17 November 2008

An Ode to Sandwiches

For some unknown reason, I am always seized with this carnal craving for a very particular dish or food group whenever I am in after-school choir practice. There is no explaining it, but every week, without fail, it happens, and I'm nearly keeling over because I am so hellbent on finding a juicy pink steak, some mushroom pasta, or some tortellini. Today, the food group of choice -- or, more accurately, of involuntary spastic craving -- was cheese. Ask Elizabeth; I was spouting out "mozzarella sticks," "cheesy ravioli," and other such novelties between verses for the entire rehearsal.

But at the heart of the matter was a very simple but very pressing issue. I was a girl who needed a grilled cheese. And with that said, I have decided to compile a very sincere, very dedicated declaration of my love for the art of the sandwich. First off, were you aware that John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, is credited with pioneering this delectable dish? (He didn't invent it, though; he was just a fond champion.) Wikipedia is such a joy.

La Divina's Il Tacchino panini -- I'm usually at this cute little place to get gelato (their crema di limon is like nothing else on this earth; it's exactly like a lemon icebox pie, and it's got a dreamy consistency), but every now and then, when I have company, I stick around for a sandwich and I'm never disappointed. The ciabatta bread is, well, ciabatta bread -- I'm not sure anyone has ever raved about plain old ciabatta, but it's certainly decent. Inside are thin-thin-thinly sliced smoked turkey, gorgeous avocado that is unfailingly green, diced red onions that are small enough to not overpower, and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I always ask for dijon mustard, because really, when can you go wrong with mustard on a sandwich?!

Sucre's sashimi tuna sandwich -- I actually haven't had this one in a little while so I'm having a hard time remembering the ingredients; I'm a foodie but not a cook, so I have a keen memory for finished products but very rarely pick out and remember particular flavors and ingredients. (I'm working on it!) Anyway, the sandwich is comprised of a soft kind of French bread that is the polar opposite of Leidenheimer's (it's firmer and moister, so it stays intact and dignified for the duration of your sandwich experience) but which lends itself nicely to the rest of the item. Then you've got strips of delicious, tender, perfect sashimi tuna enrobed in black sesame seeds, some sandwichy green vegetable garnishes, and a sensational but simple wasabi aioli that is mellow with a kick.

Camellia Grill's cheeseburger -- Hands down the best burger I've ever had. When I get married, I will bend over backwards to ensure that my wedding is catered with these things. They're just yummy slabs of plain ground beef, of a manageable but thoroughly satisfying thickness, cooked on that buttery Camellia grill until sizzling and served on the squishiest of squishy white hamburger buns. The best way to go is to get it dressed (mayonnaise is, for me, only okay when it's on a Camellia Grill burger); bonus points if you also ask for grilled onions, which are diced up and practically caramelized in the same butter in which the burger is cooked. Some might say this universal grill is brutish, but I think it's genius; I'm positive that the union of all the different items on that one cooktop makes for a sandwich that has subtle nuances and a pleasing sense of togetherness. I like my burger to have faint traces of fried egg in its flavor, and I like my onions to have faint traces of bacon grease or burger juice. Scrumptious.

Domilise's half-shrimp, half-oyster po-boy -- How can I possibly do justice to the way that bread crumbles at the slightest touch into a million tiny flakes? How can words possibly attest to the euphoria incited by that first bite into bread that is at once crunchy and soft? How can poetry possibly convey the glory of a single fried oyster bathed in Tabasco hot sauce? Enough said.

St. James Cheese Company's delicious concoction of salami, buffalo mozzarella, and pesto -- I haven't blogged about this place yet because I can't get over the mourning I have for my broken camera; I guess I haven't felt confident enough to do it justice in its own entry with words alone. St. James is really quite awe-inspiring the first time you go in; as the name suggests, it is a bastion of artisan cheeses -- every kind you can imagine -- as well as other cutesy little spreads and dips from all over the world. The lunches there are a favorite of my mom's and she's gotten me hooked, too; among the offerings are assortments of cheeses/pates/chutneys, gigantic salads, and a host of constantly changing sandwiches named after their respective starring cheeses. My favorite is toasted on thinly sliced ciabatta, with just a few slivers of this really hearty salami, fresh and splendidly white mozzarella that is melted to cover the entire sandwich in all its velvety goodness, and some good old-fashioned basilly walnutty pesto. The sandwich is aesthetically pleasing because contrary to so many other sandwiches you see these days, it is slender and easily fits into your mouth; with such strong and high-quality ingredients, there is absolutely no need for gross excess.

Lilette's pulled-pork sandwich with natural gravy -- I hesitated to mention this one because it hardly counts as a sandwich, what with its hedonistic extravagance and ostentatious flair. I decided to put it in because it fits the technical definition of a sandwich and because it nicely follows the prim tastefulness of St. James' creation. Pulled pork never loses its whimsy, in my mind; pulled anything is practically made for sandwiches, what with its easy biteability, and it absolutely doesn't get better than juicy, well-seasoned pork (unless PERHAPS we are talking about a very particular brisket). The natural gravy is creamy-silky, and it makes the sandwich as a whole utterly lavish, serving a purpose similar to that of icing on a cake. The fries on the side are not perfunctory, either, and they are worth poking around in any extra gravy you might have.

That's all for now because I'm a little swamped. Consider this a work in progress, and feel free to add your own input! I am always looking to expand my sandwich repertoire...

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