Someone is always trying to tell us that a given year is the year of the sandwich. These clever people suggest that the sandwich has overtaken bacon, the slider or the cupcake as the new it food. But the sandwich isn't the dish of any one year — it's an everyday food, a workaday meal. The sandwich is where we blend tradition and innovation without conflict. It's where we're free to discover the limits of peanut butter and to forever wage the battle with melted cheese to not burn the ever-loving almighty out of our mouth.
Still, sandwiches are on a roll in 2013. Earlier this month, consulting firm Technomic released its 2012 "Sandwich Consumer Trend Report," in which it says sandwiches are worth an annual $27.7 billion to restaurants (mostly the big chains) because we buy 49 percent of our sandwiches out.
I decided to spend a month buying 100 percent of my sandwiches from local restaurants. For the purposes of this experiment, I disallowed burgers, hot dogs and tacos and set aside chain operations. There were just two simple criteria: (1) Did I enjoy my sandwich as much, if not more, when I ate the last bite as I did upon the first bite? (2) Did I want another one, even if I was full? Beyond that, it was just a question of finding some balance — I wouldn't advise you to spend an entire week mauling a line of pork tenderloins. So get out your calendars and ready your ketchup packets. You have some dates to circle.
No. 1 Hot
Carollo's Italian Grocery and Deli
Two bites in and your hands are covered with a light sheen of olive oil, like you're about to give a massage. Yup, things are going to get a bit messy. The Napoletano, or No. 1 Hot, as it's called by all of Kansas City (the "hot" comes from the sandwich's giardiniera, which you can order mild or mixed if you prefer), is a testament to building a balanced sandwich. The salt from the capicola, salami and prosciutto is cut by the provolone. The creaminess of the meat and cheese is, in turn, well met by the crusty Italian roll. And the slowly building heat of the giardiniera lingers in the back of your mouth — a muted fire that you can tame with one of the Italian cookies near the register. (9 East Third Street, 816-474-1860)
Christy's Tasty Queen
This is the kind of pork tenderloin that turned "Heartbreak Hotel" Elvis into Vegas Elvis. Christy's offers it grilled or fried, but just say tenderloin, and they'll know what you want: a pounded-flat filet, roughly the size and shape of Delaware, with a bun somewhere around its middle. A crunchy exterior envelops the juicy pork center, and a simple dress of mayo, onion and chopped lettuce lets the pork do the heavy lifting. As you hear the sizzle of the grill from behind the black-iron grate on top of the counter (think diner meets Brooklyn garden apartment), order a shake (peanut butter is the newest among nine flavors) to pass the time while you wait. (1405 South 55th Street, Kansas City, Kansas, 913-287-2800)
Stew lovers who are ready to leave winter behind, meet the lamb roll: a luscious, warm piece of paratha overstuffed with tender cubes of lamb generously spiced with cumin and black cardamom. This sandwich builds heat like Ryan Gosling at a singles bar, sending an unshakable message to your brain that you need to keep taking bites. After experiencing it unadulterated, apply a dollop of the evergreen mint chutney (it comes with a side of pakoras) to lighten up a lamb that melts like beef bourguignon. (651 East 59th Street, 816-260-5203, chaishaikc.com)