Sandwich of the Week

So this site looks a bit different today. Welcome to the new and far less active TedQuarters, I suppose. There are still some kinks to work out, all of which will take me way longer to figure out on my own than they would have with the support of my men Adam Rotter and Matt Cerrone at SNY, so be patient. And because I’m now using a stock WordPress theme, I had to make some concessions in the navigation and sidebars.

Most notably: The “Embarrassing Things about Cole Hamels” section of the blog is now just a “Cole Hamels” tab on the sidebar to the left, as spelling out the full title made the text wrap to two lines and look awful. So it goes. Know that “Cole Hamels,” here, is an abbreviation for “Embarrassing Things about Cole Hamels,” always.

Also: The Sandwich Hall of Fame list is currently a sub-category in the sandwich tab, but it’s too long for the format and you can’t access most of the sandwich reviews from many browsers. Soon, perhaps later this afternoon, I’ll create a new Sandwich Hall of Fame archive page with links to all the Hall of Fame sandwich reviews. So fear not.

Because of the theme switch, the site again uses WordPress comments instead of Disqus, meaning that two full years’ worth of awesome, hilarious, insightful comments are sort of lost to the ether. And it makes every post on this site from 2011-2012 look pretty lonely, so if you stumble upon one you like and want to leave some love, please do.

And thanks so much for all the flattering and supportive comments left on the going-away post from earlier this month. It feels incredible to know that my efforts on this site for the last several years were apparently so thoroughly appreciated. I love you, too.

The sandwich: Banh mi thit nuong, Banh Mi Cart 37, 37 Nguyen Trai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The construction: Grilled pork meatballs, pickled vegetables, cucumbers, cilantro, chili paste and some sort of brownish sauce on a baguette.

Important background information: I spent six days in Vietnam and tried seven different banh mi. This was the best, and it wasn’t all that close. Most of the sandwiches came from street carts or slightly glorified street carts, and in Ho Chi Minh City — where I ate the large majority of my banh mi on vacation — most of the street carts sell banh mi filled with various cold cuts, familiar and otherwise. They were all delicious, but once I tried this style, all I wanted were more like this. In fact, about an hour after I had my first, I went back for a second.

Also: Throughout our vacation, my wife and I struggled to convince locals to serve us spicy food. Many European and Australian tourists (and perhaps Americans, too, but we didn’t meet nearly so many), it seems, want no part of typically spicy Thai, Lao or Vietnamese cuisine — something we witnessed to a hilarious extent in a cooking class with some British couples who were put off by the spiciness of ginger and garlic.

So before I carry on, a plea to the Australian dude we met on a boat in Thailand and others like him: Give spicy food a chance, please. You told us you were miffed at all the restrictions they had at the place where they let you in a cage with a tiger. I promise no pepper used in common cooking anywhere presents nearly so much danger, and that developing a taste for more spice will ultimately broaden your culinary horizons and enrich your eating life. I’m not here to tell you what to do; I’m just sayin’s all.

Also, if it catches on, it’ll mean a lot less work on my end in Asia attempting to locate every vendor’s peppers or hot sauces, pointing at them, smiling, nodding vigorously and giving thumbs up. Luckily for us, the woman at the banh mi cart at 37 Nguyen Trai held up a spoonful of chili paste as she constructed the sandwich and shot us a quizzical look, so we were able to point at it, smile, nod vigorously and give thumbs up.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Awesome. Just… awesome. Everything I could imagine wanting in a banh mi.

The banh mi cart at 37 Nguyen Trai grills tiny pork patties — think seasoned ground-pork sliders — over charcoal on a small barbecue, and there’s enough turnover that every sandwich comes with pork patties hot from the grill. They’re tender and porky, juicy but not greasy, with just a hint of black pepper flavor.

We read somewhere that much of Vietnamese cuisine is fueled by contrasting textures and flavors, a concept that should sound familiar to any loyal readers of these sandwich reviews.

This banh mi seemed the perfect embodiment of that idea: The warm pork and toasty baguette (they threw the baguette on the grill right before they put together the sandwich, a very appreciated touch) complemented the coolness of the vegetables. The intense spiciness of the chili paste matched up with the sweetness of the brown sauce. The sharpness of the cilantro complemented the acidity of the pickled vegetables.

It was crunchy and soft, spicy and sweet, hot and cold, comforting and adventurous, everything. Just an explosion of flavors and textures and general greatness. Damn. I have to go back.

What it’s worth: Oh, that’s the other thing. It cost 14,000 Dong, or about 67 cents. Plus the cost of airfare, of course, unless you’re already in Ho Chi Minh City.

How it rates: 97 out of 100. Inner circle Hall of Famer.

Friday Q&A, pt. 2: Food stuff and randos

I’m tempted to say the Breaded Steak from Ricobene’s, the highest rated sandwich ever reviewed on this site, but I’m pretty sure I’d go with the Full Bird, the sandwich that made me love sandwiches. I think I’d want something comforting in my final hours on earth, and that’s a sandwich that makes me feel like I’m at peace with everything, and home.

No disrespect to the bankers out there, but no. I do often dream of having much more money, though, and banking would probably be a good way to get about that. But I really don’t have the head for the particulars; I’d start thinking about how much money changes hands, and how that money rarely takes physical form and is instead just this weird ethereal wealth-cloud zipping through wires and how serious everyone’s being about this formless thing that seems six steps removed from anything of real, tangible value, and then I’d giggle a lot and lose focus on whatever banking stuff I’m supposed to be doing. Also, I don’t even really know what bankers do.

I think the only way I could actually do it would be as concept art. I’m not even sure if it’s true, but I read one time about David Byrne scheduling business meetings with executives, then showing up and putting on bizarre Powerpoint art presentations. I think I could do that type of banking.

Thin, definitely. No one wants a steak-sized portion of deli ham. Thinner slices allow for better ribboning, and better ribboning makes for better sandwiches. That’s proven.

One issue I’ve had though is it feels like people go so crazy with requesting their deli meat sliced thin that everyone’s always trying to one up each other, like, “Sliced extra thin!” First off, the deli man at anyplace worth its salt knows that you probably want your meats sliced thin, so even if you don’t say anything you’re going to get reasonably thin slices of meat. Second, there’s no “extra thin,” at least not that you want. When you specify you want your meat sliced thin, the guy’s going to set the slicer to make it about as thin as it can be without shredding the meat. Extra thin is a big (delicious) pile of shredded meat that’s impossible to do anything with after it’s wrapped up and it basically reconstitutes.

At good New York pizza places, they’re largely unnecessary. A good, well-proportioned slice of New York cheese pizza is like a perfect thing. There’s no need to upset the balance. Sometimes I’ll order one slice of cheese and one slice of something meaty (buffalo chicken, perhaps) for the sake of having protein, but chicken works better than pork on pizzas — and no disrespect to pork here, obviously — because pork is crazy greasy and so is pizza.

Also: Pepperoni pizza is wildly overrated. It’s fine, and I’m not going to turn down a slice if you hand me one. But I would way rather you give me a small stack of thinly sliced cold pepperoni and a slice of cheese pizza than watch bake that pepperoni onto the pizza. Not a synergistic relationship. Once the pepperoni heats up, the fat drips out and the pizza becomes unreasonably greasy.

Do you eat seafood and shellfish, or no? This sushi sandwich was awesome. And if I could eat lobster rolls without getting sick from them, I would do so as often as my budget would allow. Plus, I’ve recently decided to learn to like fish, so I’ll get back to you with more ideas if you’re open to fish.

If not, it’s pretty much falafel. The upside is that falafel’s amazing. Also, I’ve heard really good things about the broccoli sandwich at No. 7 Sub, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to order it when there are so many meatier options.

Our man Ceetar’s referring to a weird recent Twitter thing wherein I have been accused (by many people, multiple times) of Tweeting as @JedSmed, a now defunct account known for making jokes about the Mets. It’s just not true. I don’t particularly care if people think it’s true, but I don’t want to take credit for the guy’s material either. Also, I can’t understand why anyone thinks I’d do that. I make jokes about the Mets on Twitter under my own name, both for sad pathetic Twitter validation and because it increases my exposure and helps me promote this site. Why would I put effort into making other jokes about the Mets on a second, anonymous account? Also, I write thousands of words here every day and manage all the real-job parts of my job, to boot. How much time do people think I have?

I started a fake Twitter once. I’m not going to tell you what it is. It was a stupid meta-joke about fake Twitters, no one seemed to get it, and it lasted about two weeks. That was the only time I’ve been moved to do so. Have I mentioned that I’m incredibly vain? I like having my jokes attributed to me.

Sandwiches of the Week

My parents got a turducken for Thanksgiving from a place called Big Daddy’s on Long Island, primarily because they love me and want me to be happy. As it turned out, the turducken was delicious. We actually had regular, unduckened turkey, too, but it seemed like pretty much everyone preferred the turducken. It was slow smoked, so the outer/turkey layer had a distinct but not at all overwhelming smoky flavor. All the meats stayed surprisingly moist, and the andouille stuffing inside added an awesome sausagey flavor.

Here’s what the turducken looked like. I believe this is technically a boneless turducken or turducken roll. It’s tremendous:

That’s a lot of meat, my friends. And it meant a lot of leftovers for me, thankfully.

Here are some sandwiches I’ve made from turducken:

Turducken sandwich:

This was the first turducken sandwich I made, late in the evening on Thanksgiving because we ate dinner at 2:30 p.m. or something. It’s basically just turducken on whole wheat challah (which will be a theme) with pan gravy and jalapeno-cranberry chutney, both of which came with the turducken. The latter, notably, is a great condiment for a turducken sandwich. It’s spicy and sweet and tart.

It was delicious, but I failed to follow my own advice and put on a bit too much stuffing, so it was pretty bready. Also, it was late and I’m lazy, so I didn’t bother heating up the turducken or the gravy or toasting the roll.

Turducken, egg and cheese:

Damn right I did. TIP: To make any sandwich appropriate for breakfast, add a fried egg. I actually added two. That’s more whole-wheat challah doing the sandwiching, and there’s more jalapeno-cranberry chutney on the bottom. I skipped the gravy this time because c’mon, man, it’s breakfast. But I added a slice of cheddar cheese.

This sandwich was awesome. I am thinking about this sandwich now and craving it again. I need to make another one of these before I run out of turducken. The smokiness of the meat made it seem alarmingly appropriate for an egg sandwich, with the chutney serving the role of both the ketchup and the hot sauce I normally use on egg sandwiches. The egg was a bit runny and got all over my shirt, but the excess yolk I managed to contain to the plate served well for sopping.

Turducken sandwich with cheese:

The cheddar cheese added very little to the equation here, but I did a much better job measuring out the meat to stuffing ratio and heating up all the things that should have been hot. I made it massive because I wanted to get all three meats on there. It kept me sated on a long walk downtown and the subway ride back.

The gravy, I should note, is excellent on the sandwich. It’s really peppery and sort of tangy to boot. Preferable to mayo if you’re not aiming to travel any distance further than my kitchen to my couch.

Thanksgiving wrap:

This is today’s lunch: Turducken (albeit mostly turkey) on a whole-wheat wrap with stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, string beans and the jalapeno-cranberry chutney.

Say what you will about wraps, they might actually be the best medium for a sandwich containing so many non-bread starches. In terms of concept and construction, this is probably the best of the sandwiches I’ve made from the turducken. The sweet potatoes — courtesy of my sister — add a hearty sweetness and creamy texture, and the string beans provide a nice crunch. I will probably have this again tomorrow.

That concludes this episode of Things I Ate This Week. I never like rating my own sandwiches, but they’re all delicious, and all presented in loving tribute to John Madden.

Sandwich of the Week

The sandwich: The Godfather Part II from No. 7 Sub, three locations in New York City. I got mine in the baller-ass basement of the Plaza Hotel.

The construction: Salami, Mexican chorizo, ham, Muenster, pickled jalapenos, sweet potatoes and Thai basil on a toasted hero roll.

Important background information: This is the third sandwich I’ve reviewed from No. 7 Sub on this site. I think only Shake Shack has seen more sandwiches discussed here, and as far as I can remember no place else has even provided two Sandwiches of the Week. That’s not a coincidence, nor is it purely a function of No. 7 Sub’s relative proximity to my office.

I sometimes daydream about opening a sandwich shop, even though it’s not something I imagine I’d ever have the patience or wherewithal to execute. Basically, I just want to come up with creative new ideas for delicious sandwiches based on my extensive research in the field, then serve them to people, and have them revel in my mastery of the craft and tell me I’m the greatest artist of all time and break down in tears because my sandwiches are majestic and heartbreaking.

No. 7 Sub is a bit like that. It features a fluctuating menu of smartly conceived sandwiches, most of them featuring ingredients that seem discordant but which inevitably work together. I’ve yet to enjoy a less than excellent sandwich there. And — perhaps greater praise — I’ve yet to eat any sandwich there that tastes just like another sandwich I’ve had elsewhere, but none of the ingredient choices peculiar to No. 7 Sub ever feels forced.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Predictably awesome.

This is a tough thing to describe and I fear this post will become more about sandwiches than this sandwich, but it doesn’t really taste like you’d imagine all the ingredients would combine to taste — if that’s something you could even imagine. With great focus you can identify certain flavors from each element, some easier than the others.

But this tastes more like a Godfather Part II than it tastes like salami, ham, chorizo, Muenster, sweet potatoes and Thai basil, if that makes any sense. It’s salty with a crispy hint of the Thai basil’s fragrant bite, and spicy in multiple ways but mellowed by the earthy sweetness of the sweet potatoes. For some reason it makes me think of pizza, but it’s not like any pizza I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s the salami and the sausage under a mild melted cheese. Or maybe all good things just make me think of pizza.

Oh, and the bread is amazing. That’s the constant at No. 7 Sub. They toast fresh, hearty, crusty, delicious bread that’s basically the ideal sandwich-holding stuff. It adds crunch, tastes great and maintains its integrity but never overwhelms its contents.

On another recent sandwich expedition, I had a bacon, egg and fried oyster sandwich. It was fine. But I couldn’t for the life of me determine why someone felt the need to put fried oysters on a bacon and egg sandwich. The moisture from the egg sogged the breading on the oysters before it even got to the table, so it didn’t add crunch. It added a seafood flavor that, though pleasant enough on its own, felt utterly extraneous on and perhaps even detrimental to a bacon and egg sandwich. I’d definitely have preferred the bacon and egg sandwich with a couple of fried oysters on the side.

If your thing is piling unlikely elements on sandwiches for the sake of having unlikely elements on sandwiches, then by all means, foie-gras the hell out of that peanut butter and jelly. But if you’re legitimately interested in making great sandwiches — the noblest pursuit — I would suggest considering, before adding any ingredient, whether a) the ingredient will make the sandwich better and b) the ingredient will be better as part of the sandwich than it would be on its own. It’s about synergy, or something.

And this is what I like about No. 7 Sub, at least based on the sandwiches I’ve had there: Every ingredient always appears to have some purpose, like someone’s putting real thought into the sandwiches’ construction, not just piling on a bunch of random crap and pawning it off on hipsters who love random-crap sandwiches.

The only element on the Godfather Part II that’s hard to wholly justify is the ham, since its flavor gets a little lost under all the more powerful ones and since its bulk doesn’t seem all that necessary on an otherwise hefty sandwich. But then I suppose the people behind this sandwich have earned the benefit of the doubt. Presumably the ham is there for a reason.

(If you plan to follow the two-step process for adding ingredients to sandwiches detailed above, I beg you now to consider the case of ham. Ham is always better on a sandwich than on its own. That’s indisputable. If you’re eating somewhere and you know you’re about to be served ham, stash away some dinner rolls. You won’t regret it. It would also help to have mustard. Also, if you don’t believe me that ham is always better on a sandwich, please bring me bread and a ham and I will prove it to you. Also: Mustard.)

Only a few things held the Godfather Part II out of the Hall of Fame. The first and foremost is the high standards I now have for No. 7 Sub, which isn’t really fair. But I suspect if I went in there cold and ate one of these, I’d be adding it to the sidebar here as we speak.

Second, the starchy texture of the sweet potatoes up against the bread wasn’t my favorite. The sweet potato flavor was an important element of what made the sandwich so good, so it’s obviously a tough thing to balance. But the chunks of sweet potato were a bit thick, and their mushiness sort of distracted me from the rest of the sandwich.

What it’s worth: $13, which is a lot for a sandwich anywhere. Presumably space in the basement of the Plaza Hotel doesn’t come cheap, nor does stocking a host of fresh, delicious ingredients. It’s a cost I’m willing to bear occasionally, but it’s enough to keep me from eating there more regularly. Maybe that’s ultimately a good thing.

The rating: 87 out of 100.

Sandwich of the Week

I drove to and from South Carolina last week and ate many fine sandwiches, but none worthy of the distinction of Sandwich of the Week. Then I walked around the corner from my apartment and got this.

The sandwich: Chicken parmigiana hero from Luigi’s, 88th St. and 1st Ave. in Manhattan.

The construction: Breaded chicken cutlets with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese on Italian bread. I added black pepper and red pepper because… wait, I shouldn’t have to explain that.

Important background information: If you live in the New York metropolitan area, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re no more than 15 minutes away from a pizzeria like Luigi’s at any given time. That’s not to take anything away from Luigi’s, but rather to celebrate one of the very best things about living in the New York metropolitan area. If you are a person of distinguishing taste — and if you’re reading this blog, you’re very likely a person of distinguishing taste — you likely spend the first several months of living in any new location determining your finest local option for pizza. When I lived in Westchester, it was Thornwood Pizza. In Brooklyn, Antonio’s. In Rockville Centre, Sal’s, then Gino’s. Now, in my pocket of the Upper East Side, it’s Luigi’s.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Familiar. Grounding. Awesome.

Sometimes I get away from myself. I work so hard to find new and interesting sandwiches to write about that I overlook the amazing sandwiches that define the medium’s excellence. Do you know how many stupid, fancy sandwiches I’ve eaten that are basically one thin slice of meat, a soft cheese and some type of indistinct sweet goo on crusty artisanal bread for $11? Those kill ’em in the larger sandwich-reviewing circuit, it seems, but they’re not for me. I finish them, then shrug and think, “That was all right, I guess.” But I know no one comes here to look at a grainy photo of a paltry sandwich with a review that says only “all right, I guess.” And I’m not about to tell you the delightful essences of fig in the goo complemented the cheese’s earthy undertones and suggest you spend your hard-earned $11 on a sandwich that didn’t actually inspire me.

TedQuarters is for the people, I’ll remind you, and the people deserve the truth. And the truth is, based on my exhaustive research, roughly half of the sandwiches you’ll see in any food blog’s list of top sandwiches aren’t as good as the chicken parm hero from the best pizzeria in your neighborhood. Look at that thing. It’s f-ing perfect.

You can’t tell the scale from that photo, but it’s massive — a foot long, at least. That’s pretty standard for the chicken parm hero from the best pizzeria in your neighborhood, too. It should easily be enough food for two meals, but I have never been able to stop myself halfway through.

Because it is finished in the pizza oven, the crust of the bread becomes toasty enough to provide all the crunch a sandwich could need. Meanwhile, the sauce goes to work on the inside of the bread, soaking its way into all the crevices, adding tangy flavor and softening the loaf, ensuring that the sturdy vehicle required to carry all the meat is never overbearing.

The chicken mostly provides the meaty bulk to make the sandwich satisfying. A bad pizzeria might screw up and provide rubbery chicken, one of the primary risks inherent in the chicken parm hero. But a good pizzeria like Luigi’s gives you tender chicken, its breading aptly seasoned.

And at this point, how much more effusive praise could possibly be heaped upon melted mozzarella cheese? It adds creamy, stringy texture, and subtle, cheesy flavor, and perhaps most importantly, helps bind the chicken to the bread. It’s melted mozzarella cheese, though, so you know all about it.

This sandwich will fall short of the Hall of Fame, but only because it’s a chicken parm hero. And though it meets my expectations for a chicken parm hero, my expectations for a chicken parm hero are so high that one would need to go above and beyond to land itself in the sidebar. I suspect if I never had one before, this would be a whole different conversation.

Also, if you told me that the first sandwich ever conceived and created was a chicken parm hero, I wouldn’t believe you. The construction of the chicken parm hero is so brilliant that if sandwiches started there, I imagine they would have stayed right there for hundreds of years and we wouldn’t have nearly the diversity of sandwiches we do today.

What it’s worth: $9. And like I said, it should be plenty for two meals.

How it rates: 84 out of 100.

Sandwiches of the Week

Why two sandwiches? YOU’LL SEE!

The sandwiches: Pimento Cheeseburger from Untitled, inside the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue and 75th St. in Manhattan and the Cheddar Brat Burger, a limited-run menu item from Shake Shack. I got mine at the Upper East Side location on 86th and Lexington.

The construction: The Pimento Cheeseburger is a burger with pimento cheese spread on toasted pumpernickel bread. The Cheddar Brat Burger is a burger topped with a split, grilled cheddar bratwurst, crispy shallots and Shack Sauce.

Important background information: The burgers are linked here because Untitled, like Shake Shack, falls under the increasingly vast umbrella of restauranteur Danny Meyer’s empire.

Typically I see sandwiches as the product of a collective rather than an individual: Though we tend to credit the chef, it seems exceedingly unlikely that any sandwich I’ve eaten has ever been created from start to finish by any one human. Maybe in some cases it was constructed by the same guy that conceived it, but how often did he also bake the bread, cure the meat, cheddar the cheese and bacon the aioli?

Still, the original Shackburger is so good that if Meyer, upon its completion, took one bite, stepped away, threw his hands up in the air and bowed out of the burger game forever as he watched the lines mounting, I might very well found a cult in his honor. Due to their profusion you can now occasionally be saddled with a subpar Shackburger, but they are, in general, the perfect fast-food cheeseburger: juicy meat, soft bun, crispy lettuce, sweet tomato, creamy sauce. If Meyer left it there and asked that his name never be associated with another cheeseburger, he would at the very least take on the folk-hero status of a Harper Lee, that rare artist with the capacity to create something wonderful and remain content with its success.

What they look like (after Instagramming):

How they taste: Good, but inessential.

Let’s start with the Pimento Cheeseburger: I ordered mine rare, which was probably my mistake. Every place has its own definition of rare, so while I think I technically like my burgers toward the rare side of medium-rare, I usually order rare as code for “as rare as you’ll let me have it” — i.e. decidedly pink on the inside but still cooked through and firm. This felt more like truly rare meat, which has some certain Ron Swanson appeal but can be a little unnerving when you’re not prepared for it. That’s on me, though, so I can’t dock them points for it.

The meat wasn’t particularly notable, though. It seemed like good meat and so it was delicious, but it wasn’t especially juicy or flavorful by burger standards. The pimento cheese spread was by far the best innovation here — creamy and salty, it helped bind the burger to the bread and served a dual role as cheese and condiment. I don’t know why we needed to consolidate our toppings like that, but if you’re ever in some situation wherein someone limits you to either a cheese or a spread on a burger, consider spreadable cheese. I should note that I needed to do some redistributing here myself; as you might notice above, the bulk of the pimento cheese was on the part of the pumpernickel that contained no burger.

About that: I’m not clear on why this burger came on toasted pumpernickel. It seems like it might be for the same of Untitled’s classic coffee-shop motif, but this blog does not endorse sacrificing sandwich integrity on behalf of aesthetic uniformity. The bread was not only too large for the burger, but toasted crunchy enough to make the whole thing a bit of a chore to eat, a quality not quite mitigated by fine pumpernickel flavor. The New York Times called this “a new classic sandwich,” but to me it felt more like a forced conglomeration of discordant elements.

Still good, mind you, as it was still a cheeseburger.

The Cheddar Brat Burger was way more a sausage sandwich than it was a cheeseburger, which is to say that it was delicious but that the inclusion of the burger felt a little bit unnecessary — as much as that pains me to say. Split grilled, the sausage boasted no shortage of surface-area snap, and the crispy shallots were a revelation. They were crunchy enough to hold up under the grease of the burger and sausage and Shack sauce, plus the ketchup and mustard I added. And they added a pleasant but not overpowering flavor, to boot.

Still, I think the best bites of the Cheddar Brat Burger came not when all ingredients were consumed in conjunction but toward the end of the sandwich, when the brat had subsided and I finally got to taste that juicy, meaty Shackburger with a couple of the fried shallots left on top. That doesn’t speak well of the addition of the bratwurst. No disrespect to bratwurst.

Another Doritoed taco, that is to say.

What they’re worth: The Pimento Cheeseburger was $15. The Cheddar Brat Burger was $7.50.

How they rate: 65 for the Pimento Cheeseburger, 80 for the Cheddar Brat Burger. The O.G. Shackburger reigns supreme.

Sandwich of the Week

Having a bicycle and an unexpected free Saturday opens up huge swatches of the five boroughs for sandwich exploration. John Brown smokehouse sits somewhere between the towering Citigroup building and some glimmering high-rise waterfront apartments in an area of Long Island City that would mostly be faded yellow squares in SimCity — glass installers, metalwork, taxicab equipment. It doesn’t feel unsafe or uninteresting, it just doesn’t happen to be a populous thoroughfare filled with restaurants and bars. And that’s fine; many of the best sandwiches live off the beaten path.

The sandwich: The P.B.L.T. from John Brown, 10-43 44th Drive, Long Island City.

The construction: Pork belly, lettuce, tomato and mayo on Texas toast, which here means very thick-cut but untoasted white bread, not the prepared version of Texas toast that is grilled with butter.

Important background information: Everything I read about John Brown before I went recommended the burnt ends sandwich, one of their specialties. But I figured if I already read plenty about the burnt ends sandwich, why not introduce the Internet to something new? There may or may not be a hog shortage coming, friends, and there’ll be plenty of time to eat brisket once we’re priced out of pork.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Man. Oh, man. Holy s@#$.

OK, let me start with the simple stuff while I collect myself. Lettuce, tomato and mayo don’t sound especially exciting on a sandwich, I understand. Boring, even. But those ingredients, in combination, present a delightful and versatile array of light flavors and textures as well as a certain grounding quality. They are crisp, moist, creamy, summery and familiar.

The bread, fresh and thick, is so soft that it wears under the considerable weight of the meat and toppings. It’s sweet and delicious, but if I had one quibble with the construction of this sandwich it would be that the bread is not quite up to the task of containing the rest of the sandwich. No matter; paper towels are available on every table. And, really, if you’re at a barbecue restaurant hoping to keep your hands clean, you and I have nothing in common.

There are two barbecue sauces on the table at John Brown: A vinegary, peppery mild version and a fiery hot one. I used a touch of both. They’re great.

Now on to it:

It’s the pork! The pork, the pork, the pork, the pork.

Pork belly comes from the same part of the pig as our American bacon, which is likely what inspired this sandwich. But this pork belly is not prepared like bacon: It’s slow smoked but not cured, and it’s cut in thick hunks rather than sliced thin and fried. The result is a hearty, fatty, smoky meat. It’s just a touch chewy but not in any way tough, providing just enough resistance against the teeth and jaw to force you to slow down and enjoy the awesome, awesome flavor of the sandwich. Think meat stripped from perfectly prepared smoked spare ribs. Oh it’s so good.

There’s some talk that word of a forthcoming pork shortage could be overblown, but I wouldn’t risk it. In fact, upon finishing the sandwich, I considered going back for a second before realizing it would make the bike ride back to Manhattan unbearable. Got to get that pork in me while I can.

I took the long way home and biked north along Vernon Boulevard toward the Triborough grinning like a madman. With Manhattan’s skyline looming on my left and the 59th St. Bridge dead ahead, I reveled in society’s grand accomplishments, and all the astonishing things we have done with pork.

What it’s worth: The P.B.L.T. cost $11, which is a lot. But it’s a full meal even without any of the awesome-looking available sides.

The rating: 95 out of 100. All sample-size caveats apply and smoked meat can be fickle, but this is one of the best sandwiches I can remember eating in New York City.

Sandwich of the Week

This was supposed to come this weekend, but this weekend came first. That happens sometimes. I had two hits in baseball but struck out in a big spot in the ninth. Totally unclutch. Still reeling.

The sandwich: Adobo torta from the Mexico Blvd truck, which was parked on 48th St. between 6th and 7th in Manhattan on Friday.

The construction: Pork loin “marinated for 24 hours in [their] great grandmother’s adobo,” sour cream, lettuce, tomato, jalapenos, onion and avocado.

A sign on the counter said, “Ask for XXX Spicy,” but I’m never sure if that means deliciously spicy or oh holy hell I asked the Thai place for extra spicy and now they’re obviously punishing me for it spicy. So I sort of mumbled “spicy,” after I ordered and didn’t say “XXX Spicy.” So I don’t know if this was the spicy or regular version. It came with chips and a small plastic container of hot sauce, which I used.

Important background information: I thought I had a nice little window of time carved out to purchase this sandwich, bring it back to the office, photograph it, eat it, then get down to the studio in time for the 1 o’clock thing I had to do there. But then– oh man, this story is going to be really boring. Work!

Point is, I wound up having to eat the thing in something of a hurry on a crowded bench bordering a fountain in Midtown. It was a blustery day and I was trying to secure as much personal space as possible and keep myself reasonably tidy. So I had to politely position myself between fellow bench-bound lunchers, carefully arrange the bag the sandwich came in under one leg and some napkins under the other so they didn’t blow away, then rest the carton on my lap on top of a bunch more napkins to protect my pants from what looked to be a not-insignificant portion of that adobo sauce.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Within five minutes, the people to my immediate left and right have both finished lunch and left the bench, and a group of twenty-something business-casual types are hovering over me, obviously hoping I will scoot down the bench to make room for their full party as any reasonable and decent human being should in that situation.

I am going nowhere. My fists are full of amazing torta, and adobo sauce is dripping down my arms and splattered over my pants. The bag I took so much care to secure is adrift in the fountain, sailing north in the fall breeze. I felt it come loose when I leaned forward to prevent the sauce from spilling on the crotch area of my pants once the spillage was clearly inevitable, but the torta was way, way too good to worry about littering.

About that: Man, oh man. It tastes like what I imagine my Mexican great-grandmother’s cooking would taste like if I were Mexican and knew my great-grandmother. The flavor of the adobo — this is hard to describe — it’s almost cozy, something that makes you feel warm from the inside, not because it’s warm (which it is) but because it’s, well, warming. It makes me feel like I am being hugged by pork, and that’s the best feeling. Does that make any sense? I think it might have to do with cinnamon, but I’m not even certain there’s cinnamon in there.

Oh, and the pork loin — in a layer of thick hunks — is so tender it bites like a cheesesteak or something. Texturally, it makes for a nice contrast with the crispy the lettuce and the creamy avocado. There’s tomato and sour cream on there — Adobo Torta Supreme? — but they don’t factor into the flavor as much as you’d guess as the adobo’s pretty powerful, and if you add some of the hot sauce there’s a healthy kick, I suspect from habaneros but don’t quote me.

The bread’s soft and delicious too. It’s not quite enough to contain the sauce, sour cream and meat, but I’m not sure anything would be. This is an amazing sandwich, but you’re probably going to want to invest in a plate, or use a table, or eat it on laundry day. Or do what I do and just stop caring about getting sauce on your pants. It’s great. So liberating!

At one point, when the younguns in their trousers started straight-up staring at me, I’m pretty sure I actually snarled at them. I am nearly certain I had sauce dripping down my chin while I did it, and they looked rather disturbed and soon sought bench-space elsewhere. Good. Every man for himself out here. See that pile of napkins, dripping with adobo and sour cream, cascading off my pants and onto the bench around me? That’s the flag of my people, bro. My territory.

What it’s worth: I think eight bucks, plus the cost of laundry.

How it rates: 92 out of 100. Hall of Fame.

Sandwich of the Week

The sandwich: Chopped pork sandwich from Allen & Sons Barbecue, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The construction: Chopped pork and cole slaw on a hamburger bun. Served with an East Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Came with a side of hush puppies, which were amazing.

Important background information: As I mentioned, I spent most of last weekend on the road. Before I went, I researched the best barbecue places that were on my general route — as I pretty much always do. Since I was going to be in Eastern North Carolina, I was looking for the type of barbecue typical of that region. Presumably you know all about regional barbecue styles by now, and how Eastern North Carolina is one of them.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Pretty delicious, because pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw are pretty delicious. I wished the pork itself had a little more smoke flavor and some more diverse texture — those qualities, in reviews of Allen & Sons, were what drew me to the place. But maybe mine was not the best example of their barbecue, the last scraps from a butt or something, which would speak pretty well of their barbecue because it was still porky and tasty. With the vinegar sauce, especially, it sang. It added a great peppery tang to the sandwich, and the only thing stopping me from drenching the thing in the sauce was the fear I’d soak the bun.

The cole slaw was cole slaw. It added creaminess, texture and sweetness to complement the saltiness of the pork.

What’s worth noting, I suppose, is that as fine a sandwich as this was, I’ve had better East Carolina-style barbecue pork sandwiches in New York City. Multiple times, really. And that makes some sense: It’s a widely heralded cuisine, and there’s nothing about North Carolina that should make it the only place able to produce its own styles of barbecue. I mean… right? It’s not like it’s in the water or in the pigs. You want to reproduce any one of this nation’s barbecue cultures elsewhere, there really shouldn’t be anything holding you back (save maybe some ordinances about where you can cook with woodsmoke). And so people do. These last 10 years have been great ones for barbecue.

And that’s not to big-time Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I use New York as the example because it’s where I live and where I’ve tried the most pork sandwiches. I guess I’m wondering if my now 15-year-old habit of driving places to eat local stuff is growing increasingly silly as communication and lines of distribution improve — even if I’ll still always eat local stuff when I drive places.

But then if that’s the case, why am I not regularly eating hush puppies this good?

What it’s worth: I believe it cost about $9 with the hush puppies.

The rating: 72 out of 100.

Sandwich of the Week

Hat tip to @OGDougKopf and local legend White Sean for joining me on two trips to eat this sandwich.

The sandwich: No. 7 Sub Club from the No. 7 Sub in the Plaza Hotel basement. Note that the sandwich in question is exclusive to the Plaza Hotel location. TedQuarters celebrates the luxury lifestyle.

The construction: Turkey, Canadian bacon, jalapeno mayo, bbq potato chips, tomato and pico de lettuce on toasted french bread.

Important background information: Seriously, the Plaza Hotel basement is all sorts of awesome. Overpriced and touristy? Sure. But a beacon of deliciousness in midtown’s vast wasteland of pay-per-pound corporate food bars, and an elegantly decorated one at that. In addition to the No. 7 Sub, there’s a Luke’s Lobster and a Billy’s — for my money, the city’s best bakery. For a treat, walk in the main entrance off Grand Army Plaza (the midtown one, not the Brooklyn one) and pretend you’re some kind of baller.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: This is such a good sandwich, but it’s hard to put my finger on why.

It’s not the turkey and it’s probably not the Canadian bacon. Neither takes anything away from the sandwich, for sure. The turkey adds all-important bulk, a meatiness that prevents this hero from being a mere mess of toppings and condiments. The Canadian bacon — or “ham,” as we call it here in the States — lends some of that too, plus maybe some saltiness and a gentle nod toward porky flavor.

But it is some combination of the bread, chips, pico de lettuce and jalapeno mayo that make a seemingly ordinary roster of ingredients a very decidedly extraordinary sandwich, in flavor, in texture and in execution, from the first toasty bite to the final morsels scratched from the wax paper and licked from the fingers.

The bread is perfect. Warm from the toaster and crunchy on the outside but still soft in the middle and clearly same-day fresh, it feels like the ideal vehicle for a classic deli combo or, frankly, any hearty sandwich.

The chips, somewhere buried in the middle, add a familiar sweet and smoky taste, and some mid-bite crunch. The jalapeno mayo, present throughout but never overwhelming, brings creaminess and fire, a back-of-the-mouth heat that emboldens every other flavor in the sandwich.

And the pico de lettuce — I don’t even know what this stuff is beyond some sort of dressed lettuce, exactly, but it’s amazing. It’s delicious and clean-tasting, almost refreshing, and both moist and crispy. It provides a cole slaw-like effect but it is not nearly so vinegary and it contains no mayo. That’s clearly the difference-maker here, actually, and my limited food-describing capabilities prevent me from doing it justice. You should probably go check out this sandwich.

But it’s everything, really. It all just works. It doesn’t taste like they’re trying to be too fancy or go crazy with odd ingredients; it tastes like someone with a very strong understanding of what makes sandwiches great took a familiar classic and elevated it to its ideal form. It’s good enough that I want to go back to No. 7 Sub a few more times and try everything on their menu — high praise from a dude pretty dedicated to trying and reviewing as wide a variety of sandwiches and sandwich-purveyors as his budget and waistline will allow.

What it’s worth: Herein lies the rub. Presumably rent in the Plaza Hotel basement does not come cheap, plus all the ingredients in the No. 7 Sub Club are clearly high quality. Accordingly, the No. 7 Sub Club costs $13.

How it rates: 93 out of 100. I really loved this sandwich. If it were three or four dollars cheaper, it’d be among the very highest-rated sandwiches reviewed on this site. Even so, it’s a deserving Hall of Famer.