Posted by: Rae | April 5, 2008

Truth is, I’ve never liked sandwiches

I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the mayo — never liked that either.  And most of the sandwiches I had as a child (tuna “salad”, bologna, olive loaf) consisted of some kind of meat, white Wonder Bread, and lots of mayonnaise.  It’s not that I don’t like having all of the parts mixed together for me, although I do like having my food deconstructed or stacked.  I like stew.  I like soup.  Maybe it’s that I don’t like my bread mixed up with the filling.  Maybe they’re just too dry.  Maybe it isn’t anything explicable or sensible — it just is.

As you can imagine, this makes it somewhat difficult for me to design great sandwiches.  Most of the other dishes originate in intuition, often inspired by dishes I’ve seen or tasted elsewhere, but I just know something is going to be good. 

The first sandwiches I created weren’t really sandwiches.  Our shrimp tostada is my favorite.  And people love it.  But every time I say something about ringing it up on the sandwich key, the servers look at me like I’m nuts.  “Well,” I say, “what do you think it is?”  And they say maybe a salad, maybe a meal-in-a-bowl, but not a sandwich.  When I remind the cooks that they shouldn’t fill the whole plate with greens, since this is, after all, “a sandwich,” they mutter under their breath, share quick looks with each other, and roll their eyes.

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And then there was something I called “The Deconstructed.”   A sandwich in parts.  A big plate with cheeses, sausages, terrines, pates, greens, a few fruits, and a big piece of French Baguette.  It was a pain to make, was ordered rarely, and to be perfectly frank, was a flop.  More muttering in the kitchen.  It’s not on the menu anymore. 

We have four sandwiches that lots of people order.  Turkey, beef, chicken, and 4-cheese panini.   We finally have the meat roasting and slicing down.  And we’ve figured out that the cheese panino works better and loses less of its cheese on the flat top than the panini grill.  But it was quite the ordeal to figure out what to pair with the meats.  I read studies of restaurant-goers preferences.  Looked at what Panera Breads was doing.   Consulted recipe books and the Internet.  Found superior breads.  Finally we have sandwiches that people like, and that are a cut above the standard.

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Last year, mostly because I couldn’t believe that a sandwich could stand on its own, we had what we called “plate sides.”  Something interesting to go on the plate with the sandwich.  We spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with beet terrines, stuffed roasted peppers and tomatoes, polenta sticks with tasso ham, and all sorts of other things that most people tried, a few people adored, and a few more people threw away.  You know what?  People like a salad with their sandwiches.  So now we put fresh greens on the plate with the sandwich, and give them a good squirt of our homemade balsamic vinaigrette. 

And we let the sandwich be the star of its own plate.  Go figure.

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