My 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.
The 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.
I have no idea what happened here. The short rib grilled cheese was listed on the specials board at TLT Food, and having so enjoyed the last sandwich I got there this one sounded delightful. Braised short rib, caramelized red onion, lime-sambal sauce and a blend of cheese all between two pieces of sourdough that were crusted with cotija. That still sounds delightful, and I guess with all those ingredients there’s no room left on the sign for “WARNING: THIS ISN’T ACTUALLY A SANDWICH YOU CAN PICK UP AND EAT WITH YOUR HANDS.”
It just seems so senseless. Surely at some point during the assembly of this sandwich there was a point at which it did not yet have a top. Would that not have been the time to insert the sauce? What purpose does it serve, there on top? It makes the sandwich significantly less pleasant to eat, for one, and it places the sauce farther away from the tongue. It could be an aesthetic choice, I suppose, but surely whoever made this realizes that after properly appreciating one’s sandwich, one tends to consume it?
The sandwich was good, but it could have been so much better if I hadn’t had to grasp it by the edges, or if the sauce were let to mingle with the rest of the ingredients. It could have been good, but tragically the whole experience was laid low by one asinine decision, and that’s a fate no sandwich deserves.
I have earlier indicated that pork belly is far from my favorite, and that remains true. But as establishments continue to hold it in a place of prominence, I’ll keep eating it. Part of that is as a service to my dear readers, but part of it is because I never give up on an ingredient, and know that the world of sandwiches holds a great many surprises. Take the above. It was plagued by none of the overly-fatty, gristle-ridden issues that normally turn me off pork belly. The pork belly in this sandwich was firm but not tough, well seared but far from burnt, and altogether pretty good. Still wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked well here. And that’s good, because if it had fallen short there wasn’t much that could have come to the rescue. The rest of the sandwich was arugula, tomato, red onion and aioli on a Parmesan crusted roll. The arugula was plentiful, similar to but not quite as extreme as what they’ve got at Clementine, but that would hardly be enough to carry the sandwich. Luckily it didn’t have to, as the pork belly was quite good and made for a fine sandwich.