I have no idea what to make of the cheesesteak. In the past I’ve gotten polite and restrained sandwiches, two words that rarely go with Philadelphia. Another time a cheesesteak with pickles and ketchup in it, something that apparently isn’t unheard of hi Philadelphia but causes the natives I know to cock an eyebrow. It isn’t even that establishments are so hung up on authenticity that they make a bad sandwich, it’s that most of them are hung up on authenticity, don’t make an authentic cheesesteak, and they make a bad sandwich. It’s a strange beast, the cheesesteak.
Take the above. Boo’s Cheesesteaks, like all the others, promises an authentic experience. They come close to delivering, with an honest, cornmeal-dusted hoagie roll, plenty of steak and an honest Philadelphian’s portion of grease. I’d be quite pleased to get that in a sandwich, but I didn’t get it in a sandwich. As you can see, I got it in a pile.
Most everyone who makes cheesesteaks does so by piling stake on the grill, laying cheese on top, then lifting the whole mess into a roll. That’s all well and good, provided you pay attention to how wide your roll is and don’t just flatten it out and dump the whole mess on top. This isn’t just a personal quirk or a question of aesthetics; consuming the above involves folding it around the steak, not over it, and as a result all the cheese is bunched in at the far seam and you’re left with a lopsided sandwich. Getting a bit of everything in every bite is basically the entire point of a sandwich, and with what is essentially a two ingredient sandwich that really shouldn’t be very hard. Sadly, the basics are often neglected in pursuit of loftier goals, with the above-pictured calamity as a typical result.
How’s this for fun: while waiting for an already-ordered sandwich, you see a neighborhood local walk by, point to the establishment behind you, and announce to his associates, “Food’s not great. Really good beer, but food’s not great.” Perhaps the name “Good” is less a boast and more an admission? In any case, soon enough my sandwich arrived and I was able to judge for myself.
The BLT is a simple enough sandwich, and tends to go wrong in one of two areas: too much mayonnaise or bland tomatoes. Neither problem came up here, although with the tomatoes being green and fried I couldn’t help but think they could have been much more than they were. The cornmeal breading wasn’t tremendously flavorful, which is really a shame. The BLT is such a simple sandwich you need to take advantage of every opportunity to get a really great one, and if you’re going to include some fried green tomatoes, it would be best if you didn’t simply coast on their being fried. The sandwich wasn’t bad, just not great. Let that be a lesson to me about not consulting passers by prior to my order.
After having such a perplexing and dispiriting run-in with a grilled cheese at TLT Foods, I decided to see a specialist. Heywood is a grilled cheese shop (shoppe, in fact) that takes much care in sourcing their ingredients, so I figured they would also be keen on ensuring that they all ended up inside the sandwich. And sure enough, they delivered a sandwich in the standard configuration, ingredients surrounded by bread. Thank goodness.
The Italian Bleu Jeans is mozzarella, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and a walnut pesto, and it is as good as that lineup reads. The mozzarella is a rich but unassertive base, and the blue cheese opens things up with a bright tang. The sun-dried tomatoes echo the tang of the blue cheese, and the pesto brings the whole thing together with nutty, herbal notes. The tomato bisque makes a fine side, and dunking the sandwich only added another layer of flavor. In short, it was everything one could ask of a grilled cheese, in both concept and execution.
Mustard! Isn’t it wonderful, friends? This is a roast pork sandwich, consisting of roast pork and Swiss cheese. That’s not quite enough, unless you’re dealing with the absolute best in pork, and what are the odds that any given establishment you happen to find yourself in is offering the best possible roast pork? Not very good, by my estimation. But mustard! A healthy application of mustard brings a savory spiciness that brings a drab sandwich all the way up to perfectly acceptable. Let me be clear: I am not praising the sandwich, which absent the influence of mustard I found to be rather unimpressive. Rather, I wish to hail the transformative power of mustard. And this was yellow mustard, the absolute least of all mustards! So many different types, each wonderful in their own way, and each capable of doing so much for a sandwich. In the quest for the rarefied air of the sandwich world, it’s easy to lose sight of the everyday pleasures, the sorts of things that are constantly at work in making the average sandwich so darned enjoyable. Take a minute sometime to appreciate mustard. It’s given you so much, a small thank you isn’t much to ask.
Additionally, don’t miss Jon Bois’ paean to mustard.
I have a special place in my heart for sandwiches built around a quality piece of tuna, and I have an extra special place for delicious sandwiches built around a quality pice of tuna. That’s the albacore sandwich at The Kitchen, a combination of tuna, Asian pear, pickled red onion, mixed greens & wasabi mayo on a well-toasted baguette. That’s a great combination. The sweetness of the pear balances the spice of the wasabi, and the greens bring earthy undertones. That the bite of the red onion is slightly tempered by the pickling is the real signal of quality here.
Tuna is a delicate meat, easily overwhelmed by assertive flavors. The pear and the greens are subtle and play well, while there was restraint in the wasabi that kept it from being too strong. Red onion could easily blast out the rest of the sandwich, but a bit of pickling keeps everything in harmony. The baguette was well toasted, you can see a bit of char on the underside in the photo. That kept things crunchy, and made the bread yield to a bite rather than require a clamp-and-tear maneuver
Simply put, this sandwich had the mark of proper execution from top to bottom, and that’s a wonderful thing. Many a well-conceived sandwich falls short by the time it makes it to the plate, and the times when that doesn’t happen are well worth celebrating.
Food Lab is a sandwich shop, in the sense of an establishment focused almost entirely on sandwiches. There’s a selection of salads to accompany your meal, but this is the kind of place that doesn’t even bother with the often-obligatory side of chips or fries. Sandwiches are what they sell here, so if you can’t be satisfied without a pile of potato to stick your head in, head somewhere else. And that focus is well founded, because they’re putting out excellent stuff. The Argentine steak sandwich was a special of the day, and it’s just the kind of minimal sandwich that comes from someone who knows what they’re doing.
Grilled steak, arugula, and chimichurri sauce. There’s a bit of mayo on the bottom half of the roll, keeping it from getting soggy, but aside from that this is just steak and sauce. That’s a good thing, because steak and chimichurri is a phenomenal combination and there’s no need to fuss with it, just put the two together and let them sing. There wasn’t quite enough sauce here for my liking, and I think the sandwich would have been better served by spreading the sauce on the top half of the roll, rather than putting it directly on top of the steak, but outside of that this was still a darn good sandwich. The roll had a hearty crust, but not one so hearty that a bite sent things sliding all over or required a full pulling, head-twisting effort. I have a special place in my heart for the simple sandwich, and something like this could easily be duplicated at home by any interested enthusiast. I recommend you do so immediately; there’s a delicious sandwich just waiting for you.