Category Archives: Food

The Panini Paradox

In early November I had the pleasure of traveling in Italy for twelve days. Having never before been to the land of the Tuscan sun, suffice to say I had high expectations and some distinct ideas of what I thought my Italian Experience would encompass. I was especially looking forward to trying the food and the wine. Who doesn’t like Italian food, and Italian wine? Nobody, that’s who.

ItalianDeliBeing a self-styled sandwich expert, I figured I could also contribute to the blog while traveling, in a win-win fashion. Italy had so much to offer me as a newbie traveler: ancient sites dripping with history, museums filled with masterpieces, beautiful architecture, an endless fashion parade full of beautiful people. Every day was a new adventure, and the food was indeed wonderful, and the wine was just plain crazeballs.

Unfortunately, regarding the sandwiches, I ran into something I have dubbed the “Panini Paradox”.

It goes like this. Italians love to eat. A lot. They want you to order course after course and look at you quizzically when you attempt to just stick with one or two items, or perhaps (gasp) share an entree. If you don’t finish every morsel, they literally come over and ask if you don’t like their cooking, staring at you with their hurt, huge kitten eyes. Most of the food in the regions I went to was locally sourced, lovingly prepared, and completely delicious. With the notable exception of one thing, which I’m sure you have guessed by now, the damned sandwiches.

ItalianPaniniThe PP is particularly frustrating when you’re visiting a region renowned for its perfect ingredients,  Tuscany, for example. You could just imagine a bit of fresh buffalo mozzarella, a locally grown ripe tomato, and a small amount of pesto on a fresh baguette. What you will get, however, is a tiny, stale roll with a bit of over-the-hill prosciutto and (gag) butter. Indeed, these evil little sandwiches appeared in every espresso shop, Auto Stop, train station and even the finer cafes. They are a blight and a menace.

Where were the good sandwiches? You will have to go there and let me know, because believe me, I tried to find them. I did visit one wonderful place in Siena where the sandwiches were all thoughtful varieties of meats and cheese toasted to perfection on pretzel bread and served on super-cute individual bread boards. This was the one and only good sandwich during my entire visit.

I heard rumors of others. A local foodie pointed me to the tripe sandwich at the Farmer’s Market in Florence. He told us it was not to be missed. We were there the wrong day and missed it. Cafes and restaurants promised beautiful plates, but offered lame cold cuts on (every single time) stale bread. This was the land that invented meats and cheeses of the traditional Italian deli. We even went to Bologna! What gives?

In conclusion, Italy is fantastico. Go for the art, the culture, the wine, and the beauty. Just don’t go for the sandwiches. Or better yet, go there and open the best deli ever, you’ll have all the ingredients close at hand, making my next visit complete.

5 Surefire Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Sandwich

As a highly experienced sandwich eater, I’ll admit I’ve developed my own set of tastes and proclivities. I also freely admit that I require a fair amount of maintenance to make certain my experience will be enjoyable. That’s why it’s an extra-big bummer when I do try something new, only to find myself thwarted by one of these culprits. I know these pet peeves are particular to me, so please, add your own list of irritations, I’d love to see!

1. Too Much “Stuff”

Yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Although I like a big sammie as much as the next gal, some places get really out of control with the size, height and width of their sandwiches, making the entire experience a challenge in eating. Don’t make eating your food difficult, it’s counter-intuitive. Related side note: offering a half-sandwich option encourages people who would rather not take an afternoon nap to try your products, and gives people a fun option that I call “sharesies”, i.e. getting a couple of sandwiches and splitting them.

2. Stale Bread

You would be very surprised by the number of places in our foodie, upscale town that serve their sandwiches on bread so stale, it makes cardboard blush. I refuse to name names here, but come on, there’s really no excuse. It’s one of your main ingredients, so make sure it’s fresh.

3. Soggy Bread

Don’t let your sandwiches get soggy, there is nothing grosser than a soggy sandwich, except maybe soggy lettuce on a soggy sandwich. Usually the result of too many condiments, or a sandwich made earlier that’s been sitting out. Or possibly, bread that can’t stand up to a sauce. In any case, don’t let it happen. Keep it crisp, people.

4. Discourteous Staff

I get it, you went to Cornish on a dance scholarship, and now you work at a cafe slinging sandwiches. It’s time to get over your broken dreams, embrace a new path, and treat customers with a little respect. You might even get a little extra spending money in ye olde tip jar. Owners, this goes for you, too. Yes, running a small business is a ton of work and totally stressful, but treat your employees well and I promise it will reflect on the overall experience. You own a repeat business and have a chance to create a loyal customer base. Don’t blow it!

5. Butter

Last but not least, the grossest thing you can do to any cold sandwich is add butter. I believe this style originated with the French on baguettes, but I’ve seen it other places, and it’s disgusting. Do you know who likes French stuff? Nobody, that’s who.

I could go on all day here, from chaotic lines/ordering systems to dirty bathrooms to having to wait forever, but I’ll save those for another day. In the meantime, I hope you’ll add your comments and enlighten me with your thoughts.

Jersey Meets Aurora, In A Non-Snooki Way

Grinders on Aurora Avenue North, conveniently located across the street from Costco at the Seattle/Shoreline border, has long been my white whale of sandwich shops.

Long before I devoted this blog to the sandwich arts, I endured the rhapsodic musings, the lore, the rhetoric, the downright fanaticism of the loyal Grinder’s patron. The meatballs, the marinara sauce, the peppers, the rolls. This place had people taking off work early, driving in from the Eastside, I even knew one guy who’d taken a sick day just to enjoy one of these bad boys.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Technically speaking, Grinder’s is a haul. And while I do go to Costco a fair amount, I’ve never been in the mood for a grinder after shopping there, because I’ve obviously just eaten some really bad pizza. Also, until recently I’ve not been sure what a “grinder” is, exactly? Other than some vaguely East Coast/mobster thing.

The Grinder’s Hot Sands website actually has a nice description of what a grinder is and isn’t, as well as the WWII origins of the word, and helpfully lets people know that their establishment is not a strip club. Which is nice, because the name could be confusing to the regular Aurora denizen.

My pursuit of a grinder education led me to try the offerings at a lesser known Seattle establishment, which for the purposes of providing fair and balanced journalism must remain nameless for the time being. I decided I needed to comparison-shop.

So, off I went. With all the outside ambiance of a mini-mart, but a convenient parking lot, I expected Grinder’s Hot Sands to be a no-frills, New York-style deli with lots of yelling and synchronized line-waiting. When I went in with loins girded, however, I was greeted with a large, light-filled space complete with plenty of tables and chairs, and even a few leather armchairs surrounding, wait, hold on…is that a fireplace?

After consulting the staff on my order, I think the management at Grinders must be doing something right. Both times I went there, the staff could not be nicer. They are friendly, patient, and they are really proud of their sandwiches. Always a good sign.

For my first time I tried the meatball, thinking I should go classic. At a cost of $14 with tip, I also decided it must be huge, and/or really good, preferably both.

I was not disappointed on either score. My sandwich was brought to me by the aforementioned charming staff member, on a large platter accompanied by a knife and fork. Which is good, because there is no other way to eat these things.

Soon after, a box appeared, which was also good, because, please, a family of four would be stuffed after sharing one sandwich here. Typically I’m not a fan of giant portions, but at Grinder’s, it just felt right.

On my second visit, I tried the Gilbano, their take on a Philly cheesesteak. Steak, spicy peppers, gorgonzola, and carmelized onions. This sandwich was also fantastic, but a bit too spicy for me, a self-confessed heat wimp.

Moral of this white whale tale: leave work early, come hungry, bring a hungry sandwich buddy or prepare to eat leftovers all week, but make the trek. You’ll be glad you did.

Grinders Hot Sands
Shoreline
19811 Aurora Ave. N
206.542.0627
Check website for hours

Grown Locally With Love

Ever since Homegrown opened in Fremont a couple of years ago, this sustainable sandwich shop has, well, grown on me.

Usually, I try to avoid what I would term “fancy” sandwiches. And occasionally, when people begin throwing around terms like “green” and “sustainable” related to food, I tend to think “overrated” and “expensive”. This becomes a bit of a quandary when I try the food and love it.

Homegrown has never disappointed me in this regard. While their sandwiches are admittedly pricey (approximately $6-8 for a half sandwich, $10-12 for a whole), the lovely flavors and fresh ingredients persuasively outline the “you get what you pay for” argument. They also do something I love, which is offer a half-sandwich option. Their half sandwiches are the perfect portion size, and then you can add one of their great sides, or the divine pickles, and not feel like you’re walking around in an overstuffed food coma for the rest of the day.

They even have a fairly reasonable selection of kids sammies, which makes me feel like a halfway decent parent while getting to sneak a bite or two of delicious peanut butter and honey on freshly made, whole-wheat bread.

On my last visit, I tried the Reuben, having never given it a go before. A creature of habit, I usually stick to the turkey, bacon, avocado, which is just so damn good. This Reuben, featuring Carlton Farms pastrami, from-scratch dressing and Beecher’s cheese, was, dare I say…delicate? I’ve never experienced a delicate Reuben before, since they are usually a gut-punch-and-a-half, so I was pleasantly thrown for a loop.

My friend opted for the veggie, which, while she admitted was delicious for the first several bites, unfortunately quickly disintegrated into a soggy mess, making it a bit difficult to eat, let alone enjoy. However, the green side salad with homemade vinaigrette was a great save. I also find the beet and feta salad consistently good.

So, a perfect experience? Well….I wouldn’t go that far. One issue: timing. These sandwiches take a while, so come prepared to wait, don’t expect to grab and go. Another thing to know going in, while the folks who work at Homegrown are always extremely friendly, sometimes I suspect that many of them might also be…herb-friendly. This can mean that they sometimes get a little…confused. At least, that’s been my experience. Enunciate and speak sloooowly and you should be fine.

All in all, Homegrown offers a great sandwich you can feel good about eating, and that’s nothing to take for granted.

Homegrown, three locations: Fremont, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill