Following my stay in Connecticut, I took a trip to the Big Apple, mostly to visit my little brother, a freshman at NYU, and my best friend Alex. Also important was seeing Will, a good friend from college and a New Yorker through and through. Therefore, I knew Will would be imperative to finding a great sandwich in New York.
He took me to Num Pang, a hole in the wall off Union Square, that serves Cambodian-style sandwiches. The pork sandwich is their best seller, and consistently sells out early in the day, which was the case on my visit. Will suggested the catfish sandwich, and if the pork really is better, it must be one hell of a sandwich. Ordering takes place on the sidewalk through a small window in the restaurant, and just behind the guy taking your order, you can see the entire kitchen.
The sandwich itself was complex in all the right ways. The catfish was cooked perfectly, flaky and spicy. For those of you who have been following along, you know that the presence of cucumbers on the sandwich always scores major points with me. The chili mayo accentuated the peppercorn aspect of the catfish, while the sweet soy sauce complemented the kick provided by the other ingredients. I’ve never seen cilantro used the way it is in this sandwich: a handful of it takes up the role usually held by lettuce. One of the best parts of this sandwich for me however, is the tagline on the menu:
Our sandwiches were created to enjoy as they are so PLEASE, NO MODIFICATIONS.
These are the kind of sandwich purists I like.
For those of you who have been following along, you may remember my friend Molly from her delicious meatloaf-style burgers. On my trip back to Connecticut, Molly once again busted out her serious cooking chops and whipped up an amazing Eggs Benedict breakfast for us.
Now, even I think Eggs Benedict pushes the sandwich envelope a little bit, mostly because there is no easy way to eat this dish, and using your hands is out of the question (at least in civilized company). This issue disqualifies Eggs Benedict from the category based on lack of convenience. On the other hand, the ingredients and composition fit in perfectly with the concept of the open-face sandwich: bread on bottom, meat, condiment, plus additional fixings layered in the order of any breakfast sandwich, minus the bread on top. I think the aspects of Eggs Benedict that qualify it are more important than those that don’t, and so in my eyes (and mouth and stomach) that makes it enough of a sandwich to put it in this blog.
The more important question is, what makes Molly’s Eggs Benedict so utterly awesome? Let’s start at the bottom: instead of using the classic English muffin as a base, Molly made biscuits from scratch, which were everything a biscuit should be: fluffy, yet dense, buttery, and just plain delicious. The Canadian bacon was pretty generic, but, let’s be honest, fry anything in butter and it will be tasty. Poached eggs are tricky (also my favorite preparation of eggs), and, in my opinion, are generally overcooked. As you can see from the second photo above, Molly poached the eggs PERFECTLY and is therefore my egg hero. Top it all off with a tangy, thick, homemade hollandaise, and I dare you to tell me this breakfast wasn’t awesome.
Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast dish, made more famous by the fact that there are so many variations available, such as Eggs Florentine, Artichoke Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and dozens others. There are a few origin stories of this delicious egg meal, all involving someone named Benedict asking for this combination of ingredients. Today, Eggs Benedict can be found on almost all breakfast menus, and back when the New York Times wrote about it in 1967, it was noted that “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.” Even though Eggs Benedict is often one of the most expensive breakfast items on a menu these days, I’m not sure that most people would agree with this statement any more. So while this dish is very questionably a sandwich, and has obviously moved down a few spots on the elegant foods list, it still has a history that places it solidly in American food culture.