Saturday, May 26, 2007

    Don’t Cut the Crust

    I made a PB&J for lunch yesterday. As I do often at work. Yes, I’m late 20s and still saving my lunch money by PBJing it. Saving it to spend on grownup food and drinks on weeknights and weekends that is. Somehow less food begets more. My sandwich is relatively grownup though – I use whole wheat or oat bread, grind the honey roasted peanuts into butter at Whole Foods, and use whatever flavor of their fruit spread I fancy when I’m grocery shopping (it’s $1.99 a jar!). This week it was “Fruit of the Forest,” a mix of grape juice, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and black cherries.

    I find myself liking sandwiches more now than ever before. I typically need to eat carbs to feel full, and I like the rainbow of flavors and textures you get in each bite. During the five years that I didn’t eat meat, the veggie sandwich options became redundant, but now I have many more choices.

    Here’s some of my other favorite sandwiches. If you feel inclined to call them “sammies,” a la Rachael Ray, please don’t do so in my presence. I might throw a tomato (sandwich) at you.

    Nothing says summer to me like a thick, juicy tomato sandwich on white bread smeared with mayo and a dash of salt and pepper. I like eating them barefoot at the kitchen counter while staring out the window, remembering my childhood summers and all the excitement and promise that came with the onslaught of the extreme South Carolina heat. I miss summer camp.

    My all time favorite tea sandwich is cucumber and cream cheese. If you want a proper tea with champagne, towers of sandwiches, scones, cookies, cakes and all, there’s no lovelier place to go in NYC than Lady Mendl’s.

    A few weekends ago, Jon and I went to Philadelphia to visit family friends of mine. I was on a mission to have my first authentic Philly Cheesesteak, so our hostess took us to Geno’s Steaks, which is across the street from Pat's King of Steaks. I wondered aloud what the difference between the two was, so we hatched a plan to split up so we could try both. Jon moved more quickly through the Pat's line, and by the time we sat down with our Geno's cheesesteak, we were almost finished with Pat's, which was juicy and Cheese Whizzy. From the first bite of Geno's, we knew that despite the shorter line, Pat's was easily the better of the two. From the soft bread, chewy, flavorless meat and shortage of Cheese Whiz, Geno's (see my nonplussed look above) was a disappointment. Next time we'll head straight to Pat's.

    When Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches opened in the East Village a few years ago, I read about it and thought it sounded really good but too far from my Chelsea apartment to seek out on its own. Now that it’s a few blocks from home, I make up for my prior laziness with a weekly trip there for the vegetarian bahn mi. It’s served on a slightly crumby baguette with portobello mushrooms, pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapenos and mayo. The mushrooms are meaty and soft, in nice contrast to the crunch of the bread and vegetables. You can get it without the jalapenos, but to me they add a delicious aspect of Russian roulette to each bite – besides, the mayo helps temper the seediest ones. Nicky’s is best known for its classic bahn mi (paté, ham, and ground pork), which is rich, savory, and a little too meat-heavy for me. I need to try the sardine sandwich sometime.

    I've only been once, and need to go back soon to Panino Sportivo. The panini I had with Parma prosciutto, sliced pears, goat cheese, arugula and honey was just one of many choices there. Mine was grilled to perfection on a thicker bread than most of the sandwiches I've had that are passed off as paninis.

    Often on Saturdays, Jon and I have a post-gym lunch at ‘wichcraft, the baby in the Craft chain of restaurants. At our 8th St. location, there’s free wi-fi and live jazz to get you in a weekend state of mind. I'm actually at 'wichcraft right now, finishing up this post. I've got a cool, comfy corner banquette all to myself and am looking out on the beautiful NYC day. The jazz doesn't start until around 1 p.m., so instead I'm seat-dancing and singing along to the Prince, S&G, Morrissey, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin that they've been playing.

    Compared to the other Craft restaurants, the sandwiches at ‘wichcraft (get it, sandwich, ‘wichcraft?) are a steal. Like the other restaurants, all the ingredients are carefully, well, crafted – the pork is slow roasted in house, the mozzarella hand-pulled, and the baked goods and ice creams are homemade. I just wolfed down the toasted smoked ham, cheddar, pear and mustard on cranberry-pecan bread sandwich. The cranberries and pear slices add a sweet component to the spicy mustard (which made me sneeze today!) and play excellently with the smokiness of the ham. It's a perfect combination.

    My other favorite sandwiches here are the fried egg with bacon, gorgonzola and frisee on ciabatta; grilled fontina with black trumpet mushrooms and white truffle fondue on Pullman white bread; and salami with marinated cauliflower and baby-beet greens on ciabatta. I’m also particular to their cauliflower soup with basil oil – it’s rich and creamy, but has no dairy. The last time I was here, I finally turned in the five or six punch cards I’d collected over the years and miraculously held on to, and got my 13th sandwich free.

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