Although the sandwich was named so after an 18th century British Earl, its invention dates back to a rabbi who lived in the first century B.C.. In my short history, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of sandwiches and while I can’t consider myself a true connoisseur, the humble sandwich is one of my favorite things to eat and the ultimate in comfort foods.
The keys to a good sandwich are the three Bs: bread, balance, and…ok, there’s only two Bs, but they’re important. Aside from the main ingredient (turkey, tuna, chicken salad, etc.), the bread has the power to make or break a sandwich. The first thing you taste when you take a bite is the bread, so it had better be good and it had better be fresh.
Balance, or how the various parts come together to make a whole sandwich experience, is even more critical than the bread. Too much meat and the sandwich tastes only of meat. (The “famous” delis in NYC are big offenders here…the amount of meat in their sandwiches is way too much. These are sandwiches for showing off, not consumption.) Too much mustard and you overwhelm that beautiful pastrami. The mighty sandwich should not be a lowly conduit for your mustard addiction; why not just eat it straight from the jar? If you’ve got a dry bread, add a slice of tomato, a little extra mayo, or save it for tuna or egg salad. If you’ve got a lot of bread (a Kaiser or sub roll, for example), you’ll probably need more of everything else to balance it out. Make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the sandwich. You should get a bit of everything in each bite…it’s a BLT, not just an L on toast. If the sandwich maker is doing his job right, you should be able to taste most of the ingredients separately and together at the same time.
Here are a few sandwiches I’ve enjoyed over the years. I haven’t included any of the ones that I regularly make for myself because they’re pretty boring, although IMO, they’re right up there with any of these.
In college, when my friends and I got sick of eating on campus (and had the money to do so), we’d venture across the street to Zio Johno’s, a little Italian place with good, cheap food. At first I just got the spaghetti or lasagna, but one time I tried the Italian sub they offered and I was hooked. The key was the super-sweet sub roll; my measely $3 was enough for both a savory dinner and sweet dessert at the same time. I’ve never found anywhere else that uses bread that sweet.
I’ve lived in NYC for three years now, but I haven’t run across a steak sandwich that rivals the one I used to get on my lunch break at The Brothers’ Deli in Minneapolis. Fried steak, fried onions, and cheddar cheese on a Kaiser roll with a side order of the best potato salad I’ve ever had.
Surdyk’s (say “Sir Dicks”) is an institution in Northeast Minneapolis (say “Nordeast”), the finest liquor store and cheese shop around. They also had good croissants (say “Qua Sawn” or “Cross Aunts”) on which they put fresh ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Mmm.
There’s nothing I like more than a good BLT, and Specialty’s in San Francisco has one of the best I’ve had. Secret ingredient: pickles. Also, they didn’t toast the bread, which I usually frown upon, but it worked well anyway.
As for New York, I don’t live close to any good delis, but when I worked in Midtown, I used to zip over to the food court below Grand Central and hit Mendy’s. Their chicken salad is top-notch; the chicken is good quality and it isn’t overwhelmed by the mayonnaise. I’m usually not such a fan of rye bread, but their rye (it’s a light rye) is fantastic and goes very well with the chicken salad. The salami is good too. I usually have half a sandwich with a cup of their chicken noodle.
Do you have a favorite sandwich? Know of any good NYC sandwich spots I should check out?
 Although Meg has been making this warm garlic potato salad lately that is a serious contender for the top spot.
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