It might sound sacrilegious, but I'm not the type of girl who gets excited about a sandwich. In fact, before I lived in Paris, I wasn't really "into bread." Since then, I've learned to love a good loaf, but the crusty heritage grain or sourdough boules I crave are more suited to sopping up sauces than stacking up cold cuts.
The average ol' American sandwich doesn't celebrate bread; it renders it a mere vehicle for debatably exciting fillers. And those who do try to use exquisite loaves often botch the crust-to-inside balance of the ideal bite. (*For the record, I exclude open-faced tartines. They are an entirely different animal from the sandwich, given their sit-down/fork & knife style.)
Yet everyone once in a while, I fall upon an inventive sub or panini that revives my faith in the the future of portable lunch. After two years in New York - and countless meals on-the-go - there are three sandwiches I still swoon over, even if I've the time for a proper seated siesta.
1) Num Pang - Pulled Pork or Catfish w/ Pickled Carrots, Cilantro & Cucumber
When the bahn mi craze hit, I wasn't the biggest fan. After living in Paris, stateside baguettes tend to leave me less-than-impressed. In the case of most BM shops, their stale impressions of this seminal French bread remain impossibly dry, no matter the highly-curated contents. So when my sister and mother started raving about a "Cambodian sandwich shop", I anticipated an equally desiccated sub. To my surprise, the semolina num pang rolls are a softer, subtler sibling to the bahn mi baguette. Here, filling is king, and boy is it delicious. Savory, spicy, acidic and crunchy - it is sustenance and refreshment in one. To boot, NP's grilled chili-coconut corn is beyond addictive.
2) No. 7 Sub - Broccoli, Riccota Salata, Lychee Pickles & Toasted Pine Nuts
I'm all for wacky, rare ingredients, so I was pretty intrigued when I got wind of the latest Flatiron food addiction. I've tried a few different sandwiches at No. 7, but the broccoli is by far my favorite. I usually hate syrupy-sweet lychees, but pickled, they are genius. Riccota salata and toasted pine nuts are enough to win over any good Italian girl, and I pity people who hate broccoli. Depending on who makes your sub, the bread here can tend a little towards the aforementioned Bahn Mi dryness, but on a good day it's just so damn delicious.
3) Porchetta - Namesake Sandwich
The first NYC sandwich to ever win my heart, the Porchetta classic will go down in East Village history. Can you ever have enough cracklin'? I think not. In fact, I've asked for extra and the pig-loving meat carvers are sometimes lovely enough to indulge me. The pork itself is slow-cooked and stuffed with rosemary, sage, garlic, salt and - the hot spice of 2011 - wild fennel pollen. By the way, the similarly seasoned potatoes with cracklin' are also sinfully good...