Appraising Adam, with All Due Respect

Let me begin by saying that I liked Adam Richman before liking Adam Richman was cool. I’m not certain at all whether it is cool to this day, because that’s how uncool I am, but I do find Adam likable. I used to eagerly watch his show Man Versus Food Nation not for its sort of dumb eating challenges that were pretty disgusting and seemed to make even Adam cringe a bit, but for his witty banter with popular regional food purveyors. He was respectful, he could be funny without being obnoxious, he was a super cute teddy bear of a guy from Brooklyn and the kind of person it would be fun to grab a bite with, thumb ring aside.

Then came the re-boot of his show, in which Adam traveled to different cities, met said purveyors, hung out in their kitchens as they did their thing, then had some shmo end up doing the food challenge. I’m not sure if Adam got tired, got sick, or was just over it, but the formula of the new show just didn’t work. Who cares if some random guy can or can’t eat 27 hot dogs? So, the re-boot was booted.

Finally, Adam 2.0, in what I can only hope was his original idea: Best Sandwich in America. The concept: travel the country sampling the most popular sandwiches from ten US regions, run them through something called the “BITE Scale”™ (B – Bread; I – Interior; T – Taste; E – Experience), then pit them against each other in a sandwich death match in which there can be only one national champion–a sandwich “to rule them all”.

First problem, pitting regional specialties against each other is like asking the Seattle Sounders play the New York Yankees. Yes, they are both games played with balls. But an oyster po’ boy should never, ever, be compared to a tuna on rye. They are two different food concepts in terms of ingredients, execution, and taste. It’s insulting to the makers of these gifts to compare them. Would you compare the Mona Lisa to Munch’s Scream? You would not.

Another instance where I take issue with Adam’s shows is that I can’t figure out who exactly encompasses the Richman demographic. I can only gather that it’s young college dudes and huge stoners, because never have I seen larger, more gloppy, giant sandwiches. The one smothered with a layer of french fries really stood out. Attention Food Network: not everything has to be huge all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice to show a normal-sized sandwich served with fresh ingredients, maybe even…vegetables? Roasted pork with broccoli rabe and giardinere doesn’t count (although that was my favorite, and coincidentally – spoiler alert! – the winner of the competition).

What’s still good about any  show with Adam is Adam himself, his easygoing repartee with chefs and patrons and his enthusiastic introduction of these passionate artists to the world. I will definitely seek out almost every sandwich on his list when traveling (splitting it with a partner, hopefully), just to see what all the fuss is about and to meet characters who have in many cases devoted their lives to doing one thing really well.

Which brings me to Adam 3.0. Not for nothing Adam, simply an idea for the future. Try not to make it a competition about who’s bigger, better, etc. Travel around, meet great chefs, and talk about the infinite variety of delicious food we have everywhere in this country. Keep focusing on local dishes that make people rhapsodize and wait in line for hours. Take a page from your chef friends: do one thing really well. And for the love of god, man, lose the thumb ring already.

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

Kicking It Old School in West Seattle

Front RegisterYesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Husky Deli in the West Seattle Junction with a friend and her son. Full disclosure: I’ve been spending a LOT of time in West Seattle lately, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. For a longtime Ballard resident, West Seattle’s ample, free parking and relatively sleepy weekday atmosphere are a like a bracing breath of salty sea air.

Established in 1932, the Husky Deli is sort of an icon in the Junction. While the ice cream is wildly popular, especially in summer, the weekday lunch crowd is all about the sandwiches.

There are a lot of options here to build your own masterpiece. The deli counter is stocked with a mouth-watering array of fresh meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments. Someone here has carefully considered what makes a good sandwich combo, which I appreciate. Therefore you might find yourself drawn to one of the several cold offerings, or the many kinds of grilled panini. The best news is that with the option to get a half sandwich, you can feel free to mix and match.

To try something novel, I went with the special of the day, which was a straightforward tuna salad with the genius addition of crunchy, spicy, Mama Lil’s marinated red peppers. To round out my sandwich experience, I opted for half a Turkish Delight, a flavor-packed combo of turkey, cream cheese and mango chutney. My friends opted for the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, which despite incorporating “green things” in the form of basil, was given a kid rating of ‘really good’. High praise indeed.

The atmosphere at Husky Deli is kind of weird and wonderful. Much like eating in an old-timey grocery store, they have a sandwich counter complete with bar stools where you can enjoy your lunch and maybe even get a little peace and quiet while you watch people bustling around the Junction.

My only complaint would be the slightly stressful ordering situation: where does the line start? why are there 20 people behind the counter but nobody’s taking anyone’s order?  After 80+ years in business, these are things I would expect they’ve had time to work out. Give me a system, and I’ll follow it. To the letter. I’ve been to the Soup Nazi, I know how lines work.

Either way, I know I’ll be visiting West Seattle soon and coming back to Husky Deli to try some more delicious combos.

Husky Deli & Catering
4721 California Avenue Southwest
Seattle, WA 98116

Uncovering an Ancient Chinese/Vietnamese/American Sandwich Secret in the ID

Sub-Sand is housed in an unassuming brick building between Jackson and Jefferson on 6th Avenue South in the I.D. Good luck finding parking around here, you’ll need it. Or you might be lucky enough to work nearby. Just remember that if you do need to pay, it’ll be worth your while.

Don’t let the outside fool you. Once inside, you’ll be transported to a delightful mash-up of Asian and American sandwich delights. The very personable proprietor, Tom Dang, is of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, and his menu reflects this. He and his family/staff work feverishly behind their spotless counter to painstakingly create fresh, interesting takes on the bahn mi slash sub hybrid.

On the day of my visit, the sandwich Special of the Day was Seaweed and Tofu. Right? Not brave enough to go there, I decided to try a basic barbequed chicken. Fresh, glazed chicken breast meat, crunchy lettuce, tomatoes and special sauce. My sandwich buddy went with the barbequed pork. I’d love to tell you about it, but I didn’t get a single bite.

My sandwich was a wonderful mixture of crunchy vegetables, creamy sauce, delicious fresh chicken, and a kick of heat from fresh jalapenos. The toothsome bread is an ode to french bread everywhere, certainly baked that morning or close to it. Have I mentioned the best part? All this for, I am not joking, $3.99(!)

Despite the delicious cuisine, another really great quality of Sub-Sand is the neighborhood-y ambiance. Mr. Dang chats with you, serves your sandwich on a plate, and asks you how you liked it. Did I mention this sandwich is $3.99?

A couple of caveats, and they are minor. One: eating space is limited. A rumour is afoot that they will be doubling their space soon, which would be a good thing, unless you enjoy eavesdropping on your table-mates/new best friends.

Two: my issue with any bahn mi-sized sandwich. One sometimes isn’t quite filling enough, and two is just too much food. I suggest supplementing with a little side snack, like the delicious, freshly prepared spring rolls, or something else small and snacky. Luckily, Sub Sand has an extensive menu of non-sandwich options to help you.

It’s obvious from the lunch crowd that Sub-Sand is a neighborhood fixture, and popular with everyone from young Asian students, start-up folks, and local government workers. I knew I’d hit paydirt when the neighborhood beat cops came in for a chat.

In fact, eating at Sub-Sand is a little like being in a musical right before everyone breaks into song. Definitely a throwback to what I sometimes think of as a bygone, locally-owned, sandwich shoppe era. I left satisfied, with a song in my heart, and plans to come back soon for the barbequed pork.

Sub Sand
419 6th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 682-1267