WINNER: The roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s, Philadelphia

Adam Richman is the college-educated bro’s Guy Fieri. On his shows, previously “Man vs. Food” and now “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America,” rarely do five minutes pass without Richman bellowing an exclamatory “boom!”, “aw hell yes!” or “I just want to live inside there and eat my way out!” I’ve dismissed him in the past as a professional glutton, but amidst the hyperbole and buffoonery there is something undeniably charming and magnetic about him. If nothing else, the guy clearly eats. A lot. And for this reason, if no other, he seems a logical choice to host a show seeking to crown the best sandwich our country has to offer.

Every Wednesday night for the past 10 weeks on Travel Channel, Richman has devoured three self-nominated sandwiches from each of 10 regions of the country. From these 30, he selected 10 regional winners that competed on last night’s finale for the title of Best Sandwich in America.


Format

How exactly these finalists would be pitted against each other was a big question mark. Here’s where the shark-jumping started. With 10 an awkward number for a traditional, single-elimination bracket, and with producers seemingly hesitant to grant any of the finalists a bye (as was the format in the regional episodes), two “wildcard” sandwiches were introduced to the draw that hadn’t appeared in previous episodes. (One of the two wildcards was a Philly cheesesteak, which corrected a glaring omission from the Northeast regional episode and treated viewers a bit of comic relief courtesy a few sandwich-loving Philbillies.) From three brackets of four sandwiches would emerge a final three, which would go head-to-head-to-head for the title.

Finalists

A slideshow of the 10 regional winners, with brief descriptions, has been posted on the Travel Channel site. Here’s the list (more info through the links, when available):

  1. South: Chicken Conquistador, Zunzi’s, Atlanta, Ga.
  2. Northeast: Roast pork, DiNic’s, Philadelphia, Penn.
  3. Gulf Coast: Fried shrimp po’ boy, Domilise’s, New Orleans, La.
  4. Midwest: Italian beef, Al’s, Chicago, Ill.
  5. Mid-Atlantic: CSS Virginia (fried chicken liver), The Black Sheep, Richmond, Va.
  6. Northwest: Roast beef, Big-Ass Sandwiches, Portland, Ore.
  7. West Coast: Tri-Tip El Toro, Phil’s BBQ, San Diego, Calif.
  8. Great Lakes: The Yardbird (chicken and bacon), Slows Bar BQ, Detroit, Mich.
  9. Southwest: Seared beef tongue, The Noble Pig, Austin, Texas
  10. New England: Lobster roll, The Galley, Naples, Maine

Wildcards: Duck grilled cheese, Olio, Jacksonville, Fla.; Cheesesteak, John’s Roast Pork, Philadelphia, Penn. (on the recommendation of Richman’s “close friend” G. Love, which explains SO much)

Predictions and Game On

Considering the 30 sandwiches featured in the show’s 10 episodes represented what Richman considers the 30 best sandwiches in the country, it’s not surprising that he had nothing but glowing things to say about each. But throughout the season he did reveal some tendencies that carried over into his judging in the finale:

Richman is not shy about thumbing his nose at the classics. Though the Maine lobster roll and New Orleans po’ boy were represented in the finale, other iconic regional sandwiches either lost in the regionals (corned beef and pastrami from Katz’s in New York), or were overlooked altogether (the Philly cheesesteak). This did not bode well for the lobster roll, po’ boy, or Italian beef from Chicago, none of which advanced to the final three last night.

Richman hates messy sandwiches. The only criticism, albeit half-hearted, that he summoned during the season was a recurring comment that some sandwiches needed to be eaten quickly, before they fell apart. This could likely have been the downfall of the beef tri-tip sandwich from Phil’s BBQ in San Diego, which was also eliminated prior to the final round.

The Yardbird, Slow’s BBQ, Detroit

The pacing of the 60-minute show was bizarrely uneven. One first-round match-up got a full six-minute segment; the 60-second span immediately after the next commercial break saw two other sandwiches unceremoniously bounced. I also couldn’t help but wonder whether the in-studio samples Richman was continuously preening next to were made of wax. To have fresh sandwiches from locations across the country seems a logical impossibility. Were they stunt sandwiches?

The eliminations came fast and furious: Also failing to advance to the final round were both wildcards (thank heavens), the seared beef tongue from Austin, Texas, the fried chicken liver sub from Richmond, Va., and my pick to win the crown, the roast beef from Portland. That left the roast pork from DiNic’s, The Yardbird from Slows Bar BQ and the Chicken Conquistador from Zunzi’s as the final three. After some intense bro-ing out by Richman and the creators of the surviving finalists, who were on hand to demo prep their sandwiches, the roast pork from DiNic’s was named the winner. There was a brief interview with the chef (“This is for my dad and grandad,” etc.) it was all over.

Epilogue

This show was not always easy to watch. The graphics were cheesy, Richman’s reckless hoovering of the often-massive sandwiches bordered on repulsive at times and the format consistently defied common sense. Mostly, though, the idea of one guy selecting the “best” sandwich in America is really a non-starter; as I’ve said many times before, tastes are subjective. The word “best” is objective. So understanding the title “Adam Richman’s Favorite Sandwich in America” does quite have the same pop, I recommend taking any “best-of” proclamation with a Richman-size grain of salt.

Regardless, all of the 32 sandwiches featured throughout the series looked like stellar bites of food, and a handful will be on my can’t-miss list should I happen to be nearby. Check out the official website for all the information you need to partake, and remember: Enjoy every sandwich.

August 14, 2012

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