Sandwich? of the Week

The candidate: Peanut butter between Thin Mints from the analog TedQuarters kitchen. Prepared annually whenever we run out of Tagalongs.

The construction: A dollop of Skippy creamy peanut butter sandwiched between two Thin Mints.

Arguments for sandwich-hood: It’s a familiar, incontrovertible sandwich filling — peanut butter — sandwiched between two identical (and carby) items.

Arguments against: The things doing the sandwiching are cookies. Also, it’s hard to argue that the peanut butter is the focus of the sandwich here: It’s not really the dominant taste so much as a binding agent connecting two delicious Thin Mints. You probably wouldn’t call this a “peanut butter sandwich on Thin Mints” unless you were trying to be cute with it.

How it tastes: Oh, it’s great. It’s a bit messy — Thin Mints are not meant for containing peanut butter, so the peanut butter slides out when you bite into it and you wind up having to lick off the little ring of peanut butter that forms around the sides. But that’s fine, because it’s delicious peanut butter.

But when you get the bites that are both Thin Mint and peanut butter, they’re awesome. Obviously I don’t need to tell you how great peanut butter and chocolate go together, and presumably if you’re familiar with the Thin Mint you’re also familiar with the Tagalong and you know how well Peanut Butter and Chocolate combine with the crunchy texture of a cookie.

I’m not even a big mint guy (well, I’m a big, totally mint guy, like in the 1980’s sense; I don’t generally love things that are mint-flavored, is what I mean to say), but throw in that little hint of cooling mint flavor with the warmness of the chocolate and peanut butter and the crunchiness of the cookie and now we’re talking about f@#$ing dessert.

What it’s worth: Uhh…. I really have no idea. My wife buys the Girl Scout Cookies. Those things are expensive though. I suspect they have uncut cocaine in them. Also: How is it possible that the suggested serving size for Tagalongs is two cookies? It should be no less than seven.

The verdict: I’m conflicted, but I think not a sandwich. It has more to do with the bagel-and-cream-cheese thing than with this being a dessert. The peanut butter here is a nice complement to the Thin Mints, but this thing is primarily Thin Mints. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m willing to consider and devour ice-cream sandwiches, which I suspect are indeed sandwiches. I am that dedicated.

Sandwich of the Week

Big thanks to sandwich enthusiast @BobbyBigWheel for tipping me off to this thing and joining me for the festivities.

The sandwich: Ju Pa Bao (a.k.a. Macanese pork chop bun) from Pok Pok Wing, Rivington and Suffolk in Manhattan.

The construction: A fried pork chop on a Portuguese roll. That is all.

Important background information: Pok Pok Wing primarily sells wings made from a Vietnamese family recipe from a former co-worker of a chef named Alan Ricker who is lauded for his Thai restaurants in Portland, Oregon. The Ju Pa Bao is, per the Wikipedia, one of the most famous and popular snacks in Macau. I ate it in a Lower East Side bar next to a 50-something British photographer and his mid-20s girlfriend, both of whom complimented my looks and told me they had an open relationship. New York City is a strange and interesting place.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: You don’t even know. You don’t.

F@#$.

Look at that unassuming thing. Just look at it for a second. It looks like something that shouldn’t even merit a shrug no less several hundred words here, and you’re probably thinking, “oh Ted’s run dry now, just reviewing a plain ol’ pork chop on a bun.” But that’s because you don’t know.

Holy hell. There’s only two things and they’re both amazing. First, the bread: Piping hot, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside and sopping up just a little bit of the grease from the pork, bready and delicious.

Then, the pork: Not terribly thick but not too thin either, the perfect balance to the bread, and so tender and juicy, and just singing with pork flavor. It’s seasoned on the outside with what I’d guess is salt and black pepper and some garlic, pleasant and familiar flavors that remind me of my mom’s fried chicken only then, lo, it’s amazing pork.

There’s just one issue, one minor setback that’s going to keep this sandwich out of the Hall of Fame. There’s a bone in there. It’s a pork chop, remember, and it’s cooked with the bone in and they leave the bone in when they serve it up on the bone.

It’s not a terrible thing to negotiate, plus I recognize that there are some culinary advantages to leaving it that way. And it’s apparently the traditional way, for whatever that’s worth.

But everything else about this sandwich demands that I absolutely punish it with giant disgusting wolf-bites, and here I needed to be tentative because I knew that bone was threatening. It alters the sandwich-eating experience, and not in a good way.

Which is not to say the sandwich-eating experience wasn’t a pleasant one. It was amazing. This sandwich is outstanding. It’s just falling short of the Hall of Fame because I had to nibble at times instead of gobble and this is America bro.

What it’s worth: $8, and it’s a solid but not huge meal.

How it rates: 89 out of 100.

 

Sandwich? of the Week

The candidate: Texas Hand Roll from Hill Country Chicken, 25th and Broadway in Manhattan. The original Hill Country is an excellent barbecue joint around the corner with the best brisket I’ve had in New York City. The fried chicken at this place matches that standard. It’s good stuff. Also, there are a bunch of games in the basement (though I was alone today and the basement was closed).

The construction: Chicken fingers with cole slaw and pepper jelly in a tortilla, served in paper sno-cone holder-thing. The menu said the Texas Hand Roll has almonds and toasted sesame seeds inside, but I neither saw nor tasted either. That’s a mixed blessing as far as I’m concerned: I like almonds and was intrigued by their inclusion here, but I don’t much care for the taste of sesame.

Arguments for sandwich-hood: Meat (and other stuff) wrapped in bread again. I decided the chicken and lamb combo pita from the Halal Guys was a sandwich. Kind of portable.

Arguments against: While it’s listed under “sandwiches” on the menu, it’s not called a sandwich — it’s called a “Texas Hand Roll.” Non-burrito sandwich stuff inside a tortilla is generally known as a “wrap,” the sandwich-hood of which has not yet been determined by this website but which has a name distinct from “sandwich.” Also: pretty messy, what with the cole slaw.

How it tastes: A little bit confusing, to be honest.

Now look: Nothing in here isn’t great. The chicken tenders are piping hot, crispy and perfectly seasoned on the outside and moist on the inside. The jelly, sweet and gooey with just a hint of peppery front-of-the-mouth spice to keep things interesting, goes well with the salty chicken. And it’s hard to imagine many sandwiches or sandwich-type food items upon which the tangy, crispy cole slaw — wet but not watery, creamy but not drenched in mayo — would not taste fantastic.

But whether it was because the almonds were missing or because the tortilla added almost nothing or because my hands wound up sticky or because the ingredients were not evenly distributed — some bites were all chicken, some were all cole slaw — about halfway through eating this thing I started wondering why it needs to exist.

Chicken tenders are already portable! Hell, they’re already meat wrapped in bread (though not sandwiches on their own, obviously). And if I were served chicken tenders with the pepper jelly for dipping and a side of cole slaw, I could have enjoyed nearly the exact same effects I got from the Texas Hand Roll and actually kept my hands cleaner.

I’d have needed a fork for the cole slaw, I guess. But since there were precious few delicious bites combining the chicken, the jelly and the cole slaw, it’s hard to argue that wrapping them all up together in a tortilla had much of a purpose here besides suggesting they be served together.

The verdict: No. I’m going to say not a sandwich. For one thing, it wasn’t completely wrapped up and it needed to be eaten out of a cone for neatness, so it’s not going to settle the inevitably forthcoming wrap debate on its own.

For another — and this may be shakier territory, I’ll admit — I think I’m prepared to argue that for a sandwich to really be a sandwich it needs to be a sandwich for some purpose. It doesn’t have to be a strong purpose, mind you: Maybe the bread is just there to hold together a bunch of ingredients meant to be bitten into at the same time or to keep the hands from getting covered with dressing or because bread is delicious and will go nicely with whatever other ingredients are involved.

But just wrapping something up in bread when it doesn’t necessarily make it neater, tastier or more cohesive doesn’t seem like creating a sandwich in the spirit of sandwiches. I’m still hashing this one out, though.

What it’s worth: It costs $9, which doesn’t seem too bad until you realize that a two-piece dark meat chicken with a side and a biscuit costs the same. And the biscuits (as seen above) are amazing.

Sandwich of the Week

Lots of Steak N’ Shake talk in New York since one opened up a couple of blocks from my office. I waited until I got to Florida to give it a try.

The sandwich: Western BBQ Double Steakburger from Steak N’ Shake, many locations. This particular burger came from the Steak N’ Shake on Route 1 in Stuart, Fla.

The construction: Two burger patties, with cheese (American? Cheddar?) between them and on top, bacon, fried onions, regular onions and barbecue sauce on a toasted bun.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: What am I supposed to be comparing this to again?

Because when Steak N’ Shake arrived in New York, people acted like it belonged in the Shake Shack/Five Guys/In-N-Out pantheon of fast-ish food burgers, and that’s just not true. Not even close.

Straight up, no disrespect: The meat’s just not as good. On those burgers, you taste the delicious hamburgery goodness of the ground beef. On this, the meat’s a little chewy and kind of gray, not particularly plentiful or flavorful, and mostly serves the base upon which the toppings can do their bidding.

As for the toppings: The fried onions are great. They don’t taste like onions at all, which is fine by me. They’re basically just little bits of salty fry-stuff sprinkled on top of the burger, and they maintain their crunchiness throughout. Easily the best part of the sandwich.

The barbecue sauce, on the other hand, is a bit sweet for my tastes and without much tang to it. I might have preferred ketchup, and that’s a pretty damning thing to say about barbecue sauce. The bacon is good: It tastes like bacon, which is better than most non-Wendy’s fast-food burger places can say, and its lack of crunchiness is more than made up for by the fried onions.

The cheese is creamy but its flavor gets overpowered by that of the barbecue sauce. The bun is notably good: A touch toasted, but still soft on the inside and clearly fresh.

The Steak N’ Shake burger holds up reasonably well against the best that the national chains have to offer and — in Florida at least — is comparably priced. If I were choosing between this and a Double Baconator from Wendy’s though, it’s hard to say I’d continue picking this after the novelty wore off.

What it’s worth: $4.99 with fries and a soda, which is a good deal. But if you’re going to want to eat in the dining room because you need to photograph this thing and the interior lighting sucks in your rental car, know that Steak N’ Shake has waiter service so you’ll have to drop a few extra bucks for a tip.

How it rates: 65 out of 100.

Sandwich? of the Week

I’m in pretty woeful shape right now, and since a) Port St. Lucie offers mostly greasy chain food and b) the Brooklyn pickup baseball season approaches, I’ve been trying to eat healthy until I head south for Spring Training. Turns out it kind of sucks. I relapsed a little this afternoon.

The candidate: Chicken and lamb combo on pita from the Halal Guys cart on the corner of 53rd and 6th in Manhattan. There are often several Halal Guys carts on various nearby corners — the ones where the guys have the bright yellow shirts and the Halal Guys logo are all affiliated. Sometimes one will have a really long line while one of the others is practically empty. It’s the same food. Get on a short line.

The construction: A soft, warm pita topped with chunks of chicken and lamb, lettuce, white sauce and hot sauce. They put it together while you stand there so it’s fully customizable. Onions, tomatoes and barbecue sauce are also available, but the pictured configuration is the one I almost always go with.

Arguments for sandwich-hood: It’s meat wrapped in bread. Though it’s messy, it’s at least vaguely portable. The focal point is inarguably the stuff inside the bread, not the bread itself. The cart itself calls it a sandwich, and it is ordered that way to distinguish it from the platter.

Arguments against: There’s only one piece of bread stuff. Lamb meat on a pita is usually called a gyro. Also, it’s very messy, and inevitably a bunch of the inside stuff falls out onto your hands and desk and shirt and keyboard. You’d probably be better off eating it with a fork if you were some type of sucker.

How it tastes: Spicy. That hot sauce is no joke. I specified “a little” hot sauce while ordering — something I only know to do from experience — and still wound up with a lunch to clear the sinuses and scald the esophagus.

I’m on board with that, though, and this is a pretty awesome meal. The meats are both tender and peppery. The lamb in particular is amazingly seasoned, kind of like a peppery lamb meatball. And it all works well in conjunction with the slightly tangy, slightly sweet, creamy white sauce. The lettuce provides the crunch and a pathetic little nod to your recent health kid. The pita, which they heat on the grill before constructing the thing, is warm and strong, chewy and a little toasty.

My one quibble would be that there’s a ton of meat, which is awesome, but they only add the white sauce at the end, after the lettuce. So the effect is that you get a bunch of pure-meat bites with no white sauce on there, and a bunch of delicious white sauce wasted on the lettuce that falls into the foil. You can try to reconstruct it as you go, but it takes some effort.

Considering the price it might be asking too much, but I think to put this thing into the realm of the sublime they could lay down the chicken, then hit it with white sauce, then the lamb, then more white sauce, then the lettuce. No meat left unsauced. And then if you lose some lettuce, BFD.

It’s worth noting, I guess, that this particular cart has a reputation as the city’s best street-meat. It’s really good, but I think part of why it gets talked up so much is that many “foodie”-types aren’t willing to try just any street-meat cart, and if they were they’d find that many of them are also really good. This one’s definitely a touch better, but I think a lot of that has to do with the perpetual freshness of the meat that comes from the constant lines. It’s a positive feedback loop of sorts.

Also, while I enjoy food from Halal Guys all the time, it’s decidedly not the best street meat I’ve had in the city. That honor belongs to the “From Atlantis With Love” cart that used to be outside CBGBs. If anyone knows where that guy sets up these days or if he’s still out there, please let me know. He deserves a review here, if not the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness.

The verdict: With apologies to the B family of Rochester and Maryland, this is a sandwich. It’s borderline I’ll admit, but it is definitely still meat wrapped in bread that you pick up and eat with your hands, and its focal point is certainly the part inside the bread. Lots of sandwiches that are decidedly sandwiches are messy, so that issue alone is not enough for me to reject its sandwich-hood. That it’s a gyro shouldn’t change anything; I’d say that a gyro, like a hamburger, is a type of sandwich.

What it’s worth: The best lunch deal in these parts in a landslide. This thing costs $4.

 

Sandwich of the Week

I’m a big man. I need a big Shredder.

The sandwich: Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly from Num Pang, two locations in Manhattan. This one came from the 41st St. location near Grand Central Station. The other spot is just south of Union Square (more on that in a bit).

The construction: Five-spice glazed pork belly (obviously) with pickled Asian pear, cilantro, carrot, cucumber and chili mayo on a semolina roll from Parisi bakery.

Important background info: Several items. First: The owners of Num Pang used to run a Cambodian restaurant on the Lower East Side called Kampuchea that was among my favorite places to eat in the city. It served amazing sandwiches. Long before I reviewed sandwiches online or knew much about the Vietnamese banh mi, Kampuchea introduced me to the wonders of the banh-mi stuff — pickled carrots, cucumbers and cilantro, most notably — atop a sandwich.

Second: “Num Pang” means sandwich in the Cambodian language Khmer.

Third: At both Num Pang locations and on the Num Pang website, there are signs reading, “Our sandwiches were created to be enjoyed as they are. Please, no modifications!”

I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I appreciate that the chefs responsible for these sandwiches put thought into how the ingredients are going to interact, and that they want the products that represent them to be the ones they actually created. For this reason, I now almost always order sandwiches for review as they’re listed on the menu — I used to modify some (usually by omitting onions). Also, I imagine prohibiting modifications helps keep the line at Num Pang moving at peak hours.

On the other hand, the adamance with which they herald the rule does come off somewhere between pretentious and self-conscious. Plus, if it extends to the chili-mayo (and I’m not sure if it does), I imagine they’re alienating a ton of potential customers who vehemently dislike mayo and don’t feel like having to scrape it off their bread just because the chef said they had to have it on there.

What it looks like (in this crappy, shadowy photo):

How it tastes: Outstanding. Let’s talk about that part first.

The bread is fresh and toasted to just a touch of brownness around the edges, and it’s just thick enough to hold up under the intense moisture of the sandwich without making it too bready. It’s a pretty neat trick the bread pulls, really: Throughout eating the sandwich you feel like it’s so messy you must be losing stuff out the sides and back of the roll, but somehow it all stays contained in there. (Some of that’s on you, of course, assuming you’re the careful and experienced sandwich-eater that I am and you bite at the correct angles to push stuff back inside the boundaries of the bread. It’s not magic bread, fellas.)

The base ingredients that come standard on all Num Pang sandwiches play nicely. The cucumber adds a ton of crunch, the carrot brings some sweetness and the cilantro some bite. The chili mayo helps bind everything together, like mayo does, plus contributes some spice and tangy mayo flavor.

The pork belly is so tender and juicy that it’s almost hard to distinguish from the mushy pear, and they work together in a delicious mix of sweet and savory flavors. There’s something warm and earthy in there — ginger? — and definitely cinnamon. And the combination of the pork and pear is so moist that the juices were dripping down my hand and spilling into the little cardboard dish, making the bread’s ability to hold up under pressure that much more impressive.

Here’s the issue: It’s just not very big.

Yeah, yeah, that’s what she said and all that. Seriously though, I don’t want to sound like a cretin here, and I imagine if I saw the calorie count for this sandwich I might be singing a very different tune, but I do think the size of this sandwich needs to be held against it.

I ate at the Union Square location of Num Pang for the first time on Saturday night with my wife and enjoyed the delicious veal-meatball sandwich. Immediately upon finishing it, I told her that I needed to go back to try to the pork-belly sandwich — the decision that led to this writeup.

Then, after I ate the pork-belly sandwich on Monday, my first thought was that I should go back and try the pulled pork or brisket. Both times, immediately after eating a delicious sandwich, I was thinking about the next sandwich I should eat and not the delicious sandwich I just ate!

Part of that’s on me. Both times I ate a meal at Num Pang it was a couple of hours later than I normally eat that meal, so both times I was quite hungry. And it’s not like they don’t serve sides or the sandwiches are prohibitively expensive.

But at the same time, with a sandwich with this many ingredients, you’re necessarily going to have a limited number of bites that boast the full distribution of stuff. And when it’s this small, it’s like… two. Two bites of sublime, transcendent sandwich awesomeness, and then a bunch of others that are various sub-combinations of the delicious ingredients, hints and notes of the greatness to keep you involved while you search and push and rearrange to try to recapture that grandeur.

Which is to say: It’s a sandwich that leaves you wanting more. Or at least that it’s a sandwich that very decidedly left me wanting more.

What it’s worth: $7.75 plus tax. That might seem steep for a sandwich of this size, but it’s an adequate lunch if you’re not a glutton, plus it’s pretty easy to tell from the taste that they’re using excellent ingredients.

How it rates: 88 out of 100. If you don’t have my appetite you could easily put this in the Hall of Fame though.

 

Sandwich of the Week

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.

Sandwich of the Week?

A new take on an old feature, in part inspired by a conversation I had with Scanwiches creator Jon Chonko before our Q&A session a couple weeks ago. It turned out Jon and I had different definitions of what constituted a “sandwich,” and though I tried, I could not express what I thought made a sandwich a sandwich. I operate with a relatively liberal definition of the term, but I rely mostly on the ol’ Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it” instinct.

Anyway, since I fear much of the sandwich writing on this site is growing stagnant, and since I never intended the sandwich reviews to be mistaken for legitimate food-criticism so much as food appreciation and investigation, I figured I’d endeavor something a bit different in 2012: Eating and discussing various sandwichy foods and determining whether they are in fact sandwiches to work toward a distinct definition of the term.

A lofty, perhaps unobtainable and entirely semantic goal, I realize. But the truth is, nearly every man on my father’s side of my family besides me has been an architect or an engineer (the two exceptions are SCUBA divers, incidentally), and while the math part of those fields failed me, the appreciation for them did not. I suspect my sandwich-making success while employed at the deli came thanks in part to those engineering instincts, what with the sense of proportion and structure necessary to conceive and construct great sandwiches.

So I hope spending more time thinking about the way sandwiches are built — and the way non-sandwiches are built — can provide me further insight into how to build great sandwiches, which I will then also probably detail here because really I just don’t lead that interesting a life.

There’ll still be traditional TedQuarters sandwich reviews when appropriate, of course.

The candidate: K roll from Buddha BBeeQ, 2nd Ave. between 91st and 92nd in Manhattan.

The construction: Large piece of nori (seaweed) wrapped into a cone shape, stuffed with a layer of rice, marinated and grilled Korean beef, and assorted vegetables. I ordered mine “spicy,” which meant there was some thickish red hot sauce in there.

Arguments for sandwich-hood: The K Roll features meat (and vegetables) wrapped in starch and it can be eaten with the hands without too much mess.

Counter-arguments: With or without fish in there it’s pretty clearly sushi, and if you’re extending the definition of “sandwich” to include all sushi that can be picked up with the fingers, you’re heading down a foggy road on a dark night.

How it tastes: Kind of confusing, honestly. I like sushi, and I love the flavor that every Korean beef has that I still can’t put my finger on (seriously, can someone tell me what this flavor is?). But the K Roll takes some getting used to, because the seaweed on the outside brings you to the ocean and hands you a fishing pole, and then you reel in a cow and some pickled vegetables.

The beef tasted good and the proportion of beef to vegetables seemed about right, and it had about the right amount of spice to keep things interesting without getting out of hand.

But the texture seemed off: It required a lot of nori to keep the K Roll intact, so the outside layer was a bit chewier and filmier than I’d hoped. The Wikipedia entry for sushi stresses that temaki rolls — this style — should be eaten immediately after its prepared so the nori doesn’t lose its crispness. I took this home before eating it, so maybe that’s on me. Still, I only live a few blocks away.

There was also a lot of rice here, which works fine with sushi when you’re dipping it in soy sauce and wasabi and in burritos when it gets all mixed up with delicious burrito-stuff, but it made parts of the K Roll kind of dry. They included a packet of soy sauce with the order, so I shot that into the second roll, which made the rice wetter and the whole thing saltier and soy saucier and thus more delicious.

On the whole, pretty good, but not nearly the best thing I’ve had from Buddha BBeeQ, which has so far proven to be one of the better and more interesting takeout places in my new neighborhood.

What it’s worth: The K Roll cost $8. It’s a little small to be a full dinner for a hungry person. Probably the type of thing you want to order with an appetizer, or to share if you’re into the family-style thing. You can figure that stuff out though, you’re smart.

The verdict: Not a sandwich. Still a perfectly pleasant item of food, but I’d say that the nori/rice wrap is not close enough to bread to make this a sandwich. They’re too prevalent a part of the eating experience here, whereas I feel on a sandwich the bread is in most cases a complement to the ingredients contained therein (hence “a turkey sandwich on whole wheat” and not “a whole wheat sandwich with turkey”).

Again: Just because something isn’t a sandwich doesn’t mean it’s not good. Many of my favorite foods are not sandwiches. But since I’m now, as of today, in the business of figuring out what is and what is not a sandwich, we start with the determination that the K Roll decidedly is not.

Sandwich of the Week

Meant to write this up earlier but then suddenly Jose Reyes was on the stupid Marlins.

The sandwich: Barbecue pork banh mi from Banh Mi Saigon, 198 Grand Street in Manhattan.

The construction: Pork (in little pieces, not quite ground but definitely not pulled) in some sort of sweet seasoning with a thin slice of Vietnamese ham, cucumbers, jalapenos, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots on french bread. When I ordered, the man at the counter asked if I wanted it spicy. I said yes, as I always do.

Important background information: I can’t put a finger on exactly what I’m looking for in a banh mi, but I know I’ll know it when I taste it. It has become something of a white whale. Actually, I should amend that: I’m looking for a Southeast Asian-inspired sandwich that ranks among the inner-circle Hall of Famers reviewed on this site, if not necessarily a banh mi proper. I’m pretty sure I’ve had one in the past, from the now-defunct Lower East Side Cambodian restaurant Kampuchea, long before I reviewed sandwiches on the Internet.

(Whoa: A quick Google tangent tells me that the chef at Kampuchea now owns a sandwich shop with two locations in Manhattan called Num Pang that I’ve been meaning to get to. So that just jumped up my list.)

Anyway, I’m soliciting recommendations for great banh mi and banh mi-esque sandwiches. I know the one I’m looking for is out there somewhere. It is not at Banh Mi Saigon, but you’ll find out about that in like three seconds.

What it looks like:

How it tastes: Delicious, but I knew immediately that my banh mi hunt would continue.

The flavor here was nearly perfect: Whatever was seasoning the pork had a pleasant sweetness to it that jived with the tanginess of the daikon and the sharpness of the cilantro. And the bread was good too: Crusty, toasty, tasty, bready. fresh-tasting. The whole works. How you want bread to be.

And the single slice of ham, though barely noticeable, presented just a hint of familiar cold-cut flavor, something vaguely grounding: This sandwich reminds you that it is a sandwich. I’m for it.

It wasn’t particularly spicy though. I’ve found there’s a pretty massive variance in the spiciness of jalapenos, and maybe the lot on this sandwich just happened to be underwhelming. More on that in a minute.

And more than anything, I wanted it to be, well, wetter. It was unclear if there was any sort of dressing on the sandwich, and if the pork was in a sauce, not much of it made it onto the bread. Usually dryness is not a problem associated with any type of pork sandwich given the greasiness associated with that meat. And on a banh mi in particular you’d think some of the vegetables might make it almost soggy. Yet this sandwich clearly needed some sort of moistener.

There was a bottle of sriracha on the counter near where I ate, so I squirted a generous serving on the second half of my sandwich, and then whoa nelly. Something about the hot sauce amplified all the awesome flavors of the meats and vegetables, plus gave the whole thing more moisture and spiciness. The sauce catapulted the sandwich to obvious Hall of Fame levels, and the rest of the sandwich was devoured in delirious sandwich frenzy.

What it’s worth: That’s the other thing! This sandwich cost $4.50. That’s like the price of a Big Mac in New York City (Ed. Note: Is it? Has anyone ever had a Big Mac in New York City?), and for that at Banh Mi Saigon you get a huge, fresh, awesome sandwich.

How it rates: 91 out of 100. A deserving Hall of Famer, but not the no-doubt first-ballot inner-circle guy I’m looking for.

 

Sandwich of the Week

Lo, a vegetarian option!

The sandwich: Spicy Falafel Pita from Kulushkat, Dean St. between 5th Avenue and Flatbush in Brooklyn.

The construction: Ahh, a lot of stuff. Spicy falafel, definitely. Hummus, some sort of eggplant goo, red-cabbage salad, and maybe some other things too.

Important background information: Falafel might be the No. 1 all-time drunk food. I think it’s the name. Three easy syllables, perfect for chanting once you’ve reached that shameless level of drunkenness where you don’t really care how you appear to the outside world because you’re young and free and you feel great and you just want to let everyone know how much you’re about to enjoy this falafel. “FA-LA-FEL!” Also, it’s fried, delicious, and chock full of carbs for sopping up that booze.

Come to think of it, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a falafel sober. Maybe falafels are just awesome all the time and I’m missing out. Especially since I really don’t drink all that often, so I pass up a lot of good opportunities to eat falafel.

Kulushkat is about a block from Uncle Barry’s, a new bar in Park Slope owned by a couple of my friends. You should check out both: Kulushkat because they make a hell of a falafel (more below), Uncle Barry’s because it’s a fine bar run by people I know and there’s a Mortal Kombat console in the back. Also, it boasts better odds than most bars that I’ll be there. Say hello. I’ll be the dude with the awesome hair, shouting about falafel.

What it looks like in the soft yellow glow of a Flatbush Avenue streetlight: 


How it tastes: Oh hell yes. Did I mention I’m drunk right now? I mean not right now while I’m writing about it, but back then when I was eating it. In retrospect it’s a testament to my experience as a sandwich blogger that I had the wherewithal and dedication to photograph the thing while stumbling toward the subway after several shots of celebratory Jameson because hey you guys opened a bar!

Anyway, that’s not important now. The falafel is crunchy, not too greasy and has just the right amount of peppery spice — not flaming hot sauce, kick-you-in-the-face-spice, more of a back-of-the-mouth type deal, something more subtle that sort of envelops the whole experience without overwhelming it at all. The cabbage adds crispiness of an entirely different texture than the falafel — oh, and a different temperature, too. That’s good, and an underrated sandwich element, I think. A mixture of piping hot and nicely chilled ingredients. A sandwich construction inefficiency, maybe.

The hummus is creamy and tasty, and the eggplant goo is mushy and sweet. The pita is soft and itself warm, and holds up under the duress of the various wet ingredients.

Oh — something important: I noted, even in my drunkenness, that the dude making the sandwich took time to stagger the ingredients. Scoop in some cabbage, some eggplant, a falafel, then some cabbage, some eggplant, another falafel, and on like that. I must have been visibly drunk, but he still invested the time to properly craft the sandwich for appropriate ingredient variability. It was not unappreciated, good sir.

I’ll amount that my judgment was less than perfect, given the circumstances. But I have not a single complaint about this sandwich. It was awesome.

What it costs: $6. It probably wasn’t enough to be dinner (for me), but it seemed like a good value nonetheless.

How it rates: 91 out of 100. A Hall of Famer, drunk or otherwise. I think.