Posts Tagged: california

Matzo Pizza

  • Veggie Matzo Pizza
    Veggie Matzo Pizza
  • Veggie Matzo Pizza
    Veggie Matzo Pizza
  • Cheese Matzo Pizza
    Cheese Matzo Pizza

I have to say…I love Passover. I may be a horrible Jew who blogs about bagels during a holiday that restricts your leavened bread intake, and who doesn’t even post a Passover blog until after Passover, but it’s true. Whether it’s the story of Moses freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt, or the delicious meal my mom always makes, I have always loved this holiday. Now, the one thing about Passover is this food restriction. For eight days, you can’t eat all the wonderful flour products that you normally enjoy, but you can have matzo. Many people, especially non-Jews, are horrified by this flat, simple, dry cracker, and rightfully so. There is very little that is redeeming about matzo (flavor-wise, that is)…except that it can be transformed into matzo pizza.

I’ve already argued why pizza should be considered relevant for a sandwich blog, so we don’t need to talk about that. But matzo has a ton of cultural and religious significance, so let’s learn about that!

Passover is our starting point: I’m sure most people are familiar with the story of the jews being enslaved in Egypt, Moses and the burning bush, and the ten plagues. But what’s relevant for us right now is what happened after the tenth plague. Throughout the course of the plagues, the Pharaoh had tried to compromise with the demand that all Jews be set free, and had even allowed them to go, but changed his mind immediately. Therefore, after the first born son of each Egyptian family had died, and the Pharaoh freed the Jews, they set off very quickly, since this precedent had already been set. So instead of slowly packing their belongings, and taking their time to get out of Egypt, the Jews threw everything on their backs, and booked it out of there! Of course, this meant that their bread, which usually was given time to rise, ended up in their belongings they were taking with them, and were baked as they went into crackers. These crackers, named matzo, became a symbol for salvation and freedom, as well as a reminder of our enslavement.

Now here’s the interesting thing. Before the tenth plague happens, God explains to Moses and Aaron what is about to happen, and tells them that they’re going to have to replicate this ceremony every year to remember how God passed over (get it???) the Jews’ first borns. Not only that, but he also explains the rules that prohibit eating unleavened bread for Passover for eight days. Then, Moses goes and tells the Jews this, and they follow this service while the first born sons of the Egyptians are being killed. But then…they rush out of Egypt so fast that they don’t have the time to let their dough rise! Now, many young Jews are taught that we eat matzo on Passover because of the matzo that was accidentally made as we hurried out of Egypt, but actually, we were told to eat matzo for this new holiday called Passover before any of it even happened. Talk about a miracle.

Let’s fast forward a bit. I could talk about the kinds of matzo, that is, the difference between the matzo us Reform Jews eat and the serious matzo, shmurah or guarded matzo, that Orthodox Jews eat, which is made from grain that has been watched over from the time of harvest to make sure it hasn’t fermented at all, and therefore risen. I could also talk about the first matzo factory which opened in Cincinnati in 1888. I could even talk about the fact that Passover is such an important holiday, and matzo its most important symbol, that the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder that definitely featured matzo. But really, I just want to talk about matzo pizza.

Growing up, Passover presented a bit of an emotional challenge: while I loved the holiday and the food, I did not love only eating matzo. Never was I forced to keep Passover kosher and abstain from leavened foods, but I always felt like if I loved the holiday so much, I should go all the way. The only thing that allowed me to ever refrain from eating bread was matzo pizza. I’m pretty sure my brother and I made it multiple times a day, and I’m also fairly certain it was one of the first things I cooked on my own. As a person who loves New York pizza in all its thin-crust glory, making matzo pizza felt like I was beating the system. During the week of Passover, I usually ate all my sandwiches on matzo, and enjoyed it, but there was something about the pizza that really made me love Passover even more.

The pictures above are from Fresh Brothers, a southern California pizza chain. They (brilliantly, I might add) decided three years ago to make matzo pizza for all the suffering Jews of the Los Angeles area. My mom and I decided that we needed to check this out, so met one day for lunch, and let me tell you…it was awesome. Of course, nothing beats sharing a matzo pizza with your little brother right out of the oven when you’re just old enough to cook for yourself, but having a pizza shop make it, was a game changer. The veggie pizza was enough to make me wish it was always Passover. And to make me wish I had thought of it.

 

The Club Sandwich

  • Peggy Sue's Club
  • Sweet Marley's Club

The club sandwich.  Be it diner, deli, or cafe, chances are there’s a club sandwich on the menu.  Though the classic club is characterized by three layers of bread with sliced chicken, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayo, cut into triangles and held together by toothpicks, there are now an endless number of variations.  Just as the sandwich category is held together by a few specific guidelines, so is the club sandwich: as long as it has at least three layers of bread and has a need for toothpick security, you’re good.  This allows for a lot of creativity in the fillings, and a lot of great sandwiches.

Supposedly, the club sandwich made its debut at the Saratoga Gentlemen’s Club (get it?) at the end of the 19th century.  What is generally agreed upon is that it mimicked the double decker train cars that came into use in America around that time.

The sandwich pictured on its side is the Mickey Mouse Club from Peggy Sue’s that Corey ordered (turns out, he’s a big fan of club sandwiches).  This one had oven baked turkey, ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and american cheese.  Since I’ve already blogged about Peggy Sue’s, I won’t say any more, but I wanted to give an example of a club variation.

The second sandwich, from Sweet Marley’s in Fredericksburg, TX, was great and interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, the shop itself: Sweet Marley’s began when Marley was born.  Marley has an extremely rare disease, called Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata, or RCDP.  There are currently less than 100 children living with the disorder, and most of them won’t make it past their second birthday.  Marley has broken every rule of RCDP, and is now two and a half years old.  Marley’s parents use the shop to pay for most of Marley’s medical bills, and also donate a percentage to other children with the disease.  What’s great is that most mornings, you can find Marley having breakfast in the cafe, and can see what an amazing little girl she is.  But on to the sandwich…

The Texas Club at Sweet Marley’s is quite a sandwich: three slices of texas toast, black forest ham, roasted turkey, cheddar, pepper jack, bacon, spring mix, tomato, and jalapeno mayo.  Now, I’ve had a good number of club variations, but this one was awesome.  For me, aside from the buttery texas toast and the sweetness of the ham, it was the pepper jack and jalapeno mayo that did it.  The contrast between savory and a little bit of spice was exactly what I wanted from this sandwich.

So as you can see, the club sandwich is pretty pervasive throughout the sandwich world, and could even have its own blog, considering all of the tweaks and personalizations you can do to it.  Keep an eye out for more clubs in the future.

Peggy Sue’s and The Patty Melt

  • Peggy Sue's Patty Melt

Peggy Sue’s is hard to miss.  Leading up to the diner on I-15 are more signs than you can count.  We took this as a sign and decided to get lunch.  Now, Peggy Sue’s is a tourist trap.  There are just no two buts about it.  Stocked to the brim with old movie memorabilia (the owners used to work in the industry as well as at Knott’s Berry Farm), a 5 and dime store, and a diner-saur park, this diner is most definitely a place to stop if you need to stretch your legs.

Now, apparently I had neglected to mention to the Love, the Bus boys that I was taking my blog on the road…or for that matter, that I write a sandwich blog to begin with.  So, they were rather excited when I started snapping pictures (some of their sandwiches will also be featured in due time).  For this first meal, I decided to get a patty melt.

I am a big fan of patty melts.  For me, they are the ultimate diner and truck stop sandwich.  A few years ago I was driving from Santa Cruz to LA with a friend and we stopped at a truck stop for lunch.  I ordered a patty melt, and it was most definitely one of the most flavorful, cheesy, meaty, greasily awesome sandwiches I’ve ever had.  Ever since then, patty melts have been my go to sandwich at any greasy spoon spot.  What better sandwich to start the road trip off with?

Supposedly, the patty melt appeared around the 1940s as a new incarnation of the cheeseburger.  And really, the patty melt takes pretty much everything great about a cheeseburger, removes all the healthy stuff (do you really need lettuce and tomato?), and adds caramelized onions and buttered rye bread, all fried up.  Though traditionally served with swiss cheese, Peggy Sue’s decides to do a combo with american cheese as well…which, of course, only makes it more fatty and delicious.  An interesting aspect of the patty melt is that unlike other sandwiches, it is served without any condiments.  I like to dip my patty melts in ketchup, but I do think that this sandwich can stand alone just fine.  Patty melts can also be made open faced with the use of a broiler.

Furthermore, patty melts are not the only melts out there.  I’ve featured a tuna melt before, though not in the context of melts, and crab melts are also popular.  Are there any other melts that you like?  Let me know and I’ll go search one out!

Sorrento’s and Pastrami

  • Sorrento's #1
  • Sorrento's #2

One beautiful winter day in Los Angeles, Chris and I decided that it was time for lunch, and, doggone it, we would find ourselves a delicious sandwich. One failed attempt later, Chris suggested that we check out an italian deli by his place that he had noticed.  Having already wasted quality eating time getting lost and being teased by unopened cafes, Chris and I were hungry enough to take down a zebra each by the time we parked.  And then we walked in.

It was the smell that hit us first.  You know that scene in Ratatouille, the one where the critic with no soul takes a bite and is transported back to his childhood in the French countryside?  That first aroma was just like that, except that it took me to an Italian childhood I never had (same for Chris, though that was actually his childhood).  But seriously, the smell hit us so hard that it stopped us just inside the doorway and held us there for a full thirty seconds, just breathing it in, until we looked at each other, grinning.

Our noses took us straight to the hot case, where a proud Italian matron was lording over the sandwich proceedings.  Above her, almost completely unnoticeable, was the sandwich menu.  A simple board with an even simpler list, it looks so old that our first impression was that it had been there since the deli opened fifty years ago.  What really confused us, you see, were the prices: this board proclaimed that the most expensive sandwich cost $5.50! After a good deal of questioning double takes, Chris and I decided to just go for it.

We immediately realized that ordering a sandwich can be quite an ordeal.  Though there is no hard and fast rule regarding what goes on one of these sandwiches, if the Italian mama doesn’t like your selection, she won’t hesitate to make her disapproval known.  On this first visit, Chris got a large, double meat pastrami, and I a large, combination sub.  And then I made a mistake — I asked for mayo.  Now you would think that by now, I would know to just take the food as it comes, but I am a sucker for mayonnaise.  Let me tell you, the look she gave me made me want to move to a place where they’d never heard of mayo.  After giving me a decisive “no” I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting, and took the footlong sandwich she handed me with all the gratitude and shame I could muster.

The shock that Chris and I received when we got to the register (a vintage metal till) and our two sandwiches and drinks cost about $12 was palpable. And though I must admit that the combo sub is not the best I’ve had, everything else is.  The pastrami is just outrageously tasty, the meatballs and Italian sausage both taste like your grandma just made them (and ohhh how I wish the sandwich matron was my grandmother), and the beef and peppers may even top the pastrami.  These days, I stick to a small sandwich (grand total with a drink is $4) because the bread is a little better and I can definitely take the whole thing down.  I also stick to the hot sandwiches because it’s all homemade and sitting right in front of you wafting its delicious aroma in your direction.

But regardless of what it is that you get, everything is delicious.  Coincidentally, we never would have found this place if our first choice hadn’t been deserted.  I suppose it just goes to show, having an open mind and trying new things really can lead to great places…and great sandwiches.

The Father’s Office Burger

  • Father's Office #1
  • Father's Office #2

It really is quite embarrassing that I haven’t posted about this burger yet.  Aside from the fact that the Office Burger is touted as being one of the best burgers in Los Angeles (if not the best), I am about as regular as you can get at this bar.  Between the awesome selection of beers and the amazing menu, Father’s Office is definitely a great place to be.

Though the bar has been around for decades, it didn’t quite become the phenomenon it is today until Chef Sang Yoon bought it in 2000.  With Father’s Office, he pioneered the idea of “no substitutions, no modifications.” Everything comes as is, and if there’s something in a dish you can’t eat, too bad, order something else.  And most importantly, don’t ask for ketchup.  There isn’t any and you’ll be given a look like you just walked out of the loony bin in only a jockstrap and fedora (seriously).  These days, a lot of places have started to adopt this mentality…after all, it is their job to know how to do what they do better than the average joe customer.  And let me tell you, Sang Yoon really does know what he’s doing.

One bite of this burger will change you.  The next will convert you.  Pretty soon, you’re out of bites and all you want is one more.  Though this burger has a lot of hype surrounding it, I can promise you that it will be one you remember.  Sadly, great dishes that are touted as being the best are often a let down when you finally get around to trying them, because how can the reality ever live up to the praise?  But the Office Burger breaks this cycle.  Of the countless friends I have take to Father’s Office to try this burger, not one of them left without a) being blown away, and b) finishing every last bite.

From the French baguette bun to the dry-aged beef patty, the maytag and gruyere combination, fresh arugula, and the amazing gooey mixture of caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon compote, I start salivating just thinking about it.  In fact, I’m salivating right now and thinking about running out and getting one.  Though there is a lot to say about the Office Burger, and believe me, I could talk forever about it, this is just one of those times that I must tell you…just go try it.  You’ll understand.

The Godmother

  • The Godmother #1
  • The Godmother #2

If you think about some of your favorite (or not so favorite) restaurants, chances are, they probably have some sort of signature dish, or at least something they’re known for.  Though you will, of course, see this happen at many food establishments (especially big chains), it seems to me that places that have a very serious following (sometimes even cult-like) often have a dish that they are famous for.  At Bay Cities, a deli that has an obsessive customer base, The Godmother is this dish.

A signature dish allows competing businesses to define and separate themselves by creating a food (like a sandwich) that will represent the whole of the establishment.  This is the dish that people will choose most often, most likely due to exposure and hype, and the dish that customers will equate with the restaurant.  For example, anyone who has been to Bay Cities will at least know of The Godmother even if they’ve never eaten it.  In fact, the entire front of the market is covered in a sign that says “Home of The Godmother.”  And though the sandwich is really just a glorified Italian sub, the role it plays to Bay Cities is what makes it so much more than that.  Not only is it the food item that Bay Cities puts its name and reputation behind, it is also the food that customers will choose in order to become a part of the phenomenon.  If you go to Bay Cities regularly, but have never had a Godmother, other regulars will not only be shocked, they’ll probably also judge you and your commitment to the deli (yep, even those of you who don’t eat meat…sidebar, I ate this sandwich for years and years before I began eating pig products, and people would give me looks of astonishment when I told them my favorite sandwich place was Bay Cities, but no, I’d never had a Godmother).

There are definitely places that have signature dishes that don’t have such social response, but I think these are places that aren’t “signature” themselves.  This is what makes The Godmother iconic instead of being just another signature sandwich at just another deli.  The fact is, Bay Cities itself is a cultural phenomenon.  It has become, for Santa Monica natives especially, the ideal of what a sandwich should be, and The Godmother is the best of what this amazing place can do.  The consumption of this sandwich grants you entrance into the exclusive culture of those who know and idolize Bay Cities for their sandwich prowess.

So yes, The Godmother is a delicious and perfectly executed sandwich that deserves attention for its sandwichness alone.  But the following that it creates takes both Bay Cities and The Godmother to iconic levels.

Fromin’s and Hot Pastrami

  • Fromin's #1
  • Fromin's #2

I’ve known for a while that I wanted to do a post about Fromin’s because it’s one of those places that is the ultimate Jewish deli.  Growing up in Santa Monica, I think I ate Fromin’s almost every Sunday for about five years.

When I went to Fromin’s with Sara, I decided to get the hot pastrami sandwich (on rye of course) which comes with a lovely little bowl of au jus on the side (not pictured).  As far as this sandwich goes, I don’t have a whole lot to say – this sandwich was even more simple than my last post and about eight million times better.  Perfectly cooked pastrami that juicily melts in your mouth, some swiss cheese, a touch of dijon mustard, and fluffy rye bread. Dip an already great sandwich in au jus, and of course it only gets better.  Which all goes to show that if done right, simple can be awesome.

The other interesting thing about Fromin’s is that it is only about four blocks away from another well known Santa Monica Jewish deli called Izzy’s, and the community seems to be loyal to one deli or the other, but not both.  This may also stem from the fact that the clientele at each restaurant is very different. Izzy’s is open 24 hours and is the kind of place that has a million pictures of the owner with various celebrities…the demographic here is much more varied and includes tourists, hoodlums, and a spattering of 10-13 year olds from the middle school up the street (in addition to the diner loving Jews of Santa Monica).  Fromin’s, on the other hand, has pretty much one type of customer: the elderly Jewish couple.  In fact, when Sara and I went, we were the youngest customers by at least 40 years.

Now, you may be thinking, why are you a Fromin’s customer instead of an Izzy’s kind of girl?  Wouldn’t you rather be among people who are closer to your peers?  Well let me tell you.  The Jewish deli is a place that I feel has been robbed of its true nature, especially in Southern California.  Instead of feeling like local spots where everyone knows each other and the food is just like grandma used to make, they give off a very commercial vibe.  It always seems to me like I’m caught in a tourist trap: welcome to SoCal, the land of the Jews…you must be this tall to ride.  Look!  Real Jewish grandparents eating knishes and borscht!  Fromin’s feels real – no show, no gimmick, just the same people working and eating day after day.  THIS is why i love Fromin’s.  Every single person seems to have an emotional connection to this deli, whether you grew up having their chicken noodle soup when you were sick, or it’s the place your grandparents took you every Saturday after your soccer game.

Sweet Lady Jane and Roasted Turkey

This is, I believe, only the second negative post I have done so far.  In fact, I would hesitate to call this a sandwich, instead opting for a much more accurate term: the BLANDWICH.

Now, to give Sweet Lady Jane a little credit, they are known for their cakes much, much more than they are for their lunch.  Yet I’d heard great things about their non-dessert offerings, especially this turkey sandwich.  What appealed to me about this sandwich was its simplicity: each sandwich from Sweet Lady Jane comes with lettuce, tomato, dijon mustard, and mayo.  The roast turkey is “baked with our own blend of spices, fresh in our ovens.” The most complicated thing about this sandwich is deciding what kind of bread you want (I went with sourdough).  With a sandwich this simple, what could go wrong?

Apparently a lot.  The turkey looked great – thick cut slices with spice-reddened edges.  Unfortunately, the actual taste of the turkey did not live up to the description.  It was dry and had very little taste at all.  The lettuce and tomato were were good quality, but if your meat is no good, there’s very little that veggies can do.  Mayo and mustard were nothing special but also nothing awful.  The biggest problem (aside from the turkey) was what this sandwich was lacking: CHEESE.  Now, I’m not saying that any sandwich without cheese is incomplete – I’m just definitely a cheese person.  In this situation, I’m not sure if cheese would have made up for any lost ground, but its absence was made more clear by the subpar-ness of the rest of the sandwich.

This sandwich was so disappointing that not even the company made this lunch better.  My roommate Sara had just gotten back from India, and we went to Sweet Lady Jane with our moms to welcome her back.  While Sara was sharing stories and pictures from her three week trip, all I could think about was how much I hated the sandwich in front of me.  People often comment on the power of “good company” – the people who you eat with have a very significant impact on how you experience your meal.  Good company can make great food better, and bad company can make bad food worse.  In this case, the company was fantastic, but even that didn’t help.

Basically, I ended up going to have a second lunch after this because I really needed to counteract the disappointment.  If youre looking for a great cake, go to Sweet Lady Jane…if you’re looking for a great sandwich, go somewhere else.

The Nom Nom Truck and Banh Mi

  • The Nom Nom Truck
  • Banh Mi #1
  • Banh Mi #2

In the blossoming world of gourmet food trucks, the Nom Nom Truck is one of the most famous.  After a great showing on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, the Nom Nom Truck now has a super dedicated, almost obsessive, fan base.

What’s so interesting about the Nom Nom Truck is that they serve banh mi, which are vietnamese sandwiches.  Traditionally, banh mi is made with ingredients that most Americans would cringe at: pâté and headcheese.  And yet, the Nom Nom Truck has a following that defies all cultural logic.  You can get a traditional banh mi from Nom Nom…it’s called “the deli special.”  But the more popular options are the grilled pork (pictured), the lemongrass chicken, or the tofu.  In addition to the meat, each banh mi has cilantro, jalepeños, mayo, a tangy relish of carrots and daikon radish called do chua, and, my favorite, cucumbers.

Banh mi is a great sandwich to look at in terms of culture for two reasons.  First of all, banh mi originates in the French colonialism of Vietnam.  The sandwich demonstrates how the co-mingling of cultures creates new, hybrid ideas.  In banh mi, the French contribution can be seen in the baguette and the pâté, combined with classic Vietnamese ingredients like the daikon radish.  Nn fact, food is one of the best ways to track the movement of culture: by identifying food traits unique to a culture and finding them in other places, you will often find other cultural constructs have moved as well.

Banh mi is also interesting in terms of popular culture.  It seems to have become the new, hip thing in the food world, with fans of all types.  The best way I can illustrate this is through an episode of The Great Food Truck Race.  The trucks found themselves in a small town in the South.  It seemed as though the Nom Nom Truck’s winning streak had come to an end; everyone expected the burger truck to win.  The Nom Nom Truck pulled out a huge victory, even in a place where most of the people had never heard of banh mi.  For whatever reason, this Vietnamese sandwich appeals to everyone.  The New York Times has done an article about banh mi, and in it, lists the top ten banh mi spots in the country (coincidentally, a commenter adds Num Pang to the list).  When the Nom Nom Truck shows up at a gathering of food trucks, a line forms immediately, and the other trucks lose business fast.  Whether it’s the sandwich in and of itself, or the prestige of the Nom Nom Truck or both, right now, banh mi is a force to be reckoned with.

FarmShop and the Fresh and Smoked Salmon Tartine

  • Salmon Tartine #1
  • Salmon Tartine #2

FarmShop is the newest establishment at the Brentwood Country Mart, following on the heels of City Bakery, a market/restaurant with both committed fans and haters.

I went to FarmShop one afternoon with my mom and my aunt.  At this point, they hadn’t yet started full meal service, and were just serving coffee, pastries, and three tartines (they now serve breakfast and lunch and will be opening their market in the spring).

My mom and my aunt had tried all three of the tartines, and recommended that I try the fresh and smoked salmon.  I have to say, it was fantastic.  The combination of the two different types of salmon created an interesting texture, and of course creme fraiche is just always great.  The best part, though, were the caper berries.  I had never seen or heard of caper berries before, and they blew my mind. I’m not generally one to seek out capers, but the caper berries were something else.  The pink color on the inside visually complemented the salmon, and though caper berries are bigger than their more common counterpart, I thought the flavor was milder and less overwhelming.

This tartine was fabulous, but also very expensive.  In fact, the whole of FarmShop is pretty overpriced, so be wary if you’re not looking to spend an entire paycheck on a meal.