Carb stomping through a month of KC's tastiest two-handers 

click to enlarge Above: Oklahoma Joe's Z-Man

Photo by Chris Mullins

Above: Oklahoma Joe's Z-Man

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.


Day 1
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)

Day 2
Pork Tenderloin
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)

Day 3
Lamb Roll

Chai Shai

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)

Day 4
Dagwood
Dagwood's Café

I fell in love with the Dagwood when the waitress asked if I would like ham, bacon or sausage — or all three — on my sandwich. This is no kitchen-sink gimmick but rather a beautifully layered, greasy breakfast. Crisp hash browns and American cheese lead to a fried egg with the right amount of salt and pepper and that trio of meats. Because you do, in fact, want all three. It's a lunch-pail meal served hot enough to sear the roof of your mouth, so take a moment to admire it before you commence devouring. (1117 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas, 913-677-0747)

Day 5
Po Jack
Mad Jack's on Troost

The Po Jack is an envelope-sized slab of catfish, perfectly coated in a peppery cornmeal batter, sticking out from both ends of a white hoagie roll. The condiments and toppings — lettuce, tomato and white onion, tucked into a white french-fry bag with a single of American cheese — are served on the side, meaning that the cooked-to-order fish is never soggy. Throw on a splash of Louisiana hot sauce and raw onion, and remember why you don't give a damn that we don't live near an ocean. (6200 Troost, 816-361-6999, madjacksontroost.com)

Day 6
Z-Man
Oklahoma Joe's

Fried, smoked and cheese-covered — these are the three husky legs of the Kansas City food pyramid. And the Z-Man rings the triangle with two crisp onion rings, melted provolone and heaps of smoked brisket. (There's a pulled-chicken version as well.) Traditionalists balk at the cheese, and some outliers insist that the Z-Man is overrated. Whatever. Just remember to call ahead to skip the line of out-of-state suckers. (3002 West 47th Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas, 913-722-3366; other locations; oklahomajoesbbq.com)

Day 7
French Dip
Adrian's Café

At Adrian's Café, you are an urchin hoping the baker has fat fingers, so that when he makes your slice, it's just a bit bigger. The bread is the draw here, freshly baked and as soft as the inside of a new hoodie. Forgo eating the French dip as a sandwich and instead dunk the soft white bread into a jus that's just the right shade of RC Cola. (11120 Antioch, Overland Park, 913-661-9247; 16201 West 95th Street, Lenexa, 913-438-8560; adrianscafe.net)

Day 8
Beef Sandwich
Arthur Bryant's

Beef piled high like a stack of boards waiting to be built into a fence. A squeeze bottle of a vinegar concoction that strips away all the sweet rubbish others pass off as barbecue sauce. The chance to understand why the finest meals are cooked by someone else, at a low temperature, for a long time. A sandwich that, at its best, is worth not just a drive but a flight. (1727 Brooklyn, 816-231-1123; other locations; arthurbryantsbbq.com)

Day 9
The Reuben
Café Sebastienne

This Reuben belongs in a museum because it's meant to be enjoyed in reverent silence. You won't want to use your mouth for anything other than chewing after your teeth sink into the buttered, toasted marble rye. American Kobe corned beef here comes bedazzled with red cabbage, gruyère cheese and the familiar tang of Thousand Island dressing. Don't let the $14.50 price tag stop you. Art appreciates. (4420 Warwick, 816-561-7740, kemperart.org)

Day 10
Roast Beef
Monk's Roast Beef

Pahk ya cah next to the bright-yellow food truck and learn why roast-beef shops in Boston are second only to Dunkin' Donuts. Drop the word sandwich (the way an NFL announcer drops the word injury) and just say junior, medium or large beef. You'll get piles of rare-to-medium sliced meat, stacked like a winding mountain road that's able to withstand a deluge of vinegary, sweet barbecue sauce inside a sesame-seed bun. It's punch-Ben Affleck-in-the-face good. (816-510-0087, monksroastbeef.com)

Day 11
Chicken Salad
Crossroads Coffeehouse

Take a cue from When Harry Met Sally and have what she's having. She, in this case, is co-owner Jalene Berger, and her off-menu creation is chicken salad, pickles and lettuce, buttressed by two slices of provolone on a toasted everything bagel. The thing single-handedly rehabilitates chicken salad's image, which has been ravaged by years of plastic-wrapped, airport-terminal failure. (310 Southwest Boulevard, 816-255-2402, kccrossroadscoffee.com)

Day 12
Very Veggie
The Nutty Girl

The only prepackaged offering on this list (day-old sandwiches are $1 cheaper) is in the refrigerator at Waldo's One More Cup, but Nutty Girl products aren't so much plastic-wrapped as they are cared for. The Very Veggie marries garlic-and-dill cream cheese with swiss cheese in a well-suited, albeit unlikely, union. Tomatoes, carrots and cucumber slices fill out the rest of the space between multigrain bread for a sandwich that's uncommonly refreshing. (Sold at One More Cup, 7408 Wornall, 816-994-3644, onemorecupkc.com)

Day 13
Torta Pastor
El Torito II Supermart

Don't try to eat this one behind the wheel. Stick around the tiny taqueria attached to the big supermarket and absorb the flavors: the sauce, the spice, the creamy avocado, the plump spoonful of mayo. You'll be in good company, alongside road workers still wearing their neon vests and mothers trying to entice toddlers to eat. There's music in the air as the kitchen crew whistles and sings and your pork sizzles on the griddle. (1409 Central, Kansas City, Kansas, 816-668-2471, 1wp.com/go/eltoritosupermart)

Day 14
Fried Egg and Sage
Martin City Brewing Co.

Carefully pick your seat on the patio — every so often, you luck into a rocking metal chair — and let the beer-savvy waitstaff tell you what you want from the taps. Less thought is required for your sandwich, though, because whatever you're drinking probably goes with this herb garden encased in grilled sourdough. The yolk runs with the slow precision of Nicolas Cage, mingling with the garlic and the garlic aïoli and the tomato and the mozzarella. This is why we eat breakfast for dinner (with beer). (500 East 135th Street, 816-268-2222, martincitybrewingcompany.com)

Day 15
BLT
The Peanut

Bar food is like comedy — it usually improves after a few drinks. But the BLT is the rare pub sub that you find yourself craving even when you're sober as a judge. The Peanut version is the best we've had of the kind you might make in your own kitchen. No fancy ingredients are involved, just the right fixings (toasted wheat bread, for instance). Ask for crisp bacon, but don't otherwise mess with the sandwich that generates its own bacon craze. (5000 Main, 816-753-9499; other locations; peanutkc.com)

Day 16
Fried Gulf-Shrimp Po'boy
The Fish Market

Did a New Orleans fishing boat beach somewhere off Route 291? That's the only way to explain how the South so easily reaches Liberty. The fried gulf-shrimp po'boy at the month-old fish joint in the former Liberty Bend Fish Market has heaps of crunchy, zesty shrimp on lettuce, pickles, mayo, ketchup and a generous splash of Crystal Hot Sauce. Tell them that you want a side of hush puppies; here, those gloriously fried golf balls set you back just one more dollar. (1120 East Old State Route 210, Liberty, facebook.com/FishMarketLiberty)

Day 17
Veggie
Sorella's 

It can be hard to get one of the nine tables at this deli in downtown Liberty — and not just because the place is so petite. For one thing, Sorella's makes its own green- and black-olive spreads. The former goes on its hot muffaletta; the latter joins havarti cheese, roasted red peppers and balsamic vinaigrette in the veggie. Get it on pumpernickel. A half-sandwich is plenty, especially if you're getting one of the house-baked cookies. (7 North Missouri, Liberty, 816-781-1200, sorellasdeli.com)

Day 18
Croque Madame
Aixois

A lovely intersection of breakfast and lunch occurs daily in Aixois' croque madame. The French bistro adds an over-easy egg to its bubbly, cheese-covered ham sandwich (the croque monsieur). Things start feeling like Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of money when you realize there's also a decadent béchamel sauce to finish it off. Aixois' patio is kid- and dog-friendly, meaning parents of two- or four-legged children don't have to sacrifice when going out. (251 East 55th Street, 816-333-3305, aixois.com)

Day 19
Panes Rellenos
El Salvadoreño

The Salvadoran restaurant in downtown Overland Park serves chicken that's as saucy as Rue McClanahan. Make sure you lean back because this one gets juicy. Hand-pulled chicken, topped with a red chile sauce, slowly softens the baguette that holds it, and the other stuff — beets, lettuce, tomato and mayo — complement the dominant flavors. Pile on a side bowl of escabeche (pickled cauliflower, onions, carrots and jalapeños) and a plate of sweet plantains. (7926 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, 913-871-6165)

Day 20
Il Parma
Bella Napoli

Call ahead, walk up to the deli counter, and grab the best five-ingredient sandwich in the city. Buttery prosciutto di Parma, creamy fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, basil and a brush of olive oil — that's what goes in an Italian sub. And come to think of it, don't even worry about calling first; just walk in and order an espresso to sip while you wait. (6229 Brookside Boulevard, 816-444-5041, kcbellanapoli.com)

Day 21
Ham
Happy Gillis

There's a symphony in Columbus Park, a pig opus. Happy Gillis' ham sandwich uses pickled shallots, swiss cheese and cornichon butter, and the result is a nearly celestial harmony. The perfect finishing notes: a fat chocolate-chip cookie and a cold beer. (549 Gillis, 816-471-3663, happygillis.com)

Day 22
Vietnamese Dim Sum Chicken
Ingredient

This restaurant's booths are an awkward height, and the décor suggests Crate & Barrel outcasts, but the Vietnamese dim-sum chicken wrap renders those things irrelevant. Inside it: spicy coconut-curry chicken, carrot slivers, cucumber, glass noodles, roasted peanuts and chopped napa cabbage. It's a warm, portable cousin of pad Thai. (4807 Jefferson, 816-994-3393; other locations; ingredientrestaurant.com)

Day 23
Thai Chicken
Longboards

Let's be honest: This place could slather its peanut sauce and pepper-jack cheese on a napkin, and I'd still gladly fork over $10 for a lick. The sandwich shop with Hawaiian and Asian influences thrives on unconventional combinations (California roll and teriyaki pork here, mac and cheese plus sausage there), but it earns the right with masterful pairings of sweet and spicy. Case in point: the Thai chicken sandwich. (6269 North Oak Trafficway, Gladstone, 816-454-0008; 1173 West Kansas, Liberty, 816-407-9528)

Day 24
Falafel
Olive Café

Tucked as it is in a blocky shopping center behind a gas station, the Olive Café would be easy to miss — if it didn't have a half-dozen signs proclaiming its name in big bold letters. You may be tempted to put up a sign of your own after you eat a sandwich from the small Middle Eastern market. It's handed to you in an Einstein Bros bag, but there's no trace of chain bagels here. No, what you're about to taste is delicate falafel, brimming with green specks of parsley and nestled amid lettuce, pickles and hummus in a soft, incredible pita. (9530 James A. Reed Road, 816-763-0009)

Day 25
Chicken-Fried Chicken
Sandy's Restaurant

The prehistoric, massive chickens that once roamed Kansas and Missouri must be in the deep freezer at Sandy's. The family restaurant advertises its tenderloins with a neon sign in the window (it reads: "Tenderloins"), but the chicken-fried-chicken sandwich is the freak show you want. It's a bird of unusual size, and you order more than one at your own risk. Better, probably, for you and a friend to Lady and the Tramp this one. The exceptionally moist chicken comes topped with lettuce, raw onion and mayo. May it never become extinct. (1428 Southwest U.S. Highway 40, Blue Springs, 816-295-1325)

Day 26
Inside-Out Grilled Cheese
Urban Table

Reinvention is usually difficult, so something called an Inside-Out Grilled Cheese gets points for sheer vision. But the thing actually works, an even more impressive feat. Urban Table's combination of gruyère, fontina and provolone mingles to form a cracker crust on the outside. The normal domain of the cheese — in this case, inside toasted ciabatta — is here taken up with a sweet and spicy tomato relish. This is as close as humankind may get to Wonka's three-course-dinner gum. (8232 Mission, Prairie Village, 913-948-6900, urbantablekc.com)

Day 27
Vegetarian Ba'nh Mi
Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop

Lulu's knows how to pickle things. But before your mouth has a chance to pucker from the vinegary carrot, cucumber and daikon radish in this sandwich, the Sriracha aïoli (medium is plenty hot) arrives in full, lip-tingling force. The ground tofu has enough body to effectively mimic the absent pork pâté. You could call it the Ba'nh Meatless, but no flavor is missing. (2030 Central, 816-474-8424, lulusnoodles.com)

Day 28
Egg Salad
You Say Tomato

You don't expect a sandwich with such a dainty rep to answer the sheer raw power of your hunger, but this one does. Inside halves of a buttery croissant floats an egg salad rich with plenty of onion and a dash of pepper. It's not a small sandwich, but it goes down in the blink of an eye. And it goes well with pie — something else at which You Say Tomato excels. Cross your fingers for rhubarb. (2801 Holmes, 816-756-5097, ystkc.com)

Day 29
Mahi Mahi Wrap
Twisted

It's not on the menu, but ask for the mahi mahi tacos as a wrap. There's a spicy slaw, and some cayenne in the grill seasoning, but the craving stems from the sweetness imparted by the Sriracha honey aïoli. It's filling but light, like a good summer blockbuster. (22030 West 66th Street, Shawnee, 913-441-0444, twistedfresh.com)

Day 30
Prime Rib French Dip
Golden Ox

Open-faced sandwiches are as rare in KC as throwback steakhouses, but you can experience both in the West Bottoms. Saddle up to a leather-buttoned booth, order an Old Fashioned in a lowball glass, and rejoice in having successfully brought your cattle in from the trail. Then proceed to eat someone else's cattle when you order this rare slab of prime rib, which you get to dredge in a salty jus as you like. (1600 Genessee, 816-842-2866, goldenox.com)

Day 31
House-Cured Pastrami
The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange

The soul of a tiny Jewish deli lives within the Rieger. How else to explain the posh downtown dinner destination producing what might be the ultimate construction-worker lunch: its sandwich of house-cured pastrami. Served hot on toasted marble rye, with coarse-grain mustard, it's good enough to justify its own sandwich shop. (Personal to Howard Hanna: Please open a sandwich shop.) Bonus for Baltimore natives: The house chips come dusted with Old Bay Seasoning. (1924 Main, 816-471-2177, theriegerkc.com)

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