Posts Tagged: travels

The Muffuletta

  • Muffuletta
  • The Original
  • Central Grocery

When I found out the bus was going to New Orleans, I was over the moon as the city is home to a very special sandwich: the muffuletta.  Not only does the muffuletta originate in New Orleans, but its creation is also specific to one grocery store, which is still open.  In the early 1900s, Central Grocery was a market that catered to the Sicilian farmers that worked nearby.  In traditional Sicilian fashion, the farmers would buy meats, cheese, and bread, and eat it all separately.  Now considering that the farmers weren’t having nice, sit-down lunches, but instead attempted balance all of these ingredients on their laps, the meal was a bit perilous.  Luckily, the owner of Central Grocery, Salvatore Lupo, noticed these lunchtime difficulties, and figured out that the whole meal could be combined into one, easy to eat sandwich.  This sandwich, a phenomenal composition of capicola, salami, pepperoni, ham, swiss, provolone, and marinated olive salad, gets its name from the round muffuletta loaf that its served on.  And though the bread plays a defining role, it is actually the olive salad that truly makes a muffuletta.  In fact, this is so much a part of the muffuletta that Central Grocery sells it by the jar, for your own sandwich making adventures.

As a person who loves food more than almost anything, and who will try pretty much everything, there is nothing better than finding great local foods.  If there is a defining food of a culture, I want to be eating it.  When eating with a local, I generally use the “I’ll have what she’s having” approach.  This gives me the opportunity to branch out and try new and exciting things, in addition to getting to truly experience the culture.  The muffuletta is one of these foods, an embodiment of New Orleans culture.  It is also an interesting example because much of this culture is heavily influenced by its French history. This sandwich, on the other hand, is a key part of the New Orleans food culture, but finds its roots in Sicilian tradition.

Now, I’m a big fan of the “italian sub.”  I love the combination of meats, and the fact that while it is a pretty common sandwich, many establishments manage to make it their own.  And though the muffuletta could easily fit into this category due to its origins and ingredients, it really is in a class of its own.  Yes, it has components that you won’t find in any other italian sub, and its own bread, but what truly sets the muffuletta apart is its place in New Orleans culture, as well as in the sandwich culture in America.  Search online for the best muffuletta in New Orleans, and you’ll find heated battles between die-hard fans.  Everyone has their favorite muffuletta joint, and there are quite a few places around New Orleans that specialize in this unique sandwich.  Furthermore, the muffuletta left the Crescent City and can now be found in sandwich shops all over the country.

And let me tell you, this sandwich is amazing.  The bread is soft, but dense enough to soak up most of the oil from the olive salad.  The addition of swiss takes away a bit of the sharpness of the provolone, creating a cheesy, but balanced platform on which the meats can shine.  And the olive salad…brilliant.  Made from the classic giardiniera (pickled celery, cauliflower, and carrot) with the added bonus of olives, oregano, garlic, and lots of olive oil, it’s tangy and savory with a bit of a bite, matching it perfectly with every other ingredient in this sandwich.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that if you find yourself in New Orleans, you must try a muffuletta.  You’ll get a great taste of New Orleans culture.  At the risk of offending any muffuletta-heads, I highly recommend going to Central Grocery.  After all, it is where the sandwich was originally created, and they still make excellent sandwiches today.

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.

Texas and Barbeque

  • Brisket Sandwich
  • Live Oak
  • Live Oak BBQ

When it comes to barbeque, the real question is, where to begin?  Barbeque as a cuisine is very personal: it has so many varieties that each region, state, county, city, restaurant, and family has its own barbeque, and they know for a fact that theirs is the best.  From Tennessee and the Carolinas, to the Midwest, to the state that is infamous for it, Texas, barbeque is pervasive throughout the United States.  Now, luckily, as a sandwich lover, I got to eat some great barbeque in Texas, the state that gives you sliced white bread along with all that delicious slow-cooked meat.

Barbeque’s history stems from cooking methods in the Caribbean and Florida area.  Originating from the word barabicu, the Spanish adapted it to barbacoa.  This referenced a wooden framework on which meat could be cooked.  Eventually, during colonial times, barbeque came to have the meaning it has today, with the added connotations of gathering with many people around large, slow-cooked meals.

Since doing one blog post about the entire culture of barbeque would be both overwhelming and way too long, I’ll stick with Texas since their way(s) of barbeque do fit into the sandwich category.  Along with the tender barbeque they serve, restaurants will give you a nice helping of sliced white bread to use instead of (or in addition to) utensils.  Now where this idea came from, I’m not quite sure, though one person in a online forum noted that it’s great for sopping up all the delicious juices.  Though many people outside the barbeque culture seem to hate on the commercial white bread phenomenon, I think it’s pretty fantastic.  Granted, white bread isn’t the healthiest, but what part of barbeque is?  The second photo in the blog comes from Rudy’s in Austin. Seth and I decided to share since neither of us could decide what to get.  The great thing about Rudy’s is that they’ll let you try pretty much anything you want until you decide.  After a bout of sampling, we chose the moist brisket (you can also get lean, but why bother?), the smoked turkey, and a half rack of baby backs.  I decided to make half sandwiches, and above you can see my brisket sandwich.  Now, I could go on and on about how amazing all the meats were, but let me just say one thing…this brisket was more than moist.  It was so delicious and tender that even after I thought I couldn’t fit one more bite, I kept eating it.  The other meats were good too, but this brisket was pretty much out of this world.

Another thing about barbeque is the sauce.  Again, doing an overview of all the different kinds of barbeque sauce would take a book in and of itself. Everyone makes their own sauce, and everyone thinks theirs is the best.  Now Rudy’s sauce was good, but it had nothing on the sauce from Live Oak in Austin. I really wanted to take a picture of the sandwiches I made here, but after the first picture of the box of meats (photo #1), I dove in headfirst and didn’t come up for air or pictures until I was stuffed.  The meats at Live Oak were some of the best I’ve ever had.  We got a little bit of everything, from brisket, to pork steak, to ribs, to sausage.  And as amazing as all of that was, it was the sauce that blew me away.  Black, thick, and with a flavor that I couldn’t pin down, I asked the owner what was in it, and surprisingly, he actually shared the ingredients.  For the most part, it contained all the usual suspects, and then he uttered one magical word: coffee.  As a barista in my professional life, I just about died and went to heaven.  I don’t think I’ve ever used that much sauce on anything in my life.

So ultimately, though we only hit two barbeque joints in Texas, I think I get the relationship between phenomenally cooked meat and mass produced white bread.  It’s hearty, it’s starchy, it sops everything up perfectly, and most importantly, it’s damn tasty.

Frybread, Navajo Tacos, Arizona, and New Mexico

  • Frybread #1
  • Frybread #2
  • Frybread #3

Frybread is inescapable in the American Southwest.  If you had to pick one food that would represent Native American culture, this would be it.  Frybread is essentially a pancake of fried dough that can be served alone as a snack or made into two different types of sandwiches: a Navajo (or Indian) taco, or a meat pocket-type thing.

Frybread originated on the “Long Walk” that the Navajo were forced to make during their relocation from Arizona to New Mexico in 1864.  Luckily for them, the US government was kind enough to provide them with flour, salt, sugar, and lard (yes, that was just a tad bit sarcastic).  Thus, frybread was born: a food with a very contradictory identity.  Though frybread is a symbol of the painful past that the Native Americans have shared, it is also a way for tribes to connect over this history.  Furthermore, frybread is central to powwows (gatherings among tribes), but is also credited with many of the health issues among Native Americans today.

But how does all of this relate to sandwiches?  Frybread is the base of many dishes…both as a convenient way to eat your mutton and sheep intestines (pictures #2 and #3), and in Navajo tacos (picture #1).  A Navajo taco consists of frybread, ground beef, chili beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.  The first picture is a Navajo taco from Charly’s in Flagstaff, AZ.  Sadly, we found out once we actually got to the Navajo reservation in Gallup, NM that we had Americanized tacos, which was disappointing, but kind of predictable.  I’m sure that by this point, I don’t have to argue the fact that the Navajo taco is a sandwich, even if it is easier to eat with a fork and knife.

Fortunately for us, we have a friend living in Gallup, and so we got to experience the real Navajo culture…and real frybread.  We went to the Navajo flea market, and aside from buying really cool jewelry,  we ate a whole lot.  The second picture is roast mutton…meat, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, all wrapped in frybread.  Now, this definitely fits into the sandwich category, as you can pick it up and munch.  The mutton, coincidentally, was also fantastic (I think I thanked the Navajo woman about twelve times).  The third picture doesn’t appear to qualify as a sandwich, considering that there are three kinds of meat (including a rib and sheep intestines), a potato, a corn cob, all on top of frybread.  A great way to eat this dish, however, is to break off a little bit of fry bread and a little bit of meat and eat with your hands.  This meal was really fun because I got the boys to try the sheep intestines.

So though I didn’t really talk about sandwiches on this blog, I thought it was important to talk about a different kind of bread, especially one with such a cultural importance.  Plus, everything with frybread is phenomenally delicious.

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!

Anatomy of a Sandwich Meets Love, the Bus

“The importance of the sandwich to western habits of eating is incalculable.”

Oxford Companion to Food

We have all partaken in the convenience that a sandwich brings to a meal.  There are very few meals that can be eaten on the go, but you can almost always rely on a sandwich to feed you while, say, multitasking, walking, or driving (which of course, you should never do).  It is largely for this reason that I have decided to take Anatomy of a Sandwich on the road.  That’s right…for the next month, I will be driving cross country, taking down the best sandwiches America has to offer.

This all worked out because of my friends at Love, the Bus: Tyler, Seth, and Corey.  Last year, they converted an old school bus into a biodiesel RV, and then spent last summer traveling from Maine to Los Angeles.  The purpose of the trip?  To help people who deserve it (mostly youth organizations) by doing crazy activities.  They made the trip interactive by creating a web series where people could not only follow along, but also suggest challenges, places to go, and people to help.  Four months on the road, 2,300 donated dollars, and six months of re-padding the bank accounts later, the boys are driving Chartreuse back to Maine, and kindly invited me to join them!  Aside from following my eating adventures here, you can also follow our trip by clicking the link above!

And so, get ready for some serious American sandwich eating!

Fred’s Shanty Fish Sandwich

I semi-recently took a trip to New York to see my brother and my college friends.  Now for those of you who have been following along, you will have noticed that I frequent the East Coast, and that I continue my quest for awesome sandwiches on these little vacations.  While I did have some great sandwiches on this trip, you’ll have to wait for future blog posts.  This post is about a little seafood shack in Connecticut and a fish sandwich that signified the change of the seasons, the beginning and end of the school year, and the promise of fun with great friends.

Though there are two main seafood shacks in New London that have similar traditional menus, Fred’s Shanty is the place you go when you want a fish sandwich.  Simple, cheap, and fresh, there really isn’t much that’s better on a crisp fall day that’s reminiscent of summer.

In an earlier post, I touched on the idea of the connection between food and memory.  In the same way that a smell or sound can take you back to a previous moment in your life, food can also be associated with memory.  Just how I have many good feelings and memories associated with sea urchin, the Fred’s Shanty fish sandwich evokes visions of countless warm fall and spring college days spent outside – on the green, in the arboretum, at the beach – accented by trips to a small seafood shack on the Thames River.  And of course, these memories are attached to this sandwich not just because the consumption is recurring, but because of the strength of the emotions that the memories call up.  Yes, the fish sandwich from Fred’s Shanty is good, but it doesn’t stand out in a crowd of fish sandwiches.  In fact, the main reason to go to Fred’s Shanty instead of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock (the other sea food shack in New London) is because it’s cheaper, not  because the food is better.  And though I have similar, and definitely more Lobster Dock memories, they involve a sandwich of a different sort.  It is this sandwich, the simple yet delicious fish sandwich, that carries ties to the lush life of college.

Num Pang’s Peppercorn Catfish Sandwich

  • Num Pang #1
  • Num Pang #2

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.