The Go To Sandwich

I want to talk about an important concept: the go to sandwich. I was getting lunch earlier this week when I realized that at pretty much every stage of my adult life, I’ve had a go to sandwich. This is the sandwich you grab when you want a good lunch and you don’t want to have to think or work too hard to get it. Obviously, it has to be close by; mine has varied as I’ve moved jobs. I’ve had some good ones over the years: the banh mi at Best Baguette when I did worked Beaverton, the ham and gruyere baguette from Addy’s Sandwich Shack downtown, and my current favorite, the build your own sandwich from Brass Tacks. It doesn’t matter what you put on it; you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from Brass Tacks. Bread baked fresh daily from Fleur De Lis, Thumann’s deli meat, and fresh local produce. The roast turkey is especially good. I eat there at least once a week – it’s always a good sign when you’re on first name terms with the folks at your local sandwich shop. It may not be the perfect sandwich, but I’ve never had a bad one from there. I’d love to hear about your go to sandwich. Hit me up in the comments.

Anyway, on to this week’s contender. One word. Bacon. Yes, I know the whole bacon meme has been done to death, but that doesn’t change the fact that good bacon is one of the tastiest foods in the known universe. Bacon will no doubt feature heavily in my quest for the perfect sandwich, and I kicked off with the latest offering from the sandwich gurus at Meat Cheese Bread. These guys have been doing sandwiches right for years now. They always have a bacon-based offering, and their latest is the bacon and apple sandwich. The MCB crew uses thick cut Nuestre’s bacon, which is a masterpiece of the cured pig art. The sandwich adds cheese spread, apple, rosemary and greens on toasted ciabatta. It’s a very good sandwich indeed. A couple of quibbles keep it from perfection: the apples were diced, rather than thin sliced, so they tended to fall out; and the bread was a little too soft to contain all that fatty juicy goodness. But it was still excellent. A solid 7.5 out of 10 that was a crusty roll away from getting a 9.

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The First Contenders

My quest begins with two sandwich reviews: an early contender from a hidden gem, and a letdown from one of Portland’s biggest names.

I got an early start on my resolution by hitting Tails and Trotters for lunch on New Year’s Eve, and my search was almost over before 2016 began. As often happens, I found myself in the mood for spicy cured pork products, so I went for the Grinder. T&T’s take on this classic features their house cured coppa, lonza and ham, with shredded iceberg lettuce, spicy fennel relish, aged provolone, and garlic aioli on a toasted Ciabatta roll. And what a treat it was. Delicious house-cured meats, perfectly toasted Ciabatta, and just the right amount of spice from the relish. This was a truly great sandwich. I had to search hard to find fault, and the best I could come up with was that the provolone could be a hint sharper, but otherwise it was superb. I’m always amazed that there isn’t a line around the block for T&T’s sandwiches. Yes, it’s primarily a butcher’s shop and retail outlet for their own pork products, but I’ve never had a bad sandwich from there. And this one was the best yet. Not quite perfect, but not far short either. A solid 8.5 out of 10.

For my next sandwich, I went for the heavyweight champ. Google “Portland’s best sandwich,” and one will appear on every list you find: Bunk’s Pork Belly Cubano. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know all about Bunk already (and if you don’t, you should). The Cubano has been featured on TV and in numerous articles nationwide. It’s a simple yet brilliant recipe – take a classic sandwich and add pork belly to it. This should have been a winner, but I went away slightly disappointed. The sandwich was good, but not great. A touch greasy, and the cheese was too sweet. I’m surprised, because I love Bunk generally, and I’ve had many great sandwiches there in the past. They did a porchetta special a couple of years back that had to be tasted to be believed. But this one didn’t cut it. Given its great reputation, I’ll probably try the Pork Belly Cubano again later in the year and update the score. But for now, all I can do is give it 6 out of 10.

So there you have it. The first two of what will no doubt be many fascinating sandwich experiences in the coming year. Leave your suggestions for my next sandwich in the comments.

Finding the Perfect Sandwich

A few years back, I made the greatest New Year’s resolution in the history of mankind: eat more sausage. It had everything: simplicity (three words!), achievability, and purpose. For too long, I had shied away from the noble sausage for health reasons. No more – I was determined to savor the world’s vast, majestic array of delicious meats in tube form. I figured that as long as I exercised and ate well on my non-sausage days, I’d be fine. And so far, so good. I can still get into the same pants, and my health is great. (Actually, my cholesterol is higher than my doctor would like, but why let the facts ruin a good story?). And best of all, I’ve enjoyed (and even made) lots of great sausages.

But that resolution had a downside. I peaked too soon. Ever since, I’ve struggled to come up with a New Year’s resolution that I was even interested in making, let alone sticking to. I’m not the sort to make the “drink less, exercise more” kind of resolutions, and everything fun I thought of paled in comparison to the greatness of “eat more sausage.” Now, though, I’ve found the answer. In 2016, I’m going on a quest to find the perfect sandwich.

I love this resolution. Sandwiches, like sausages, are a culinary art form. Every great food culture in the world has its own take on both the sausage and the sandwich (often, superbly, together). And here in Portland, we’re blessed with a vast array of sandwich options. Does the perfect sandwich live here? I don’t know, but I’m going to do my best to find out.

So what makes the perfect sandwich? It starts with the bread, which must be fresh, and appropriate for the type of sandwich, as anyone who’s tried to eat a burger on a soft bun can attest. Next, there’s the meat, which anchors the sandwich, and gives it the base flavors that the other ingredients build around. Vegetarians will tell you that there are good vegetarian sandwiches too, and they’re right – as comfort food goes, it’s hard to beat a good grilled cheese and vegemite sandwich. But the perfect sandwich has to have meat. Other ingredients can vary, depending on the sandwich. Cheese will no doubt feature heavily, but it isn’t required. Whatever brings out the best in the meat and bread is fine with me.

Kim says my quest may be doomed, because I’ve already had the perfect sandwich and it isn’t available anymore. She’s talking about the Marseilles from the now-defunct Carafe restaurant. And she might be right. The Marseilles – Merguez, harissa, and French fries on a crispy baguette – was indeed a masterpiece of sandwich art, and might just have been perfect. But I’m an optimist. I’m going to seek out the perfect sandwich from what’s available today. I’ll report back periodically on this blog, with ratings and comments on the contenders. And I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. It’s lunchtime, and I’m in the mood for a sandwich.