The Great Sandwich Hunt

2012.Jun.20 Wednesday · 5 comments

in Food & Recipes, Restaurants

It seems sandwiches are all the rage these days. Recent blog posts on a couple of different local sites have declared top 5s or 10s of their personal searches and favorites. Adam Richman just launched his new show Best Sandwich in America which, while interesting and mouthwatering subject material is so poorly put together as to be near unwatchable, nearly driving me to download and re-watch episodes of Man vs. Food. Nearly. But the whole idea is inspiring, and I’ve long reviewed sandwiches that I’ve come across here when worthy of a mention, positively or negatively.

And so, I’m on The Great Sandwich Hunt – seeking out the best sandwiches from any barrio and perhaps even the city surrounds. And, trying to enlist various friends in accompanying me – allowing for multiple sandwich tryouts on any given day – we can order one at each place and share, you know? Over the next couple of weeks I’ll setup a page that has the current rankings, similar to my expat snacks page. I’m thinking to organize it both by type of sandwich as well as by barrio, so there will be two ways to look for a winner – and, they may not have the same winners, if you stop to think about it.

So what constitutes a sandwich? According to Wikipedia, “A sandwich is a food item, typically consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them, or one slice of bread with a topping or toppings, commonly called an open sandwich.” They even note that a court in Boston ruled that a sandwich must include “at least two slices of bread”, removing such things as tacos, burritos, shawarmas, wraps, etc. from consideration. I’m inclined to agree with the general concept, though I do accept the open faced sandwich which only has one slice. I’m excluding, arbitrarily perhaps, things like burgers, meat or veggie; and probably anything simply wrapped up in a flatbread of one sort or another (shawarmas get their own listing already on my snacks page, and a falafel one is probably not far behind, just sayin’); there may be an occasional inclusion for something particularly outstanding that is, say, stuffed in a pita, but even there I’m likely to shy away.

In terms of those that will actually get any serious consideration – it’s unlikely that I’ll give any attention to something like your typical pebete or miga, simply because the chances of either type offering any sort of satisfaction worth making a trip for are beyond slim – though if anyone wants to assert they know of or offer one worthy of making a trip, I’ll check it out. Will I consider something like a local chori-, bondi-, vacio-, morci- pan? If they have something special to offer, yes – not if they’re simply a slice or two of meat or a split sausage, grilled and shoved on an oversized length of bread. They’ll have to be outstanding in terms of additions, condiments, bread, or something else of the sort.

I begin with the first round of some that were suggested to me via Twitter from local friends. And I’m taking names and suggestions for more – barrio is unimportant, the motto is, “Have Sandwich, Will Travel”.

Peru Express - chicharron
When Jamie suggested the chicharrón sandwich from Peru Express, Marcelo T. Alvear 990 in Centro, I had visions of something like a large fried chicken sandwich, only with pork. After all, the definition of chicharrón is deep-fried pork rind, or pork belly, or something similar. I felt my cholesterol rising just thinking about it. But, it turns out to be neither pork rinds nor fried, but rather thick slices of meltingly tender and juicy pork shoulder braised in a supremely flavorful broth, with lettuce underneath to keep the tasty bread from getting soggy and pickled red onions on top for some zing. A little saltier than I like, but not so salty as to be a problem. Delicious and definitely a top contender. Is it worth the 34 peso price tag with no accompaniments? Yes. [Unfortunately, closed.]

Club Danés - herring
Club Danés - pate sandwich

Matt suggested Club Danés, at Av. Alem 1074, essentially the lunchroom for the Danish consulate and embassy. He had fond recollections of the open-faced pickled herring sandwich. First off, the lunchroom has a great view over the harbor which is kind of cool, especially if you can get a table at the window. The menu offers two plates of the day and/or a list of a dozen smorbrod. The latter turn out to be a single slice of brown or light rye bread with a topping, pickled vegetables of one sort or another on pretty much all of them. The herring was perfectly cured and tasty and set-off nicely by the pickled onions. 24 pesos for a single herring fillet, a lettuce leaf, some onion, and a slice of bread, regardless of how good, is really pretty pricey, and not particularly filling or satisfying. The waitress asserted that the most popular sandwich on the menu is the pork liver pate, so I had one of those brought to the table as well. Another 28 pesos – actually more interesting though, a quite good pate and a mix of pickled cucumbers and beets – the latter a fantastic accompaniment. Quite good, but I felt neither to be worth the price. I should go check out the similar offering at Club Sueco just for comparison.

Malvón - hot pastrami
La Crespo - hot pastrami

Two different hot pastrami sandwich recommendations came my way. The first, also from Matt, was for Malvón, Serrano 789, Villa Crespo, which I’ve already tried, been moderately disappointed by (as pastrami, it’s a perfectly good smoked brisket sandwich), and written up. Carly suggested that I check out the version at La Crespo, Thames 612 also in Villa Crespo. Pastrami, or pastrón, as it’s called here is always so disappointing, more or less being the lunchmeat, Oscar Mayer, sort of version – minimal flavor, thin slices, boring. And entering the little hole in the wall that is La Crespo, mostly a takeout joint with a dozen bar stools scattered around at high tables, didn’t prime me for anything much better. So what a fantastic surprise to find that they offer up the real thing – smoked and braised and absolutely dead-on delicious, served on dark rye with good pickles, spicy mustard and an accompanying onion compote. It’s no Katz’s, but then, what is? The owner even, as we chatted, apologized for it being “only a little bit like New York” – not as over-stuffed because “it’s just not the custom here”. It was plenty stuffed, believe me – and my only criticisms are personal choices – this is very lean pastrami, I’d usually get the fatty type back in NYC, even if I shouldn’t, and, I prefer a “Jewish rye”, i.e., a lighter “corn rye” – and on a return visit I may ask if they have that, since they seem to have a variety of breads. Top contender, no doubt, and well worth the high 30s peso price and the trip across town. They also offer other deli stuff – a really good potato knish, chopped liver, and more.

Mark’s Deli - chicken and guacamole
Several people told me “any sandwich” at Mark’s, El Salvador 4701, Palermo, were “just amazing”, “true deli sandwiches”, and other similar accolades. Trying to select from the 20 or so offerings with no assertions as to one particular one that stands out left it up to chance. Especially when my waiter’s response was so typically porteño, completely noncommittal, proceeding to list off nearly every single sandwich on the menu. I finally asked him which was the most ordered one and he narrowed it down to either the smoked salmon or the chicken and guacamole. This is the latter. Plain, uninteresting baguette-ish “olive” bread (there were 2, count them, 2, pieces of olive stuck into the bread that I could find). Refrigerator cold thin slices of dried out, flavorless chicken that had probably been sliced early in the day and left to sit awaiting being stuck on the sandwich (reinforced by his delivering the sandwich to me in roughly 2-3 minutes after my ordering it), a schmear of what only purports to be guacamole – nothing more than some mashed avocado, unseasoned, and a few wilted spinach leaves. Complete disappointment and completely outrageous at 47 pesos, especially with no accompaniments – some of their sandwiches are far more. At least the meal was vaguely redeemed by Mark’s offering of iced coffee and iced tea, and pretty decent pastries for dessert (the lemon budín rocks).

El Peruanito Ray - lechon
A few years ago a “Peruvian sandwich shop” opened up at Fitz Roy 2299 in Palermo – a little open air countertop on the corner of Paraguay. I remember trying it once and not being overly excited by anything other than some decent sweet potato fries. I never wrote it up, it just wasn’t that interesting. At some point it closed and then reopened under new management, part of two location “chain” called El Peruanito Ray (the other is in Las Cañitas). It’s gotten notice mostly because one of our local delivery services, Buenos Aires Delivery, has it consistently ranked near the top of places in terms of number of items ordered. That’s not a personal recommendation, and I hadn’t looked closely enough to see which sandwich out of the half dozen is the one that stands out (turns out it’s the BBQ chicken). I ordered the lechon, suckling pig. I won’t do that again. Tough, chewy, overcooked meat with nothing that resembled the tenderness of good lechon – I was thinking or a little crackly skin and melting soft meat – not. The bread was little more than an oversized hamburger bun with a bit more crust to it. The red onions atop were insipid, the lettuce wilted, the tomato hard and flavorless, and the accompanying sweet potato fries oily and soft. The only redeeming feature to the place was the quite good hot sauce and the interesting avocado and black olive sauces. Two of the three employees there, one of the waitresses and the “chef” spent our entire time there blatantly making out in one corner. Wouldn’t have been worth it at half the 34 peso price.

More to come and I’m taking suggestions! Send ’em in.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Frances June 21, 2012 at 20:16

The first sandwich is called a butifarra in Lima. One of my favourites. There were little hole-in-the-wall places which made nothing but butifarras and always had a crowd outside.

Good luck on the sandwich hunt! Looking forward to seeing more.

dan June 22, 2012 at 00:01

I was just surprised that they call it a chicharrón sandwich – maybe it’s better marketing than calling it bondiola, which is what pork shoulder would be called here. Either way, it was delicious!

Frances June 22, 2012 at 13:22

Yes, chicharrón makes you think of something quite different. The pork for butifarra is called jamón del país. I think I might try making some. You have made me miss butifarras!

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