Chow Town

Gourmet food is fine, but bring on the sandwiches

I have often been accused of being a food snob.

Not true, I always say, but still the image persists. I can see why.

Having featured and eaten the cuisine of famous chefs from Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse (I ate at his kitchen table in Paris) to Charlie Trotter and Michael Mina — not to mention the incredible local talents of Debbie Gold, Michael Smith, Colby Garrelts, Jasper Mirabile and dozens of others — it’s easy to think all I care about is fine dining and fancy food.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Sure, I love a well-prepared, wine-matched, multi-course gourmet meal. My wife, daughter and I just had one recently at the three-star gem Boka in Chicago and it was an ethereal experience.

But you know what I love more than anything? A really good sandwich.

I eat more sandwiches than anything else. I love creating my own with leftovers, my wife’s homemade ciabatta, perhaps some lime or lemon mayonnaise and a slice of decent cheese. I just got some White Stilton cheese flavored with lemon that I can’t wait to melt on some ham.

But what I truly love is seeking out the best sandwiches from local joints all over the world. It may sound funny, but I even keep a list of my sandwich favorites in my head and I’m always willing to move a creation into or out of the top five.

So, here goes-my top five sandwich list from my travels, which include some 275 half-hour television shows filmed on six continents.

No. 5: Muffaletta at The Central Grocery in New Orleans. They claim to have invented this sandwich. Their version is served on round, soft Italian bread that’s layered with salami, ham and provolone. Then it’s topped with the Central Grocery’s secret olive salad, a spicy mix of chopped green and black olives with anchovies and garlic. It’s just about the perfect sandwich. I’ve had no better muffaletta inside or outside of the Big Easy.

No. 4: Smoked Meat at Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal. I’ve only had one pastrami sandwich in New York City and that was at the Second Avenue Deli. It was very good, but I don’t think I have enough experience in The Big Apple to outweigh the sandwich nirvana I had at Schwartz’s. Schwartz’s has been smoking meat and serving it up for more than 80 years. The beef is brined in a secret mix of and spices before being perfectly smoked then sliced and served. I brought home a jar of Schwartz’s spice mix, which I use on my mustard-coated, smoked corned beef. I can truly say it makes a difference. Expect a wait.

No. 3: Peameal Back Bacon at the Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. They serve up hundreds of these a day at the St. Lawrence Market, one of my favorite markets anywhere. The version you find at the is the best. The peameal refers to the coating the pork receives before being brined in that always secret combination of herbs and spices. The meat, which resembles a tenderloin to my American eye, is sliced thin and cooked on an open grill with onions before being layered onto picture perfect rolls that provide just the right amount of give and take. Add a little spicy mustard and you are in sandwich heaven. I’ve stopped for these especially on my way out of town, and I’d gladly do it again.

No. 2: Classic Mortadella at Vinitaly. Bologna gets a bad wrap in this country, and rightly so. Why would anyone brag about the rubbery, slimy, tasteless stuff that passes for Bologna here in the states? But, if you’ve ever had Mortadella, the authentic Bologna created in Bologna, Italy, you’d know there’s no comparison. And, if you’re ever lucky enough to attend Vinitaly, the second largest wine festival in the world held each spring in Verona, Italy, you simply have to try the Mortadella sandwiches. It’s nothing more than the meat on some fresh, crusty, Italian bread, but talk about purity of flavors. It’s said Italian chefs love simplicity. It has three ingredients, but the best three ingredients. Well, here there are just two, and two is plenty.

No. 1: Cuban at La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City, Fla. All I can say is, “Oh My Gosh.” For those of you who don’t know, Ybor City is a small, Cuban neighborhood in Tampa. For those of you who do, you’ve probably had this sandwich. This is sandwhich perfection — beautifully spiced pork, sliced thin and piled high with pickles, cheese and spicy mustard. It’s served on crunchy, yet moist authentic Cuban bread that’s been baked to an exact standard following a family recipe since the early part of the 20th Century. If you’re anywhere near Tampa, you owe yourself a trip to La Segunda. And if you're not, what are you waiting for?

Got your own favorite sandwiches? I've love to hear about ‘em.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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