No debate about this one. Could have been titled Sandwich! of the Week based on its size and general awesomeness.
The sandwich: Brody Special cemita from Cafe Ollin, 108th St. between 1st and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan.
The construction: According to the menu, the Brody Special is breaded beef, fried pork, ham, white cheese, yellow cheese, oaxacan cheese and pineapple on a cemita — a huge, round sesame-seed loaf. But there’s clearly other stuff on there too, including black beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato and something peppery.
Important background information: I was really hungry. Sometimes I worry that my sandwich ratings are hugely impacted by how hungry I am when I eat the sandwich. And in this case, it was about 8 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since an undersized cold-cut sandwich for lunch around 11:30, so I was hungry enough to be frustrated at having to tie my shoes before leaving the apartment. Stuff like that.
What it looks like:
How it tastes: This site has in the past praised sandwiches for their consistency of flavors and even distribution of ingredients, and the Brody Special can not boast either of those. And yet somehow, on this sandwich, it works so well: there’s this huge messy pile of ingredients, and with each bite you get a new mix of flavors, and each one is surprising, amazing and satisfying.
There’s delicious, tender, greasy pork in there, and salty ham, and a hint of beefy flavor. There’s creamy avocado and chewy white cheese. There’s sweet, juicy pineapple cutting through, and something unidentifiable and spicy to counter it. And lining the bottom of the sandwich — the only element besides the bread present in every bite — there’s a paste of crushed black beans, a flavorful, starchy binding agent that really ties the sandwich together.
The effect, hard as this may be to believe, not dissimilar from that of a really good Thanksgiving sandwich, with the pork standing in for dark meat turkey, the breading from the beef and the beans operating as stuffing and the pineapple filling in for the cranberry sauce as the sweet, fruity element. But there’s more to this: cheese, for one thing.
And the cemita bread itself is the perfect delivery vehicle for the variety of fillings here. I’m not a big fan of sesame seeds, but the loaf is thin but strong, easily withstanding the grease and juice and providing a nice crunchy, flaky outside to complement the mostly soft mess on the inside.
After the first bite of the Brody Special, I thought, “this is a really good sandwich, but probably just shy of the Hall of Fame.” Then after a couple more bites, I had it as a borderline, 90ish type — one I’d give more careful consideration.
As I continued eating, the melange of flavors and textures swelled and crescendoed, and by the final bites I wasn’t thinking about what I’d write in a review or my own stupid rating system or where I was or how I was getting home or anything beyond the boundaries of that bread. I got completely lost in the sandwich.
What it’s worth: The Brody Special cemita cost $10 and, for me, about a 15-minute walk. Due to my own hunger on the evening in question and the inherently inconsistent nature of the sandwich, I probably wouldn’t recommend trekking to East Harlem for it. But if you’re in the area and looking for something good, it’s worth the price. It’s huge.
How it rates: 93 out of 100.