Here's a question that is sure to start a lively conversation (argument) between any group of people, at anytime of day, in any possible setting: "What is the best sandwich?" Regardless of your diet, attitude towards food, income group or ethnicity, you will have an opinion. I can't argue with Liz Lemon's worldview, but it does seem that after eating a sandwich in peace, 90% of us are willing to argue about which ones are the best. In order to put this debate to rest, I've compiled a list of the 10 best sandwiches, in no particular order of course.
Let us start with a few ground rules. Number one, no burgers, tacos, gyro's or hotdogs. All of those are awesome, but I had to narrow down the list somehow. Let's face it, all of those things are technically sandwiches, but if I told you i was bringing you a sandwich, and showed up with either of the above mentioned four items, you would be surprised. Number two, I know you like your "hummus, turkey bacon, sprouts, avocado and tomato, with relish and mayo, on 12-grain bread", but we're talking like, classic sandwiches. More power to you for coming up with that combination, it sure sounds lovely, but these have to be something you can order without listing the ingredients.
So without further ado, here's the list!
10. The BLT
Simple, elegant, perfect if the ingredients are fresh. Growing up, we always had these with fresh lettuce, and thick slabs of vine-rippened tomatoes, tomatoes like you have to get from a farmer's market, or a farm (never refrigerated). We ate them on big, fluffy slices of white bread from the Portuguese bakery in P-town (and covered them in mayo). Personally, I don't think the bacon really matters. I know bacon is all the rage in foodie circles, but to me, almost any bacon (as long as it's cooked right), is delicious, whereas, the perfect tomato is much harder to come by.
9. The Grilled Cheese
I like the standard: white bread, American cheese, a ton of butter, and a little salt (or garlic salt). They are best dipped in tomato soup. There are a million different ways to make them, and some are better than others, but a grilled cheese rarely fails to satisfy. Once a year, some of my friends throw a grilled cheese party, where guests are encouraged to bring bread or cheese (or booze). Sadly, this year I missed it. I don't plan on missing it again.
8. The Breakfast Sandwich
Another highly customizable sandwich, the only real ingredient that you need is egg. I bet the Egg McMuffin is the highest selling breakfast sandwich worldwide, and honestly, I think they are pretty damned good. I like the Canadian bacon, but I sometimes switch it up and go for a sausage McMuffin. People like bacon or ham too, and different kinds of bread: croissant, bagel, roll... It's all good by me. If you're ever in Provincetown, get a linguicia, egg, and cheese from the Portuguese bakery on Commercial Street. It's my personal favorite, but truth be told, the bodega on Grand and Lorimer makes a solid sausage, egg, and cheese, on a roll, for like $2.50.
7. The Club
In my experience, it's almost always turkey, and it should be. Like the late, great, Mitch Hedberg, I order club sandwiches all the time, and I get away with it, even though I'm not a member. The should be double deckers, on toasted bread (whatever you like, I like rye), with turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ton of mayo. If there's anything else you wanna slap on there, good for you, but I like to keep it simple and classy. I'm sure that there's some joint in NYC that makes absolutely killer clubs, but one of the best things about this sandwich is that practically any cheap diner can make you a good one, and usually serve it with fries and maybe even soup and a soda, for under $8.
The Ethnic All-Stars:
6. The Banh Mi
This is the newest sandwich (to Americans for sure, but I think in general too) on the list and it comes out of a perfect culture clash. Basically, the banh mi is a result of the French occupation of Indo-China, specifically Vietnam. We all know how poorly said occupation worked out for all parties involved, but at least we have the banh mi. Basically, the banh mi is Vietnamese style meat, usually pork, stuffed in a baguette with French mayonaise, a few veggies (usually cucumbers, daikon radishes, and carrots), and often a generous helping of cilantro. It's a glorious cultural mash-up that shows just what humanity can achieve if we work together. Most places I've been to offer hot peppers too, and if you're me, you get them. There's a great cheap place in Chinatown that I've been told to hit up, but I've never made over there, partly because the ones from the joint on South 2nd and Havemeyer, and Broken Rice, on Grand Street (across from my apartment) are more than capable of give me my banh mi fix.
5. The Italian
I don't know if people in Italy actually eat these, or if they are an invention of the Italian-American community, but I don't really care. An Italian sub consists of some combination of the following meats: ham, pepperoni, salami, capocollo, prosciutto, and bologna, usually with provolone and perhaps mozzarella (fresh mozzarella if you're lucky). A standard Italian will have lettuce and tomatoes. I think adding some raw onions is a good idea, and that goes for almost anything, not just Italian subs. Mayo and/or oil and vinegar (I prefer the later) should be added to wet the sandwich up a little bit, and the whole mess should be crammed in a baguette or white Italian bread. The absolute best Italian is the "Godfather" from Graham Avenue Meats and Deli, on Graham, a block or two south of the BQE (if you don't mind supporting a somewhat sketchy business). It goes for $7 and you can get it sweet or spicy (choose spicy, it's not that hot). Another favorite spot is Mama Rosario's Deli on that weird block where Driggs, Meeker, and Morgan all run into each other. I used to live across the street and they would pack the sub with so much meat and cheese that I could never finish it in one sitting (perfect for an out of work musician!).
4. The Cuban
I wanted to put a ham and cheese on this list because its such a simple and perfect sandwich. Good quality deli ham, provolone or swiss, and a strong mustard, on a decent roll. As much as I love these (the Black Sheep in Amherst makes a killer one, called the Berlin Wall), they seem kinda weak. Why? Because the Cuban is a ham and cheese the way the Sandwich Gods would order it. Ham, roast pork, pickle, swiss and mustard. Possibly the most "tangy" sandwich of all time, on par with only the...
3. The Reuben/Rachel
A similar sandwich to the Cuban (which is odd because their origins are worlds apart). Traditionally, the Reuben is corned beef, sauerkraut, melted swiss cheese, and Russian dressing, served on toasted or grilled slices of good rye bread. A Rachel substitutes pastrami for corned beef, and usually cole slaw for sauerkraut. Honestly, I think I like the Rachel a little bit more, but it depends on the quality of the cole slaw (you're never gonna know if you've made the right choice until you take the first bite). Katz's is the place to go for these. C'mon, just look at it!
The Ultimate Team Player:
2. The Chicken Cutlet
Ok, I'm bending the rules with this one a little, but I have to include it because two of my most favorite sandwiches of all time are based on this design. Wendy's Spicy Chicken sandwich is incredible and not just in a fast-food-kraft-mac-and-cheese sort of fatty artificial way, but the flavor is actually fairly deep. The last time I was at Wendy's, I got the asiago ranch spicy chicken with bacon, and although I'll one day have a triple bypass because of it, the sandwich was worth it! Another of my favorites is the Chicken Balladino, from Balladino's, in Madison, CT. It's breaded chicken cutlet, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and mayo. This shows the versatility of the chicken cutlet, it can't be pigeon-holed, it can play any position, and it will let the subtleties of the other ingredients show through. Hell, slap some marinara sauce on that Balladino and call it a chicken parm, it's all good.
My Personal Favorite:
1. The Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich
If you're like me, you live far away from your hometown and most of your family, and probably only see them around the holidays. Let's be honest here, Christmas is a real shitshow, Easter isn't celebrated with the same enthusiasm, and most of the other holidays are better spent drinking with your friends. That leaves us Thanksgiving. Truly American, like basketball and the blues, we all know that this simple holiday basically celebrates the fact that, "HEY WE GOT A TURKEY!" It's usually a short stay, as you'll be headed back to your hometown in about a month for Xmas, so you grab as many of the leftovers as you can, and you split. Moist turkey (white and dark meat mixed together, preferably), good stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayo, on sliced bread. Personally I like a hearty wheat bread. It will hold everything together and kinda fits well with the earthy harvest festival vibe that is also a part of Thanksgiving. I think what really makes this sandwich special is that you're not really going to go through the hassle of roasting a whole turkey, and making stuffing, just for the sandwich, you have to wait for it to come to you.
How did i do? I'm sure I left something out, but I feel like it's a pretty solid list overall. Leaving the eggplant parm sub off was hard for me, same goes for the meatball sub (and it's sloppy cousin "Joe") I had an incredible meatball sub at The Meatball Shop for my birthday, thanks to my roommate. I suggest you all make it down there and just order whatever the special is (the two of us got stuffed and the bill only came to $25 including craft soda, so there's really no excuse). I apologize to Bill Simmons for ripping off his list style, but I mean, it's really more of a tribute. Also, pulled pork sandwich? In my mind, it's more about the barbeque, you just happen to slap in on a bun. Oh, and if you're ever on the Cape, check out The Box Lunch. The Perry's special is incredible and named after my family. I remember liking the Roundup and Porky's Nightmare too.
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