With no torta milanesa on the menu my eyes drifted elsewhere, and they settled upon the Pombazo Orginal. The Pambazo is another type of Mexican sandwich, named for the type of bread used. The bread is dipped in a red sauce, filled with potato, chorizo, lettuce, salsa, and queso fresco. Then the whole thing is browned on a flattop or in a skillet. The result is a delicious sandwich. Not one of those sandwiches where a hearty crust sends a tender filling sliding all over, the pombazo crust yields easily to give up the soft potato and chorizo filling. Everything is so soft that the iceberg lettuce, all too often an afterthought, provides a nice crisp contrast. There’s no great philosophy to lay out here, just a very tasty sandwich. Should you get the opportunity to eat a pombazo, my advice is that you take it. There will always be other tortas.

The Sailor — Granby Bistro and Deli, Granby Street, Norfolk, VA

Every now and again, a menu item may jump out to you and seem just a bit out of the norm, just slightly left of center, and just original enough that you feel as though you couldn’t possibly pass it up. The Sailor at Granby Bistro and Deli stood out to me in particular because of my recent at-home experimentation with sausages and what sandwiches they can become.

The Sailor is the most complex simple sandwich I’ve encountered in some time. It consists of pastrami, knockwurst, Swiss cheese, and “bistro sauce” (Russian dressing, as you’d expect) on rye bread. It’s a very interesting spin on a traditional deli sandwich, and I was more than rewarded for spying it on the menu. The ingredients meshed better than I could have hoped. I’m finding more and more that, although pastrami is a fine meat in and of itself, it is the perfect complementary or supporting meat in a two-meat (or more) sandwich. It is to sandwiches what vodka is to mixed drinks: versatile, unobtrusive, and reliable. If you are in Norfolk and in need of a tasty and satisfying sandwich, I cannot recommend The Sailor enough.

 

Chorizo & Refried Black Beans – Made at Home

A chorizo and refried black beans sandwich, made at home.

I’ve had a can of refried black beans in my cupboard for some time now, and as I do with a great many food stuffs I periodically considered how they might best fit into a sandwich. The fine people at Scanwiches posted a particularly choice sandwich some time back, with black beans prominently featured. I wanted to take a crack at the idea, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Finding a substantial piece of chorizo in the market one day proved to be enough to see my idea through. Refried beans may not be pretty, but black beans are the finest of all beans. Combine them with some sausage, I reasoned, would be a real hit. I brought along red onion and red bell pepper for a bit of snap, and a few thin slices of Oaxaca cheese finished things off.

I’m pleased to say I wasn’t wrong, though as you can see by the above my execution could have used a little work. The sandwiches were a little messy, with refried beans coming out of the side at points, and a red onion or two escaping here and there. The sandwich did pass the final test for messy vs. too messy, though. I was able to put the sandwich down for a minute, then easily pick it back up and resume eating. If something can’t survive a minute’s rest or a shift of the hands, it’s time to reevaluate the sandwich. But this did just fine, and despite the sloppiness was pretty tasty. The chorizo, pan seared then poached in a bit of wine, was spicy, full of delicious fatty juices. The black beans brought an earthy note to things, the bell peppers sweetness and the red onion a bit of bite. The cheese wasn’t lost, but it was definitely playing in the background. That’s why I like Oaxaca cheese. It’s light, unwilling and unable to take over the rest of a sandwich. There are some things I might do differently next time. A thicker roll could be hollowed out a bit, giving the beans a distinct position to hold. The red onion could stand to be sautéed, taking the bite down just a touch. But even without those changed, I was pretty pleased with how this came out. It was a fine sandwich I can recommended to you without reservations.

Turkey & Chicken Pesto Sausage – Le Boulanger, Lincoln Ave, San Jose, CA

The chicken & turkey pesto sausage at Le Boulanger

Greasy Sandwich Month continues with this song of a sandwich from Le Boulanger. First of all, it’s always nice to get a sausage sandwich that is in fact a sandwich, and not a hot dog masquerading as a sandwich. I sometimes feel a fool interrogating some poor staff member about whether it comes on a bun or a roll, and is it horizontal, yes, horizontal, this way, not that way. Yes, I insist, I’m aware it says “sausage sandwich” on the menu but that can mean different things to different people, and I would really appreciate a degree of certainty before placing my order. I digress.

The joy in this particular sandwich is not a product of construction, but constitution. The seeded sourdough roll is baked up with a hearty crust, and as any experienced sandwich eater knows, a hearty crust necessitates proper technique. The sandwich must be gripped with pressure in just the right places, holding all ingredients together without sending them sliding straight out of the side. It is a careful application of force, and this made for a wonderful pairing with the sausage. Each squeeze wrung a little more juice out of each bite, and juice by another name is fat, and so we return to grease. Pleasing in taste and texture, this sandwich was awash, the pesto flavors playing well with the roasted red peppers and the baby greens. The provolone was lost somewhere in the song, but you’ll get no complaint over that from me. Altogether, this was a very fine sandwich.