I won’t bore you with a hasty, Wikipedia-sourced history of wine, but I think it’s a safe bet that for as many thousands of years as humans have been fermenting grape juice, “wine people” have existed. You might think of the modern incarnation of this type of person as, for example, a banker-type who tries to impress a female friend of yours by slagging you off for ordering a white wine in January. (For the record, every very wine pourer and sommelier I’ve ever spoken to has squashed the absurd “white in summer, red in winter” myth.)
However, the reality is wine snobs come from all walks of life, and most of them are perfectly agreeable. Furthermore, being innately predisposed to snobbery of all kinds, they tend to share sandwich lovers’ enthusiasm for cured meats, fine cheeses and other specialty food items that fit comfortably between and beside two slices.
Here in D.C., the sweep of gentrification that has brought cupcakeries, doggie daycare centers and yoga studios into unlikely coexistence with shady used car lots and dusty bodegas has left in its wake a bloom of bars, restaurants and shops that cater to the urban oenophile set. And though I wouldn’t otherwise spend a lot of time in these types of establishments—love the classy drinking, hate the hangovers—many of these new- and not-so-new-on-the-block businesses happen to be using some of the highest-quality ingredients in turning out some of the best sandwiches available in the city.
So bone up on your Malbecs, but leave your gingham shirt and Dockers at home (unless that’s your thing), and hit the streets. Here are our favorite wine snob sandwiches in D.C.
Cork Market and Tasting Room | 14th Street
Fifteen years ago, 14th Street NW wasn’t a place most people would care to walk down, let alone a destination for gussying up and partying down. Even as recently as 2007, when I moved onto a nearby block of Q Street, the number of viable nightlife options was safely in the single digits. Today, tapas bars and housewares shops fill storefronts from Thomas Circle to above U Street, and the nightlife scene has exploded so prolifically that some area residents have proposed a moratorium on new liquor licenses in the area.
Cork Wine Bar was one of the earliest arrivals of the strip’s recent renaissance when it opened near the intersection of 14th Street and R Street in January 2008. The bar quickly gained notoriety for its wine program and established itself as a neighborhood hot-spot. In late 2009, owners Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross opened Cork Market and Tasting Room in a space a couple blocks north on 14th Street. The market carries all the wines served in the bar, plus locally-sourced sundries, salads and a modest list of sandwiches that showcase the cheese and meats also available for purchase.
Many of the sandwiches feature a smoky, salty meat paired with a nutty, rich cheese; the smoked ham with Camembert and the prosciutto with fontina are excellent. However, the shop deserves special commendation for offering thoughtful vegetarian options, an unfortunate rarity on sandwiches menus. I’ve not had the Caprese, with roasted tomato, mozzarella, basil and pesto, but the pressed vegetable, discussed at length in this 2010 Washington Post piece, is truly exceptional. Never before had I scoured an empty butcher paper wrapper looking for scraps of mushroom, eggplant or roasted red pepper.
Although the sandwiches at Cork are prepped and packaged ahead of time rather than when ordered, freshness has never been an issue on my visits. However, because the sandwiches are made once a day, when they’re gone, they’re gone. My recommendation? Call ahead to pre-order a picnic basket: your choice of two sandwiches plus sides and a dessert for $25, or $35 with a bottle of wine. (I’ll leave the wine recommendation to the experts.)
Dickson Wine Bar | U Street NW
It might have been a failure by all other measures, but French imperialism in Southeast Asia was at least successful in introducing to the world the transcendental bánh mì sandwich. A blissful combination of fresh Vietnamese ingredients and a French-style baguette, the bánh mì is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches, and I consider the pork belly version at Dickson Wine Bar to be among the very best sandwiches available anywhere in Washington, D.C.
Needless to say for a newer restaurant along the U Street Corridor, Dickson is a painfully fashionable space, a great date spot perfect for a sophisticated bite to eat before letting go of your inhibitions at the nearby 930 Club. Spread over three stories of a former hardware store/beauty parlor/law office on the U Street’s sleepier east end, the bar’s food offerings are mostly limited to the typical wine bar fare: charcuterie, cheese, small plates and flatbreads.
The bánh mì, however, transcend. The perfectly crusted roll is served with a choice of pork belly, ribeye or chicken and topped with pickled vegetables, daikon, jalapeños, cilantro and mayonnaise. Of the proteins, the beef is worth your time, but for me the pork belly is the clear winner. It’s fatty, tender and packed with more than enough flavor to stand up to the sharp spiciness of the dressings. I have no idea how closely the bánh mì from Dickson Wine Bar resemble those from Hanoi street carts, nor do I care. While Dickson isn’t exactly giving away their bánh mì at $10 to $12, it’s a good example of an expensive, but fairly priced sandwich, and a can’t-miss on our tour of D.C.’s best wine snob sandwiches.
A.M. Wine Shoppe | Adams Morgan
Launched in 2010 by one of the co-owners of neighborhood mainstay Cashion’s Eat Place, A.M. Wine Shoppe is tucked into an unassuming ground-floor space along Adams Morgan’s bustling 18th Street corridor. In addition to a small but well-curated selection of wines, spirits, beers, and various edibles, the shop offers a tidy list of made-when-ordered sandwiches. At $8.50 each, the selections rely heavily on the imported and locally-sourced source cured meats also available for purchase. A short list of specials rotates periodically.
Sandwiches aside, the meats and the friendliness of the staff is enough to make me thankful A.M. Wine Shoppe is in my neighborhood. Fortunately, excellence is universal here. The Admorghese (aka “The AdMo”), saddled last year by City Paper with best in the city plaudits, boasts one of the most impressive ingredient lists you’ll find anywhere: finochino, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, provolone and spicy pickles on a sesame roll. And while the massive, airy roll results in a slightly disproportionate bread-to-filling ratio, the spiciness of the pickles and fattiness of the meats are in perfect, blissful balance. The Cubano, the shop’s mostly faithful take on the Miami classic, is another standout, loaded with roast pork, ham and pickles and pressed to a delectable crispiness. But the best of the bunch is the Tipperary, featuring prosciutto, bleu cheese and figs on the same pressed bread as the Cubano. Equally sweet, salty and rich, it is as close to a perfect sandwich as I’ve had this year.
Adams Morgan is a neighborhood best known for frat-friendly bars and vomit-caked sidewalks. A.M. Wine Shoppe is one of a growing number of businesses working to change that.