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R&IEditorial Archives2001July 1 — Food

The Layered Look
Sandwiches command attention by playing on the basics and accentuating complementary flavors.

At Ibiza, one of Houston's newest hot spots, lunch choices include cumin-roasted pork, prime rib with Cabrales blue cheese mayo, and a grilled vegetable ensemble of roasted peppers, portobello mushrooms, asparagus and pea sprouts.

The selections easily could be construed as entrées but these offerings are sandwiches. "I want them to read like a main course so they have their own sex appeal," says Chef Charles Clark. "Sandwiches don't have to be ordinary."

On the contrary, new-age sandwiches are everything but everyday. To stand out and be noticed, sandwiches are flashier, sporting the look and the intricacy of entrées. Each part of the sandwich, from the main component to ingredient accessories, is regarded as a way to build flavor, texture and temperature--the triad of a culinary crescendo. Consider these menu selections:

  • Jumbo lump crab cake sandwich with tarragon tartar sauce, red leaf lettuce and tomato at the Marathon Grill in Philadelphia.
  • Curried vegetables with Brie, avocado and arugula on golden raisin-fennel bread at Sel de la Terre in Boston.
  • Charred sliced sirloin, red onion and horseradish rémoulade on a rustic roll at Astra in New York City.
  • Bistro-smoked pork loin with fontina, red onion confit and fig mustard on rye bread at Caprial's Bistro in Portland, Ore.


The trend to high-quality ingredients also has climbed aboard the sandwich platform. "We are dealing with a more sophisticated audience," says Jon Borish, who with his brother Cary and their parents own five Marathon Grills in Philadelphia. "Turkey on white bread just doesn't cut it anymore."

Borish acknowledges, however, that people still clamor for lunch standards such as turkey and chicken. "It's up to us to give customers what they want but in a creative and interesting way," he says. "You start with consistency and fresh food."

The family's quick-casual restaurants (each with about 200 seats) convey quality through ingredients, Borish says. The restaurants roast their own turkeys and chickens for sandwiches such as California roasted chicken salad sandwich with avocado salsa, Cheddar cheese, red leaf lettuce and tomato on seven-grain bread, or mango-roasted turkey sandwich with mango chutney, Swiss cheese, red leaf lettuce and tomato on baguette.

"You want to create a memorable taste combination and you do that with good ingredients," Borish says.


At Ibiza, the roasted chicken selection accounts for 40% of sandwich sales. It is paired with thick sliced bacon, white Cheddar cheese and Dijon mustard on a flat, ciabatta-style bread.

Ingredients, however, are not the only aspects of the sandwich that demand attention. All too often, texture is not considered, says Clark. "If all the ingredients are different sizes, you won't get a fair distribution of flavors."

So Clark takes measures to ensure that the ingredients are in proportion. For example, the chicken breast is grilled and then thinly sliced. "The bread has a crusty exterior but is thin, too, so with each bite, you get just the right amount of each ingredient. You won't have tomatoes falling out of your mouth or a big hunk of bread that dilutes your more flavorful ingredients."

Proportion is also a consideration at the recently opened Miramonte Restaurant and Café in St. Helena, Calif. Chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn offers a sandwich of eggplant, red onion and fontina with roasted red bell peppers--an assembly of flatter ingredients. Her Cuban pork torta with mojo sauce, however is a heftier option, requiring a bit more bread and a zippier flavor profile.


At Sweet Relief Cafe in New Haven, Conn., owner Eric Rogers believes sandwiches must be familiar enough to get customers in the door and intriguing enough to keep them coming back. He bills his sandwiches as wraps but patrons can also order them on Portuguese bread or a hard roll.

"I see sandwiches as a way to create flavor sensations," he says. The favorite among the lunch crowd is Brie warmed and wrapped in flat bread with raspberries, baby greens, walnuts and honey mustard.

"Several of the sandwiches have a fruit component," he says. "People are surprised at their presence but understand why fruit is in them once they start eating."

Strawberries, for example are included in Donald's Dream, a sandwich of sliced grilled chicken, white Cheddar, bacon and honey mustard, while pineapple is an ingredient in Hawaiian Chicken, composed of sliced poultry and baby greens in a jalapeo-Cheddar tortilla.

"All the ingredients come together as a way to layer flavors," he says.

At Quilty's in New York City, a pounded pork tenderloin sandwich with fontina, mizuma, pickled horseradish and cherry chutney also sports a layered look. Salty, sweet, hot and sour flavors are juxtaposed to form a complete culinary note.

Creating balanced flavors is essential, says John McLean, vice president and chef de cuisine for Chicago-based Levy Restaurants' Sports and Entertainment Division.

"One concept for our club-level restaurants is fresh meat smoked in house--turkey, pork, brisket," he says. "With that kind of flavor headlining the sandwich, you don't want to compete with, let's say, something roasted. That's why we will pair it with a fruit chutney or a caramelized onion compote."

McLean also likes adding flavor through a zesty aioli (rosemary-thyme is a favorite) or microgreens that pack a big taste in a small package."

"You see microgreens and sprouts in fine dining but you can give a sandwich more appeal by using them there as well."

Not all combinations, however, need to be as involved. Customers clamor for the simple crunch and richness of the fried oyster sandwich with Cajun mayonnaise, shredded lettuce and red onion at Lundy Bros. in Manhattan's Times Square.


Bread holds the ingredients together and plays an important role in making better sandwiches. The explosion of healthy multigrain breads and loaves studded with ingredients has been crucial to its forefront position, but the pendulum also has swung in the other direction. Freshness now is seen as a key point of difference. Bakery cafes from Panera Bread and Atlanta Bread Company to Au Bon Pan and Cosi Sandwich Bars are baking on-premise throughout the day, or at least daily at a local commissary.

At Boston-based Au Bon Pain, which operates more than 260 cafes, bread choices include French baguette, croissant, multigrain and three-seed breads and rosemary-focaccia. These become the bases for sandwiches such as grilled chicken breast topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula and roasted artichoke spread on rosemary focaccia, or Thai chicken with cucumbers, red onion, romaine and Thai peanut sauce on a toasted three-seed roll.


Sandwiches can effortlessly capture the flair of ethnic flavors. A grilled chicken sandwich easily adopts the allure of Indian flavors with a simple rub of curry spices before grilling, while turkey can get a boost from Spain or Lain America with an aioli of piquillo peppers or chipotle chile.

At Douglas Rodriguez' Pipa in Manhattan, sandwich choices include breaded chicken cutlet with manchego cheese and romesco sauce, while Chef Joseph Fortunato at The Tonic, also in Manhattan, serves a cinnamon-braised lamb sandwich with hummus and a side of eggplant fries.

Clark starts by choosing favorite proteins and developing a goal. "I try to hit certain taste points and I choose ingredients that are almost nostalgic but still retro in a way," he says. "The prime rib is sliced thin for a rare roast beef sandwich which is very traditional and reminiscent of the deli but it is paired with a Spanish blue cheese."


Following the standard blueprint for building a double-decker sandwich is the common approach for a club, but chefs are recognizing that the same structure is an ideal foundation for layering flavors. These sandwiches are updated with ingredients of the moment.

Chef and cookbook author (including a book on sandwiches) Caprial Pence offers an oyster club sandwich at her Caprial's Bistro that brings together pan-fried oysters, pepper bacon and tartar-fennel salsa on a sesame roll.

When spring arrived this year, Fortunato added a soft-shell crab club to the menu, pairing it with pancetta, avocado and horseradish aioli on country bread.

For lunch and the time until dinner, Chef Erik Blauberg at New York City landmark "21" Club put together a lobster club on toasted brioche with cucumbers, house-smoked bacon and coleslaw.

At Babette's in Easthampton, N.Y., the club is a starting point for customizing a sandwich. It begins with avocado, herbed tomato, red onion, smoked mozzarella and mayo béarnaise dressing on eight-grain toast, but customers can add grilled smoked tempeh, sage turkey sausage, grilled free-range chicken or grilled shrimp.

"You can get a winning combination when you think of classics and add a twist," says Clark.

  • Herb-Roasted Sirloin with Red Peppers, Mozzarella Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto on Focaccia

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