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Lenny’s is Far From Ultimate

Lenny’s is a franchise of sandwich chains that seems everywhere these days. Their slogan is “The Ultimate Sandwich” which, to put it mildly, speaks to me. Unfortunately, I’ve never had great success there. I’ve been a few times and I always get excited by all the ultimate-sandwich talk, but in the end it really seems to be just a re-branded deli: an assembly station stocked with cold cuts and some boring microwaved hot options. It’s a notch or two above a Subway, but the structure is the same: pick yer sandwich, pick yer bread, pick yer toppings — a total cop-out! The whole point of a sandwich shop is to get the ingredients and pick sandwiches that are delicious, not to play grocery store and have us play executive chef.

I tried their “All Time Classic #10″ which is their saying turkey and corned beef with cole slaw and Russian dressing. It was just sort of okay, nothing special and nothing to write home about. If you can’t tell by now, it’s really hard for me to get excited by these kinds of industrial factory sandwiches. They take a wonderful food, perhaps the greatest of all time, and reduce it to an uninformed assembly line of commodity ingredients that comes together to make an altogether underwhelming, dull, uninspired experience.

Yeah it looks okay, pretty much as you’d expect

Transnational Aroma and Eggs

Aroma Espresso Bar is a global chain with franchises all over both the US and Israel. I went to the one in Netanya, but apparently the menu is basically the same as the one on Houston st in New York City. Weird huh? Call me old-fashioned but I still think it’s weird to go half-way across the world and find a restaurant that’s nearly identical to the one around the corner.

My wonder continued, as I saw the ‘omelette sandwich’ on the menu. I’ve eaten a lot of sandwiches, but I’ve never ever seen an omelette sandwich anywhere. I was excited. Then the sandwich came and I realized I had made a great decision. In NYC the egg sandwiches are usually greasy and served on an industrial strength bun. This one was mostly vegetables, a thin omelette and a dabble of cream cheese. It wasn’t heavy or greasy at all, it was light and fluffy and made me feel full without wanting to take an immediate grease induced power-nap.

Only a sandwich-maestro makes an omlette and then puts it on a sandwich.

A friend got a pesto mozzarella, they were happy, so was the sandwich:

Philly Cheesesteak Throwdown

It was way past lunchtime and I was wandering around east market street near Penn’s Landing (whatever that is). It was cold and there was a stiff wind blowing, my spirits were low after many hours at constitution hall when just then god smiled down on me and revealed the fruits of my labor: two cheesesteak joins not a block away from each other! Sweet, sweet cheesemeat relief, I cried.

First stop: Campos Deli (214 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA), the official cheesesteak of local sports teams. Campos has a family-friendly feeling, it’s got the cozy-chain vibe: branded t-shirts behind the counter, tchotchke on the walls and a few cafe tables. I tried the cheesesteak hoagie (steak, cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato for $9.25) and the chicken heater (Chicken, Jalapeno cheddar and hot sauce $7.75). The cheese steak hoagie was by far the better. It had the meaty savory appeal I was looking for with some vegetable to keep it varied. The heater was decently spicy, but was pretty one-dimensional after the steak: spicy chicken, bite after bite. Something about the whole experience left me feeling a little duped. After I ordered I was asked if I wanted a side of cole slaw or pasta salad. Where’s the focus? Where’s the grit? It felt a little like a reproduction, as if I was in vegas at the “cheesesteak experience”.

Nearly bursting and with my vision fogged from eating, I stumbled down a few doors to stop number 2, Sonny’s Famous Steaks (228 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA). Something about this place struck me as more authentic immediately: no bric-a-brac, just a few tables, a meat slicer and a flat-top grill. The menu didn’t have any salads or vegetarian options, just meat, cheese and onions, focused and simple. I ordered my whiz-wit and didn’t get any weird up-sell, just a delicious sandwich. To be honest, I was so full, I couldn’t sit there and eat another. I took it home and man was I mad. I’d fallen for a trap. Sonny’s cheesesteak was incredible and it was exactly what I’d wanted a cheesesteak to be. It was over-the-top creamy and savory. Every bite was a warm blanket, a pair of warm socks, heated car seats. There was no excess cheese, no dripping grease. This may be the best cheesesteak I’ve ever had. How could I have filled up on lettuce and tomatoes and spicy chicken. Spicy chicken! I was ashamed. Though I was beyond full, I relished every cozy bite.

It seems to me as if Campo’s sold some tasty cheesesteaks, but then got popular, started diversifying, securing sports endorsements and making pasta salad. I don’t want to hold their success against them, but I can’t shake the feeling the at the experience is a bit manufactured. I had another day in Philly, I would’ve returned to Campo’s to try their whiz-wit and see if they still had it. Until then, I’ll return to Sonny’s and get what I should’ve gotten all along.

Campos is slightly higher on complexity of the Hoagie (lettuce, tomatoes)

Sonnys kept it simple

Sonny’s Wiz Wit

Chicken Heater

Cheesesteak Hoagie

Cheesteake Hoagie up close. Yum

Lusicous Pork Party

Luscious (59 5th ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn 11217) looks like a high-end kitchen. You can tell that the focus is on the food. The tables and chairs, while perfectly fine, are clearly not the attraction. The point is the huge menu on the wall and the prepared food in the case. Judging by the decor I was afraid I was going to have macaroni salad for lunch, but thank god their menu is mostly sandwiches.

Let’s talk about Cuban sandwiches. They have two kinds of pig, cheese and pickles. They are universally delicious. They are warm and cool and refreshing, pretty much good any time of year, any time of day. These were my thoughts, so I ordered one “Cuban Mojo” ($8.50). Then my thoughts were, ‘My god, why is this bag so heavy?’ This sandwich is absolutely huge. I could only make it through half and had to save the other half for dinner.

It was delicious. Juicy roasted pork, happily co-mingling with cool sliced ham. The bread was toasted perfectly and provided wonderful crispy resistance, without being too chewy. I could have done with slightly less sliced ham, but in the end, who can complain about slightly too much sliced ham? That’s like being annoyed that you have too many one dollar bills, you just don’t have a valid complaint.

Luscious is delicious; I’ll be back to try the rest of the menu.

Not the most complicated sandwich, but they roast their own pork. That’s worth a strategy bump!

This thing is massive!

Jade and Pork at Banh Mi Saigon Bakery

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (198 Grand St, between Mulberry and Mott) is a bit of a curiosity. You know what you’re going to get when you get there, a sandwich, duh, I mean hell, it’s right in the name “BAHN MI” and yet, when you walk in, under the gigantic ‘saigon bakery’ sign, there’s a jewelry store. Now, maybe the owners are diversifying their portfolio or something, but who gets sandwiches and jewelry at the same place?

Nom nom nom, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to grab some jade bracelets, how handy!”

When I heard of this place, everyone says it’s “in the back of a jewelry shop” and I imagined I’d have to walk through rows and rows of a crowded jewelry store, past a pile of boxes, under the secret curtains and then give the password to be let in, as though I was meeting an arms dealer in a crowded bazaar. What is actually there is a lot more pedestrian (and sanitary). The fact of the matter is that the place is a sandwich shop that happens to have a small jewelry counter in the front. Most people are there for sandwiches and there’s zero confusion about how to find it, kind of disappointing.

The sandwich is delicious. I got the pork banh mi ($4.50) and was too full to have the usual second lunch. The sandwich is huge and cheap. I could barely finish the thing and was totally full. You can dissect the photos below, but it’s packin’ nuggets of roasted pork, cucumber spears, some weird processed pork product (stand in for pate?) and some julienned carrots and cucumbers. The bread it a bit chewy and rather filling, but not terrible. The whole thing tastes like alternating cool and crunchy, sweet and veggie. It’s pretty good, though by the end of the second half I was pretty much done with the sweet pork.

If you’re in the area and hungry, definitely worth a stop. I don’t know that I’d bother traveling across town for it though. On second thought, if the jewelry is this big for this cheap, maybe I should get some while I’m here…

Marvelous Mortadella Monster

I wandered into Bottega Falai (267 Lafayette St) totally clueless. I was hungry, it was lunchtime and they have that minimalist all-white design with all items in tiny-bottles that just screams ‘European’, and my was I hungry for some European food. I looked around and didn’t see much of anything beyond the anemic little panninis in the cooler. Then I saw a cut-out of Ed Levine’s review of their Mortadella panini ($8) and realized I’d dun good. It turns out they actually do have a ‘sandwich menu’ on the back wall, in mostly illegibly various fonts, there are some options for sandwiches (meat n veg). For a fancy European coffee shop in soho, $8 for a sandwich ain’t bad at all.

The sandwich was wonderful. First of all, unlike their brethren across the pond, this sandwich was huge. Not American-obscene-huge, but European-huge. The focaccia was soft and fluffy and oil. The Mortadella was salty, wonderfully thinly sliced and *bountiful*. The mozzarella was actually flavorful and not the cold slug you often get. The tomatoes were pretty bland, oh well, three out of four ain’t too bad.

Simple enough to make, but wonderfully tasty ingredients

It’s a quarter loaf!

See, no short changing on the Mortadella