Franklin Phenomenon – Locali, Franklin Ave, Los Angeles

localiThe Franklin Phenomenon is a very good sandwich, but in addition to being fine on in its own right, it also stands as a good lesson. With turkey, monterey jack cheese, spinach, tomato, red onion with a chipotle mayo on pretzel bread, it’s hardly anything fancy. But between the use of spinach (rather than just lettuce) and pretzel bread (over something a little more typical) it’s clear that there’s a bit of extra effort involved. It doesn’t take much, which makes it all the more tragic when you find yourself in an establishment that isn’t going to bother. Luckily that’s not the case at Locali, and as a result you have a well-balanced, simple, tasty sandwich.

Slow Cooked Turkey Breast – Fundamental LA, Westwood Ave, Los Angeles

turkey-fundamentalLAHaving had a number of pleasant experiences at Fundamental LA in the past, I was curious to see what they might do with turkey. I don’t think much of turkey as a meat, usually finding it bland and its presence signalling an uninspired sandwich. The latter wasn’t quite a concern at Fundamental LA, as they put together roasted turkey breast on 12 grain with jalapeño apricot jam, arugula, and a lemon aioli. That’s a good lineup, a well conceived sandwich. As is too often the case at so many establishments, though, the execution was lacking. You can see it in the photo above, the big hump of turkey suggesting more of a domed construction than a proper stack. This isn’t pedantry or mere aesthetics; the construction of the shape has an immediate, direct impact on its consumption. There were too many bites of this sandwich that paired off a couple of ingredients at a time, robbing your humble enthusiast of the full, harmonious experience. Where everything could be tasted together this was quite good, though my personal preferences suggest more jam. But those bites were far too scarce, reducing what could have been a great sandwich to one that was just alright. I’ll find some exception turkey someday, but it isn’t here.

The Troll – The Original Rinaldi’s, N Sepulveda Ave, Manhattan Beach

originalrinaldisHow aptly named. I enter an establishment, order a sandwich, and I’m served some sort of bread pontoon boat ferrying around a pile of ingredients. The troll. I try to be charitable in my definition of a sandwich. Two pieces of bread, something between then, stacked and intended to be eaten on a horizontal axis. I see this as a definition as expansive as possible without being meaningless, but the boosters of lobster-rolls-as-sandwiches and other similar nonsense have seen it as pedantic, or restricting. But I didn’t settle on this definition just for the sport of it, I settled on it because it’s what fits my idea of what sandwiches are, in their ideal form. The horizontal nature of it is crucial, and the above calamity illustrates why.

The idea behind a sandwich is to bring many things together. This is why we do not set out on a plate a bit of bread, a bit of ham and a bit of cheese and take turns eating each. We put them together because they taste exceptionally good together, and they become more than the sum of their parts. But the togetherness of them, the this-thing-plus-that-thing, in every bite, that’s why horizontal matters. I can close the above not-sandwich. I did close the above not-sandwich, I folded it up and I ate it. It was tasty. Ground turkey, eggplant parm, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, it’s a good lineup and the ground turkey is a nice textural contrast. But it didn’t fold cleanly in half, lining up ingredients with the cheese in the middle. It collapsed on itself, leaving a sort of gradient of ingredients not stacked but laid side by side, with bites to one side favoring cheese, to the other turkey, and somewhere in the middle the eggplant. This is no sandwich at all, but instead a slapdash collection, robbing me of the togetherness that defines the sandwich experience.

This happens far more often than I’d like, where someone doesn’t slice the roll all the way through and doesn’t stack so much as stuff, leaving an assemblage that runs contrary to the very point of sandwiches. For the sake of discussion, I try to forgive this, sometimes opening a sandwich and rearranging, sometimes just shrugging because it’s almost good enough. (The Mousa is a recent example of something that could be better.) But this need not be, friends. This need not be. I do not ask that everyone’s sandwich be exotic, complicated, or anything other than what they want it to be. I simply ask that it be assembled with care and with an eye towards the ideal sandwich experience. And that, friends, means stacking.

Turkey Confit with Yellow Rooster Sauce – Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, CA

turkeyconfitAlthough previous trips to Mendocino Farms (here and here) have been a tad disappointing, going back was never a question. It’s clear they put a lot of thought into the sandwiches and aim high, and even though I found previous efforts to miss the mark I knew that something would strike me. And something did! The turkey confit is part of the rotating, seasonal section of the menu, and it is a delight. A combination of pulled turkey leg confit with something they describe as yellow rooster sauce, with sesame ginger green papaya slaw, pickled red onions, their breadcrumb-esque krispies on a roll with a deep wheat flavor. Turkey, so often presented in bland, lunch meat form, is juicy and moist. The rooster sauce brings a level of heat neither insignificant nor overwhelming, and the slaw and the onions bring a tangy sweetness that works well inside the heat. The krispies were used in a much more sparing manner than in the not so fried chicken sandwich, and as a result they provided a nice textural contrast and were more than welcome. This is a very good sandwich, and it’s nice to know that Mendocino Farms has some real winners in its lineup.

The Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich – General Sandwich Discussion

I’ve had my fair share of thanksgiving sandwiches. Not that it’s a tremendously complicated matter requiring some strict recipe, but all the same I thought it might be beneficial to consider what important considerations are involved in taking thanksgiving leftovers to the perfect sandwich.

The issue informing the entire construction is filling creep. Between the stuffing, the gravy, and the cranberry sauce, you’re dealing with a number of ingredients that are all too happy to pitch from hand to plate. No one wants to eat a limp, half-full sandwich and then have to fetch a fork to finish the job, so take some early precautions to avoid mishaps.

Firstly, use soft bread. This is important. Filling creep results when the frictional hold of your ingredients can’t bear the pressure of your bite, and the easiest way to reduce the pressure of your bite is to make sure your bread yields easily. The turkey is the toughest thing on the sandwich and whether it’s sliced or shredded there’s unlikely to be much resistance to your tooth, so once the bread gives way the whole thing should come away in a clean bite. But if you’ve got a stale or well-crusted roll containing things, good luck finding any sandwich remaining after you pull the old clamp-and-tear. Toast if if you want some crunch to things, but avoid a sturdy crust.

Personally, I like sliced bread, as seen in the Nobadeer from Jetties, pictured above. Avoid rolls like the one seen in the Thanksgiving on a Bun from The Village Bakery.

Using soft bread introduces the risk of things turning soggy, so one must compensate. A thin (and I emphasize thin) layer of mayonnaise on each piece of bread will help keep things from getting sloppy. If you don’t like mayonnaise, a thin layer of butter would have the same effect. If you don’t like either, careful sandwich construction and a haste in consumption should steer you clear of any trouble.

The third factor in filling creep involves ingredient ratios and layering technique. I can’t rightly tell you how much stuffing or dressing or anything else to put into your sandwich, but I beg you to remain sensible. Have two sandwiches if you suffer from insatiable hunger, don’t build yourself a tower that will only topple to terrible disappointment. Keep your gravy on the lesser side, my advice is to toss shredded turkey in a few spoonfuls of gravy, don’t just pour it directly on to your sandwich.

As for the stuffing and the cranberry sauce, some schools of thought put the turkey between the two, others put the two together on one side of the meat. It’s a question of aiming for one shifting layer instead of two, or instead trying to keep them apart so as to not allow them to combine their mispositioning power. I happen to think both settle about equally, so just run with whichever seems more sure in hand.

Above all, allow your layers to come in slightly as you build up. This allows the top slice of bread to bend down slightly and form a cap, allowing your hands to seal if off at the seams, keeping everything tidy as you eat. It’s a delicate trick that makes all the difference in the finished sandwich.

I think that covers most of the groundwork, but this is something that tends to vary quite a bit from person to person. I hope that your thanksgiving sandwich game plan steers you to a fine result, and I hope that if you’ve got some strong ideas you’ll share them with me.

Welcome to the Jungle – Cheviot Farms, National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

I don’t remember a tremendous amount about this sandwich. I frequently take notes, but this time I happened not to, and in any event the fact that I can’t remember much about it says more than I might have written down. That’s turkey in there, and I want to say it’s peppered in some way. There’s mustard and mayo, and lettuce and tomato and avocado and sprouts. It wasn’t a bad sandwich, but it was forgettable. A sandwich called “Welcome to the Jungle” really ought to have a hell of an attitude, shouldn’t it? I mean, at the very least, shouldn’t it be interesting?

I feel like I should apologize for picking on Cheviot Farms here, because they’re hardly the only people serving forgettable sandwiches. That’s kind of the point, actually, that I’e had this sandwich 100 times at 100 different establishments, all of them more or less the same. Long-time readers will know how much I hate the mediocre; aim high and fail, aim high and succeed, aim low and succeed. All of those things are fine with me. But to just sort of aim at the middle and hey, that’s where you end up so that’s good enough, there’s no saving that. You’ve got sprouts, pile them on! Give me some earthy flavor. Give me a mustard of some color that doesn’t appear in an eight pack of crayons. You want to pepper the turkey, pepper it! Do something to make your sandwich stand out from every other sandwich.  And here I compound the sin by bothering to tell other people about it! I have pictures of 100 sandwiched about which I have absolutely nothing to say, and I try to spare the reader the tedium, but sometimes I cannot help myself. Enough. There is always another sandwich, a better one, and I hope to bring word of it soon.

Beef Tenderloin And Turkey Breast – FOOD, Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

FOOD is a small cafe on Pico that prides itself on using the finest ingredients. I do love a highfalutin sandwich, so that sort of thing is right up my alley and I was not disappointed with the first offering from FOOD. The roasted beef tenderloin is specified as Meyer’s, meaning it’s free of antibiotics and hormones and raised humanely. That’s the kind of thing that’s tough to verify on the consumer’s end, but it sure tasted like it was raised with care. (I question any definition of “humanely” that ends in slaughter, but that’s a debate for another blog.) It was tender, flavorful beef, well paired in thick slices with arugula, horseradish cream and roasted garlic-onion jam. The slice width becomes important, because the sandwich comes on a baguette that has a powerful crust, as a decent baguette should. That necessitates some serious chewing, and thick slices of beef are the kind of thing required to stand up to that effort. There was a good amount of horseradish here, and though I complain (as always) that it could have used more, I will say that it’s probably just right for your average sandwich enthusiast. The onion jam is sweet, well contrasting the beef and the horseradish. This is a fine sandwich, put together with care and consideration with a delicious result.

This was the oven roasted turkey breast, accompanied by Brie, arugula and cranberry chutney on ciabatta. Note the difference in bread, where a much softer roll pairs with the more yielding turkey. The pairing of cranberry and turkey is a classic, of course, extremely tasty in many instances. It was with the Brie where I felt this sandwich went wrong, and between this one and the French Bull at Bagel Maven I’m beginning to grow quite skeptical of about the role of brie on a sandwich. The BLT at The Oaks, while technically Camembert and not Brie, suffers from similar issues. The turkey was certainly overwhelmed here, and it seems to me that there isn’t much capable of standing up to any Brie that’s even slightly too far towards the ammonia end of the scale. It is possible that I’ve just not had the right Brie in the right sandwiches, but from here on out I’m proceeding with caution. Sans Brie this sandwich was quite tasty, and given the level of thought and care clearly put into each sandwich, it’s easy to forgive one that isn’t stellar. FOOD has a number of other sandwiches on their menu that look intriguing, and I wouldn’t hesitate to try any of them.

BLT & Turkey BLT — Made At Home

Unlike our esteemed founder, I have no such qualms about the presence of bacon. Although I wholeheartedly agree that the fixation on bacon is hackneyed, unnecessary, and already hopelessly cliche, I do enjoy a bit of smoky, salty substance added to sandwiches every now and then. And of course, within a BLT, its presence is mandatory; otherwise you would just be silly. I attempted to create a pair of sandwiches at home using some roasted garlic bread obtained by my closest associate. The first attempt, the simple BLT with tomato, arugula, and mustard, was underwhelming. This was solely my own fault, as I accidentally used far too liberal an application of mustard and overwhelmed the whole of the sandwich as a result. My second attempt was miles better.

For this second sandwich I went lighter on the mustard, used just one strip of bacon and added peppered sliced turkey breast. The result was a flavorful and refreshing sandwich. The peppered turkey really sang and was pleasantly augmented by a minimum amount of bacon and mustard. The bread — with cloves of garlic baked in — matched up immensely better with the turkey than without.

When discussing sandwich meats, let us not overlook our dear friend the turkey, which — much like vodka in mixed drinks — can often become anything a sandwich requires. It is the most malleable of sandwich meats, which is a feature to be admired, rather than derided.

Turkey and Black Bean — Made At Home

A while back, I had an amazing sandwich from Porto’s that featured a black bean spread. At the time, I was struck by the simple elegance of an ingredient that I had never before considered. Recently, finding myself with a small quantity of leftover black beans, I was suddenly moved to try a small sandwich experiment. Hastily thrown together with what I had at home, I ended up with toasted wheat bread, deli sliced turkey breast, sweet hot mustard, the reheated black beans, and some Bermuda onion.

The experience was perfectly fine but nothing too great. The failure of this sandwich was the thrown-together nature of the sandwich. An attempt to make the ingredients at hand adhere to an experimental base could have gone much, much worse. As we have mentioned here before, the journey of your life’s greatest sandwich often begins at home on a lazy afternoon, tinkering with this and that.

 

Turkey & Cheese Croissant — Student Bookstore, CSU Los Angeles

Ah, the prepackaged sandwich. I stood in line at the student bookstore, holding this item, and for the life of me couldn’t understand why. Purchased on a whim, I knew, with certainty, that I was in for an absolutely dismal experience. Visions of my colleague’s recent nightmare raced through my head.

Here, however, is our lesson for the day with regard to sandwiches. The lesson of experience surpassing expectation. It does not happen often. All too often, the sandwich falls well short of its potential, or is precisely what you expect, which is its own specific kind of disappointment — the disappointment of mediocrity.

When I opened this sad little package, I was surprised by two things: the first was that the croissant was moist and flaky, rather than the dry and crumbly mess I anticipated. The second issue was the cheese. I had expected — nay, known — that there would be one horrifying square of freakishly orange cheese topping off the affair. Imagine my shock when I saw instead a large, oval slice of what appeared to be genuine provolone — or near enough, at any rate. This sandwich, as with my recent experience at Billy’s was packaged with a packet of mayonnaise, and a packet of mustard. This, of course, is the standard for boxed sandwiches.

The sandwich was not bad at all, much to my endless stupefaction. Certainly, this was far from a “good” sandwich, but when one’s expectation is set at a 1, sometimes a 4 or 5 is heaven on earth.