The Art of the Sandwich

Categories: Cheap Eats

My first revelatory sandwich experience was in Guadalajara, Mexico when I was five years old. Our hotel restaurant crafted a double-decker turkey on white toast that Dagwood himself would have lusted after, and upon sampling it my blind devotion to Underwood Deviled Ham on Langendorf ... dwindled. After that tastebud-expanding experience, I was open to new flavors and sandwich-building concepts, and began my own experiments in the field. My father was a trailblazer in this regard, but I still haven't matured enough to appreciate some of his more radical creations involving cornichons, peanut butter, strawberry jam and salami. (I got good at grilled cheese sandwiches, though. The key: Beckmann's sourdough, Black Diamond extra-sharp white cheddar and plenty of unsalted butter.)

Since then, my search for the compleat (or at least anthropologically interesting or merely delectable) sandwich has taken me near and far. I'm thinking now of the ham and butter baguette sandwiches I'd munch with my morning cafe au lait in Paris, or the slender, flavor-packed panini sold at the stand-up coffee bars of Rome. The Second Avenue Deli's peppery, pungent pastrami on rye and (even better) the silky smoked sturgeon on pumpernickel at Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side. Once I made the mistake of ordering a full-sized muffuletta from New Orleans' Central Grocery (most people have the sense to order the half-size) and spent the next couple of hours grappling with its salami-stuffed, provolone-packed, oil-dripping garlicky girth.

There's a wide array of excellent sandwich-munching options here in SF too. At Giordano Bros. in North Beach you can get yourself a highly satisfying Pittsburgh-style trucker sandwich, so named because it contains all the components of a proper meal (cold cuts, cole slaw and piping-hot French fries), allowing you to steer with one hand while you dine with the other. The East Coast West Deli on Polk Street prepares an exceptional one-pound beef brisket on corn rye that's all paper-thin moist crumbly tenderness, while the Swan Oyster Depot just up the street knows that the best way to showcase its creamy, succulent smoked salmon is between two slices of Parisian sourdough. I'm also most partial to the lusty bacon-cheddar meatloaf sandwich at 'wichcraft at Fifth and Mission, the barbecued chicken banh mi with cilantro, chili peppers and five-spice at Saigon Sandwiches in the Tenderloin and the soul-warming, mozzarella-draped meatball sandwich on foccacia served hot and fragrant at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store on Columbus. The possibilities, happily, appear to be endless.

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