Webster’s Dictionary defines “sandwich” as “two slices of bread with meat, jelly, cheese, or some other filling between them.” But does this description really do it justice? Is a sandwich just that, two slices of bread with stuff in between? Is it really just a plebeian lazy-food slapped together with minimal time, effort or ingenuity invested? Any avid follower and fan of scanwiches.com would have to passionately disagree and throw this definition to the dogs. In reality, the sandwich is a wonderful outlet for creative genius, and its preparation an artform more-so than mere craft. The perfect sandwich is a combination of ingredients which work together, an assemblage of flavors and textures previously unacquainted which harmonize in the same bite. The perfect sandwich is exciting, yet comforting, waking up your taste-buds at the first bite, soothing and satisfying your palate as your swallow. Although I still haven’t found the perfect sandwich is Boston, I have encountered a few that came close. Here are some of them.
I’ve walked by Canteen a million times and always thought it looked a bit shabby and boring from the outside so I never ventured in, not even to take a peep around. Big mistake. My friend Theo convinced me to go on our lunch break with him and boldly ordered for me a savory lamb crepe (which was also out of this world, but this is a sandwich column so I will not discuss this here) along with this sandwich to share. It was fantastic. Fresh, juicy folds of roast turkey laid down on warm ciabatta bread smothered in cherry pepper mayo on one side and caramelized, pepper-y onion jam (with soft little bits of caramelized onion running through it) on the other. Velvety wedges of avocado gave the sandwich a great lightness while bits of extremely crunchy salty bacon provided a perfect crispy bite and blended beautifully with the tenderness of the turkey.
BLT: A naughty and nice approach at The Otherside Cafe
The Otherside Cafe takes on the BLT in a fantastic way:
1. Let’s start with the nice. Have a vegan friend who, despite his/her firm beliefs in….well whatever the hell it is that makes vegans vegan, stares at your mouth through animalistic narrow eyes every time you bite into a thick, crunchy slab of phenomenal piggy product? Well now they can join in on this magnificent gastro-coaster. I don’t know how they do it, but The Other Side’s fakin’ bacon comes dangerously close to rivaling the real deal. Crunchy, (seemingly) fatty, salty and delicious this miracle product blends beautifully with the ripe tomato and “vegenaise” between two slices of beautiful marble rye. I was hesitant until I tried it and was sold after a single bite.
2. Now the naughty. “Dangerously close” (above) is far from “equal”. While the Vegan BLT gives a glimmer of happiness to those sad little malnourished hipsters, the Advanced BLT, simply put, kicks ass. The bacon is thick and crunchy with a smokey apple-wood flavor. The soft, slightly gummy mozzarella takes on the flavor of the bacon and magnifies it while giving it a pillow-y support. The thick rounds of tomato, crispy strings of fresh red onion and velvety, slightly mineral-y avocado adds great textural contrast. You’d think the bacon would get lost in this sea of wonderful flavors and textures, but it shines through with powerful oink flavor. This sandwich definitely hits the spot and leaves you feeling wonderful, if a bit guilty.
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup at Cafeteria
The gourmet grilled cheese; the epicure’s tomato soup. Not what your hair-netted, ill-tempered elementary school lunch lady used to serve you every Thursday for lunch. Far from it. Cafeteria’s “tray-chic” version of this classic American comfort food is nothing short of amazing. Elevating Campbell’s homogenous red slime to a thick and creamy puree of roasted tomatoes seasoned with basil and topped with a crisp crostini crouton, replacing fluorescent Kraft “cheddar” melted between 2 slices of spongy Wonderbread with a decadent and spicy fontina gushing out of a crispy sourdough panini, this classic duo becomes a comforting masterpiece.
Corned Beef on Wheat at Rubin’s Deli
Any cocky New Yorker claiming that there is not a single good deli in Boston is wrong. Yeah, yeah yeah, lots of Jews in Brookline. However, there really is only one good deli and it’s not the overpriced, fancy-fied Zaftigs, but Rubin’s down the street. A simple and frumpy place for sure but their meat cuts are incredibly good and daily fresh, their knishes perfectly baked and flavorful and their pickles are the real deal. This is my personal favorite sandwich to get here. I don’t really like rye bread so I got it on wheat (I know, I know it’s sacrilegious but whatever). It is very hard to accurately describe just how incredibly moist and tender this corned beef was. The smokey, salty flavor of the meat capped with just the right amount of silky fat made this sandwich juicy and satisfying. There was no firm texture contrast within this sandwich, each bite represented a homogenous, delicate pillow of a mouthful but this was one of those times where contrast was just not necessary. However, outside of the ‘wich, there was a crisp pickled cucumber to wake up the taste buds and offer some textural contrast within the dish and this was greatly appreciated, as was the spicy hot mustard (Russian writing on the label, always a good sign) that came on the side.
Sandwich Box at Japonaise Bakery and Cafe
Very simple little, crustless, soft-as-a-pillow finger-sandwiches filled with thin slices of tomato, tuna salad or egg salad, made fresh every day. Incredibly light yet very flavorful.
Two Great Sandwiches at Domenic’s Italian Bakery
Yeah okay, technically Waltham isn’t Boston but whatever, I drive their every 10 weeks to get new sets of Invisalign aligners at the dentist’s office, so it’s gradually become part of my life. You may be curious to know what it is that I like to sink my freshly shaved (f*cking, ow….) and polished, now almost completely straight American choppers into. The answer is: one of Domenic’s amazing, authentic Italian paninis.
1. Parma – Imported “black label” (and I’ll definitely believe that) parma with juicy, basil-marinated tomatoes and ridiculously fresh rounds of buffalo mozzarella layer on top of Domenick’s daily baked, crusty, flour-dusted delicious sourdough bread. Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over this bad boy and you’ll be set for the day.
2. Tonno – Imported yellowfin tuna black olive tappennade, house marinated artichokes and baby greens. This one takes your ordinary tuna salad sandwich and kicks it out the 20th story window. The tangy, savory oliv tappennade marries itself beautifully to the fresh chunks of moist tuna. The artichokes are not too citrus-y/vinegar-y tart (as I had feared) and offer a beautifully delicate yet magnificent bite to the sandwich.
The reason I stressed imported in these reviews was not to sound like a douchey Euro-snob but to stress that this is not a guido sandwich shop but an Italian one. The crunchy bread is baked in house fresh every day and if you move a finger across the crust you will pick up powdery line of flour. This is what bread should be. The ingredients are in perfect proportion, simple and delicious. Each individual ingredient is incredibly complex in terms of flavor, so there is no need to use more than 3-4 of them. What seems to be imported here is not just the ingredients but the philosophy behind making a great sandwich.
Beef Brisket Sandwich at M&M Ribs
How did I find myself in a parking lot surrounded by warehouses in the middle of Roxbury? I came for the BBQ at the M&M Ribs food truck. If you are lucky enough to work close to this thing, definitely pay it a visit sometime in the near future. Although some of the stuff on the menu is kinda sub-par (I’m thinking of you, gelatinous, grimy little pigs feet) there are some gems that will be sure to light up your day. One of them is the beef brisket sandwich. The meat is tender and juicy, tantalizingly smokey and melt-in-your-mouth soft. The BBQ sauce was sweet and tangy with a beautiful caramel color. The bun (though not of best caliber) faithfully soaks up every drop of excess sauce and becomes a moist delicious pillow for the meat to rest in.
I’ve saved the best for last: Flour Bakery and Cafe is a 20 minute walk from my office, yet these five brilliant sandwiches (among the tons of incredible pastries also available at the place) keep me coming back.
1. A simple, yet delicious and filling creation. Tender, moist pieces of roast chicken tumbling out from between two fresh and airy slices of sourdough, smeared with velvety avocado with crunchy bits of jicama running through.
2. The generous heaps of velvety home-ground, tangy and nutty hummus with chunky bits of garbanzo bean popping out here contrasts beautifully with the crisp cucumbers, carrots and red onions layered in between. The sprouts add an airy lightness to the sandwich and helps make this one of the most healthy and guilt-free sandies on the menu.
3. This one’s a special so if you see it on the menu, order it right a way. A perfectly warm, comforting ham (cured) and cheese (fontina) sandwich with pungent, juicy black olives running through it. A salty, cheese blend guaranteed to lift your cubicle-trapped spirits.
4. 87 unread emails in your inbox? Cancellations, confirmations, cancellations, confirmations? Faxes, fed-exes, fed up? Call waiting, 20 minute holds, magenta cartridge close to empty? This is the sandwich for you, my friend! Thick folds of juicy, bloody roast beef elevated to perfection by the sour and hot horseradish sauce, mixing with plump, fresh bites of tomato. A nest of crispy, batter-fried onion strings adds the perfect salty, slightly-oily crunch while making each bite lighter at the same time. Good gracious, I love this sandwich!
5. And finally, my favorite, my default, my main bitch: the roasted lamb sandwich. Thick cuts of lamb laced with that mineral-y, earthy flavor so unique to lamb/goat, smothered in tangy herbed goat cheese and palate-prickling sweet and savory tomato chutney. The crunch of mixed arugula and baby spinach adds a breath of freshness, lifting ones palate from the flavor depth of the other ingredients so as to save it from being lost in gastronomic bliss forever.
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