The Istanbul – SUNdeVICH, 9th St NW, Washington, DC

Sundevich is tucked away in an alley. I might not have even found it if not for the small chalkboard propped outside the door. The chalkboard read “SUNdeVICH – NOW OPEN.” I submit to you that this announcement was an almost superhuman display of modesty. The chalkboard should have read, at the very least, “VISIONARY AT WORK.”

I stood a few steps in from the door, staring at the chalkboard menu. I was paralyzed. I’d come expecting a good sandwich shop, an out-of-the-way gem. I wasn’t prepared for what I’d found. Consider The Cairo: hummus, cucumber, brined vegetables, walnuts, and fresh herbs. Or The Beirut: skirt steak, hummus, tomato, brined vegetables, and fresh herbs. Even the more simple sandwiches seem brimming with promise. The Athens: lamb, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and tzatkiki. The Madrid: chorizo and chimichuri. Their stated mission, local ingredients and global flavors, seems ripe for pretentious indulgence. Yet the menu is full of wonderfully creative sandwiches, one after another begging to be tried. Sundevich was not my first stop of the day and standing there looking at the menu I nearly came to tears facing the ugly fact that I was only going to be able to eat one of the sandwiches. I was leaving the DC area early the next day, too early to even pop in and grab another sandwich on my way out of town. No, I had to look at these offerings, make my choice, and live with it. Life isn’t fair, dear readers. Over and over again we hear this from parents and other adults as we grow up. We never really believe it though, do we? In our hearts we doubt it until one day we stand there, the warmth of our dreams departing us, the cold of reality cementing its grip.

I went with The Istanbul: Ground beef and lamb, sumac onions, tomato, yogurt spread and fresh herbs. After I made my order I saw the gentleman behind the counter put a patty of lamb and beef on a skewer and place it over the grill. Meat cooked to order! It’s one thing to get that in a sit-down restaurant, but in a counter-based sandwich shop it’s beyond rare. Any concerns I had that Sundevich would be high concept/low execution went out the window. The sandwich itself cemented my feeling that Sundevich is something special. The bread had a noticeable crust without being a chore to get through, the meat was well spiced but didn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients, the yogurt sauce and the herbs (chiefly cilantro and big leaves of fresh mint) made a tremendous pair, a tangy and sharp back and forth playing over the whole sandwich.

I’m haunted by that menu. DC isn’t one of my regular destinations and it may be a year or more before I get back. When I do return, though, it will be on an empty stomach and I intend to make a beeline for Sundevich. I’m going to line them all up in front of me: The Kingston (jerk chicken, spicy slaw, salsa, garlic mayo), The Shiraz (beef tongue, pickled vegetables, mustard), The Ifshan (souffle of (spinach, mushroom, walnut, barberry), feta) and more. I probably don’t have the appetite or capacity to make it through the whole menu, but that won’t stop me from trying.

Nobadeer – Jetties, Foxhall Rd NW, Washington, DC

Countless sandwiches are born of food left over from another meal. We at On Sandwiches have had a number of fine sandwiches in that mold. The Nobadeer is the supreme sandwich of the category, the undisputed sovereign of the leftover sandwich. It is the Thanksgiving sandwich. Of course, it isn’t my Thanksgiving sandwich, or yours. Mine involves dark meat, for one, and a touch of gravy. No, this is just the broadest outlines of the archetype: Soft white bread, turkey breast, stuffing and cranberry sauce. (There’s a layer of mayo as well, but it neither adds nor detracts so I’m ignoring it.) That’s the rub of a sandwich like this; you run the risk of stoking a person’s nostalgia without the necessary fuel to really get the fire going. Some restauranteurs see this problem and surrender. They put forth no effort, counting on the simple fact that they’re appealing to sentimentality to carry the sandwich through. That never ends well, dry turkey, bland stuffing, cranberries that are more jelly than sauce.

The folks at Jetties don’t take the coward’s way out. No sandwich is going to be everything to everyone, so they just put forth a quality sandwich and dare you to be disappointed. And make no mistake, the Nobadeer is a quality sandwich. Named for a beach in Nantucket, it features freshly carved turkey that’s about as juicy as you can expect a turkey breast to be. The stuffing was moist and savory, and the cranberry sauce, with big bits of cranberry, was neither too sweet nor too tart. It wasn’t a perfect sandwich, with some problems in construction. The cranberry sauce and the stuffing were concentrated towards the center of the sandwich, leaving both absent at the edges. With a mediocre sandwich this kind of error can ruin things, but the quality of the ingredients in the Nobadeer carried things through and left it, a few bland bites aside, a great sandwich.