Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Afar: Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, Los Angeles, California

1517 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-8279

By Sandwich Koufax

“How far will you drive for a sandwich?” It’s a question we don’t get asked very often (by my count, I’ve never been asked), but it’s got to be one of life’s most important questions. And now I’m asking you. How far will you drive for a sandwich? How many hours (or days) will you journey? What kind of personal growth are you willing to experience for two slices of bread and some meat? As it turns out, my answer was about twenty minutes.

Los Angeles is a food lovers paradise. Not only can one find any type of cuisine, one can also find multiple options for that cuisine. If you don’t like the fried crickets at the place on Sunset, you can try them in Santa Monica, and the place in Silverlake will roast them with cockroaches if you ask them right. This creates an endless and healthy amount of debate. But if you survey any food lover in Los Angeles about their favorite sandwich most will list Bay Cities Deli at the top. If it’s not in the top slot it’s almost certain that it will be in their top three (Larchmont Deli and Portos tend to be the other top choices).

Unfortunately, the other thing about Los Angeles - and trust me, I hate to give strength to the cliché - is that it is sprawling. The beach is seventeen miles away, but it could easily take me an hour and it will never take less then twenty-five minutes. About five years ago I committed to living in Los Feliz, the first neighborhood I’ve ever lived in that felt like home. I barely use my car on the weekends (the first thing to ever happen in my life which made me think that miracles do exist) and I’m even starting to be on first name basis with local vendors. My neighborhood is a paradise and I rarely regret living here. However, when I made the choice to live here, I was also choosing to live a minimum of twenty-five minutes away from the best sandwich in Los Angeles. And so it had been approximately five years since the last time I made it all the way to Lincoln Ave and ate a Godmother sandwich from the counter at Bay Cities Deli, proof that my maximum travel time for a sandwich was about twenty minutes.

Fortunately, I recently had a meeting on the westside, within blocks of Bay Cities Deli, and I was able to convince my writing partner that it was our only option for lunch. It had been a long time, but it all came rushing back the minute I saw the simple red sign shining like a beacon. The experience is half the battle at Bay Cities. Not just a deli, Bay Cities is also a small grocery store with narrow aisles. I know they sell various sundries, but I couldn’t give you any specifics, because the first thing you do upon entering is brave the crush of humanity crowding around the deli counter. Bay Cities is busy enough that when we took our number, 83 they were currently serving customer 93 (hyperbole, but I’ve been as many as 40 digits away on the weekend). The number of customers also forces you to be ready; the fifteen or so employees working the 30 foot counter have no patience for the slow or weak, and if you’re not ready for them, they will move on without mercy. When our number finally came I ordered my usual (or what would be my usual if I had been to Bay Cities in the last half decade), the Godmother Sandwich: genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone, with the works, no onions, no pickles and spicy peppers.

The Godmother is the type of sandwich that is going to get messy on you. Fortunately it comes wrapped in heavy duty butcher paper, so the oils, toppings and various chunks of sandwich that get squeezed out as you attempt to tear your way through the tough and deliciously crusty bread get trapped in a nice stew that you can reference at various points in the sandwich. Feel like you could use some more peppers? There they are, collected in the butcher paper. Want some more dressing on your next bite? Just dip the sandwich in the pool in the paper. This is a sandwich you need a napkin for, so make sure to ask for it when you pay at the register. But it’s also a sandwich that makes you reconsider your answer to life’s most important question. As I slaughtered this sandwich (and it was a slaughter) I was kicking myself for letting time and distance separate me from something I already knew was so good. It’s not like Bay Cities was a place I’d been “meaning to try.” It was a place I had been meaning to go back to, but I let the traffic on the 10 keep me away, and that was not something I was comfortable with.

The Godmother sandwich has been written about a lot, but I’ll do my part and say that it might be the best sandwich I’ve ever had and it is without a doubt the best “Italian” style sandwich I’ve ever had in my belly. Everything about it is pitch-perfect. The bread is delicious and the hard crust will cut the roof of your mouth if you’re not careful. The meats are of impeccable quality and the five (FIVE!) different types complement each other well. The spicy Italian peppers are not overwhelming and the condiments add flavor without overwhelming anything else. This sandwich is the King and now that I’ve been reminded of what sandwich wears the crown in Los Angeles I have a new answer to life’s most important question. How far will I drive for a sandwich? How far is Bay Cities Deli?

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From Afar: No Name Delicatessen, Columbia, South Carolina

2042 Marion Street
Columbia, SC 29201

By Don Archebaub

I’ve been an avid reader of the Cleveland Sandwich Board since I met Beau at the wedding of a mutual friend. We’ve stayed in touch, and knowing my love of food, he encouraged me to try my hand at reviewing some of my experiences shoving chow down my gullet. While I am extremely outspoken with my opinion on any topic, I’ve never fancied myself a writer of any skill, and the idea of committing my personal thoughts on a subject so dear to my heart and arteries was nothing short of intimidating. I’ve finally decided that there are some places in this town that truly deserve an honest assessment of the sandwiches they produce. So, here goes.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the No Name Deli is how busy it was. The dining room was completely filled, there were two lines backed up close to the door, and there was constant movement of people between the different areas of the store. I wasn’t sure where the line formed and what the process was, and within seconds of walking in, more customers streamed in behind me. These people were obviously regulars and knew exactly what to do; sensing my confusion they quickly walked around me to the stack of trays and began making their way through the line to get their lunches. I took this opportunity to watch the process and learn how this place works.

I fell in line behind a group of people who were obviously co-workers in a nearby office. I noticed an old menu board on the wall that, aside from the prices, has probably not changed in over 20 years. There is nothing unusual about the offerings: ham sandwich, salami, turkey, pimento cheese, etc. As I slid my tray down the line, I grabbed a cup and filled it up with diet coke from the ancient soda fountain, slid past the self-serve refrigerator with a hand written sign offering the best banana pudding you would ever eat, and got ready to tell my order to one of the numerous young people moving in a chaotic ballet of sandwiches and side dishes.

The teenager behind the counter shouted “NEXT ORDER!” and immediately began looking at me impatiently. “Chicken breast sandwich, on wheat!” I said loudly. In less than a minute the line had moved down numerous spots and it seemed like I was rushing past the sandwich line as a flurry of workers put together sandwiches, bowls of soup, sides of pasta, and deli pickles. As I quickly moved closer to the cash register I was asked by a different teenager, “you want fries or pasta salad?” Again I hesitated. I started looking around and see movement all around me; yet again I am stalling the well oiled machine. “Pasta salad” I manage to mumble out. “LettuceTomatoMayoHoneyMustard?” she asks in a single breath. “Uhm…sure.” I replied before I had even understood what it was I was being asked. The line kept moving and suddenly I was standing next to the cash register with an empty tray. I started to tell the guy I got a chicken sandwich, but before it is out of my mouth he says “Number Two with pasta and a soda, $7.70 please.” His fingers then began dancing over the buttons; he knew the price before the register did. Clearly the man had sold a sandwich or two in his day. Seemingly out of nowhere a plate appeared with a large sandwich and a heaping pile of pasta salad and was placed on the counter in front of me. I took my change, grabbed my plate and found a small table in the dining room next to an elderly couple.

I took a look at my sandwich and immediately realized how sloppy it looks. Chicken hung out irregularly around the parts of the large rectangular bun. After my first bite, any concerns about the presentation disappeared. The bun was a large wheat bun with a slightly sweet taste, toasted to be firm enough to hold a large piece of chicken without falling apart within the first few bites. I quickly realized that the chicken was hanging out from parts of the bun because it was a real chicken breast that looked like it was grilled right there in the store, not a processed chicken patty, or neatly formed grilled and pressed breast meat creation. The bulk of the meat was juicy and easy to bite through, with a few dry areas around the periphery. The honey mustard was sweet and mild, adding flavor to the chicken but not overpowering it. The shredded lettuce fell out from the edges of the sandwich as I begin to devour my meal. I was immediately impressed with the sandwich and ate half of it in only a few bites. I realized how fast I wolfed down the first half and look around at my fellow patrons, hoping that no one noticed. I take a few bites of the pasta salad. It is your typical multi-colored rotini pasta with some veggies and what tastes like Italian dressing; it was the standard good compliment to just about any sandwich.

As I forced myself to slow down while I ate the rest of my meal, I started to people-watch. I decided that the slightly graying man working the cash register must be the owner because he kept a watchful eye on everything that is going on. Occasionally he gave out instructions to the sandwich makers and table bussing staff. He always had a slight smile on his face and didn’t look stressed out, no matter how busy the line got. There were two children walking around the dining room offering to clear away trays the moment patrons were done eating. I assumed that they were the register guy’s children from the way he kept his eye on them. The pace of the line hardly let up as I ate. Seconds after I put my napkin down on my plate, one of the children immediately came up and asked me if I was done and could he take my tray please. I nod to him and he quickly grabbed it.

I looked around and realized that if the flux capacitor in my Delorean was working, I could have had this exact same experience in 1985, or even 1995. Everything about the No Name Deli is likely the same as it has been for years. The reason for this is no doubt because there is no need to update anything. The menu is simple, straight forward, and good. The service is quick and efficient. There are no gimmicks or trendy ideas, just fresh food made and served quickly- and that puts it on my list of my favorite places in Columbia.

No Name Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 17, 2010

National Hamburger Festival

by Beau Cadiyo

This is just a quick write-up of the National Burger Festival down in Akron this weekend. To save money and stomach space, we ate only at non-chain places or places we wouldn't be able to eat at in Cleveland (Sorry Dim and Den Sum - we still want to review you!). Here's our report. If you go, let us know what you think in the comments!

Menches Brothers Restaurant
330 S Main St
Akron, OH 44308
(330) 375-1717

Menches made a big deal out of how they invented the hamburger and that they'd won a bunch of awards at the festival. We went with the Festival burger.

Meat: VERY greasy, but also juicy. Overall, it was a bit above average for what we sampled.
Toppings: The bacon was the crispiest we had that day.
Condiments: The Menches sauce was excellent. It tasted like it was mustard-based; it added a huge amount of flavor to the burger, and I was tempted to go back with some other burgers to just pour on some of the sauce.
Bread: Average - nothing special.
Overall: A decent burger.

Menches Brothers Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Main Street Burger
I'm not sure which Main Street place this is - I think it just said "Main Street Burger." Therefore I won't put any address or link through to it. We ate here partly because there was a massive man taking orders; it reminded me of Eating Cleveland's adage that one shouldn't trust skinny people to review food.

Meat: Much drier than the Menches Bros burger, to the point where Frank called it tasteless.
Toppings: Excellent pickles in every bite.
Condiments: Mustard and Ketchup were slathered on.
Bread: Average - nothing special.
Overall: This was a classic burger. I'm not sure I could recommend it over others, but it was ok.

57 E Market St
Akron, OH 44308
(330) 253-1234

The people at Crave were the most artistic-looking and the most friendly. It was great to see the two owners behind the booth, taking orders and cooking. They looked happy.

Meat: In my opinion this was probably the best overall burger we had today. The meat played a huge role - it actually tasted like meat, and was just slightly charred.
Toppings: In the four bites I had of this burger I got four distinct, different tastes: peppers, bacon, red onion and barbecue sauce. The chihuahua cheese they put on it was there, but didn't register on my tongue.
Condiments: Barbecue sauce - very good.
Bread: This was one of the two breads that stood out. Normally buns with seeds have the seeds on the top, and the bottom is just ignored and left seedless. Crave's bun had sesame seeds on top and on bottom so that the bun was covered in seeds.
Overall: Very good. Worth an award, actually.

Metro Burger
845 W Market St
Akron, OH 44303
(330) 253-8743

This burger was pretty run-of-the-mill. However, they do win the award for the most comely servers.

Meat: Generic.
Toppings: This had the most fresh vegetables of any that we tried today. For this they should be applauded.
Condiments: Average.
Bread: Average.
Overall: Average.

Steel Trolley Diner (STD)
140 E. Lincoln Way
Lisbon, Ohio 44432
(330) 424-3663

This is one of those places people go to because it's branding itself as fun and edgy - literally. They char "STD" into each bun, and their shirts say "How about something thick and creamy?" on the back. The Johnny Appleseed was creative, but not great.

Meat: Very bad. Nobody was impressed.
Toppings: This burger had apple sauce on top, which was a really great addition. The idea was excellent - all they need is better meat and they'll be great!
Condiments: Applesauce. Awesome.
Bread: Average.
Overall: This would be a winner with better meat.

Martini Brothers
1300 N state Street
Girard, OH, 44420

John Wayne Burger

This was one of the most difficult and entertaining burgers to get. The brothers - I hope they were brothers - argued with each other, were frustrated and overwhelmed, and were slammed with orders. Their stand didn't seem to be set up too well - they were constantly reaching over each other to get things. However, they put out a very high-quality product. Good luck to them!

Meat: This became the best meat we had, I believe. At this point we were a bit full, so that's saying a lot - it wasn't spiced with hunger.
Toppings: The bacon was ok; the onion rings were amazing.
Condiments: There wasn't anything special on this, but there didn't need to be - it was a good combination. They also had a burger with some sort of tomato soup reduction which I wanted to try.
Bread: They used some sort of ciabatta bread which added a lot of texture. I was really impressed, but it struck home how few other places were experimenting with bread at this festival.
Overall: Very good.

Windsor Pub

1322 E Tallmadge Ave
Akron, OH 44310
(330) 633-5211

We saw this when we went in, and saved it for last - glorious last. We shouldn't have, as it left us with a bad taste in our mouth that only Buckeye Birch Beer could take away.

Meat: Horrible. This was the biggest disappointment of the day, because the actual cooking of the meat was impressive, and the lines for Windsor were by far the longest we saw. However, the meat tasted like it had been frozen for a long time, thawed and then horribly charred.
Toppings: Dismal. The mushrooms were clearly straight out of a can and the onions were completely flavorless. The provalone cheese was about the only thing that made a positive impact.
Condiments: None. They would have helped.
Bread: The bread had a nice swirl on top but was otherwise unexceptional.
Overall: Each of us took a bite of this, the biggest burger we saw at the festival. Then, we put the remainder back on the plate and threw it away. Like models who look good but end up being boring, or actually horrible people, this looked great but wasn't worth a bite.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Frank Vardakas-Styrna, a friend of mine from high school, now lives and works in San Francisco. She was at work today when - dum dum DUM - she found herself stuck in an elevator. Looking on the bright side (as she is wont to do), she sent a message to Facebook:

"We always made jokes about getting stuck in this coffin on a string. Can't believe it actually happened. At least I have a sandwich #stuck"

She subsequently wrote:

I recommend carrying a sandwich at all times. Just in case you might be stuck in an elevator."

Folks, we've said it before and we'll say it again: be prepared. While you many not think tragedy can ever happen to you, remember Frank's words and learn from her experience. Do not let her ordeal be in vain. ALWAYS CARRY A SANDWICH.



This interesting piece just in from the New York Times. Sandwiches in a can. I think this could be on par with week-old wonderbread and store-brand PB&J. They might need to create a removable barrier between the ingredients to prevent them from making the bread soggy.

Your thoughts?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sandwich Science™ Report

There's an outstanding new report from India which purports to show that...well, in their words:

"Based on some concrete market fundamentals, we anticipate that the sandwich segment will register one of the most impressive growths in overall fast food market of the US during our forecast period, thus becoming one of the most dominating market segments in the fast food industry.

"Our systematic and thorough research studies the US fast food market to give an insight into its various segments, including Burgers, Sandwiches, Pizza/Pasta, Mexican, Chicken, Snacks, Seafood and Asian. The comprehensive analysis of the market has identified burgers market as the highest share-holder at present, but future will see a revival of the market when other segments will also post rapid growth." (emphasis supplied)

I question a few things about the study - after all, burgers are clearly sandwiches, and sandwiches DO exist in Mexican food (tortas), chicken (chicken salad), snacks (tea sandwiches), seafood (po' boys) and Asian food (Bahn Mi anyone?). Regardless, if the zodiac sign for Sandwich hadn't been replaced by stupid Gemini (the symbol of which is clearly a sandwich), we would say that Sandwich was ascendant. Momentum is entirely on our side and resistance is futile. For those of you who didn't believe us before, you now have to argue with Sandwich Science™ AND Sandwich Statistics™.

If anyone wants a copy of this important and impressive new research, there's a link at the bottom of the article.