First, in Detroit, we got married. There were friends and family, music and dancing, and hugs and kisses. There were gin rickeys and champagne. There were candied white almonds and pistachio cake. There were hellos and goodbyes and see-you-soons. Then, in Dublin, there were students and tourists, glistening public greens and stark medieval churches. There was surprisingly great coffee, perfectly-poured stouts and world-class steak. Afterwards, in Paris, there were gardens and bridges, palaces and museums. There was onglet au poivre at lunch and boeuf bourguignon at dinner and charcuterie anytime in between. Every day, at least once, there was pain au chocolat. Finally, in Rome, there were narrow alleyways, fountains and grand plazas. There were tour groups and street hawkers, ruins and monuments, taxis and Vespas. There was spaghetti alla carbonara and pizza margherita, Toscana bianco and limoncello aperitivos.
And everywhere there were sandwiches.
My first wish had been to present at each of the 21 eight-top tables at our reception dinner a six-foot muffaletta and a few pitches of Labatt Blue. (Pin that on your Pinterest boards, ladies.) That idea being obviously too absurd even to mention to my wife, I instead negotiated a sandwich-themed rehearsal dinner in my future in-laws’ idyllic. Grosse Pointe backyard. Compromise. Success.
The sourcing of the meal, a task I took on with joyous enthusiasm, started and ended with Slows Bar BQ, whose Yardbird sandwich was a deserving national runner-up on last summer’s mostly inane Travel Channel series “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America.” I knew Slows’s vitals (you can read my thoughts on the Yardbird here), but I was thrilled to discover on their catering menu a build-your-own slider buffet, stocked with all the fixings to construct miniature versions of The Reason (pulled pork), The Maryann (chopped brisket) and The Yardbird (smoked chicken and bacon). Done and done.
In addition to being up to their elbows in some fantastic sandwiches, rehearsal dinner guests were treated to an open bar provisioned with a variety of D.C.-produced beers, wines and spirits, as well as a tear-jerking musical slideshow of my and my wife’s lives. It was a bitchin’ time. Our friends and family traveled from near and far at not insignificant expense to be with us on our wedding weekend, and I expect their thank you notes to start arriving any day.
To me Dublin resembles a large, very old American college town, and this is not at all a bad thing. As major international cities go, the Irish capital is friendly, welcoming and comfortable, and if you’ve just arrived, sleep-deprived on the back end of a transatlantic red-eye, these are all virtues you’ll appreciate.
As for sandwiches, the best we had in our three-night stint were at CrackBird on Dame Street in the lively Temple Bar section. The sleek fried chicken spot’s small lunch menu includes a selection of light, thoughtfully crafted sandwiches featuring locally-sourced fowl and globally-inspired fixings. Paired with an ale from Ballyhoura’s 8 Degrees Brewing, the Mita, with chicken escalope, miso/tahini dressing, slaw and pickles, was a winning meal at the end of a bone-chilling tour of Howth Head.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Dublin, do the Guinness factory, do the Book of Kells, do all the other usual tourist stuff. Eat a sandwich or three. But be sure also to find an empty barstool, belly up and make some friends. As a tour guide had earlier told us, “There are roughly 700 churches in Dublin, but, not to worry, there are 800 pubs.” We partook of more than a few of the pubs (and a couple churches, too, for good measure), but thankfully left town with enough of our short-term memory intact to find the airport in time for our short flight.
It doesn’t take long upon arriving in Paris for the first time to realize that all the cliché nonsense you’ve ever heard about The City of Light is absolutely spot on. It’s trite, yes, but truthfully it really is a magical place, pictures don’t do it justice, and all the rest. Take your lady or manfriend for a moonlight stroll along the Seine, stop for a glass of wine in Saint-Germain and Andy Sachs and Christian Thompson will suddenly make so much sense. It’s important to get that all out of the way now.
I’ve said before that you’ve not had a po’ boy until you’ve had one in New Orleans, that a lobster roll never tastes as good as it does on a harbor-side pier in Maine, and so on. When it comes to sandwiches, sometimes context is as important as contents. Likewise, there is surely no greater place in the entire world to eat a baguette sandwich than in the Jardin du Luxembourg. For us this was a daily activity. Say what you will, but my most lasting memory from a city that’s home to some of the world’s most breathtaking art, architecture and fashion is picking up a crusty loaf stuffed with pate and cornichons at Le Fournil, crossing the Rue de Medicis into the garden, and quietly stuffing our faces while an orchestra played the pops from a nearby gazebo. For comparison’s sake, I’ll bet my wife’s favorite memory of our trip is the 10€ haircut I got in the Orly terminal while awaiting our flight to Italy. This stuff really happens!
Rome and Florence
For all the reasons Dublin was a perfect launching point for our long trip, Rome was a difficult final stop. Its street hawkers, previously mentioned, are the most aggressive and persistent I’ve seen anywhere (and they’re everywhere). Its charming alleys are choked with camera-wielding tour groups. And though we did ourselves no favor picking a hotel immediately adjacent the teeming Piazza di Spanga, moments of tranquility were few and far between. That said, Rome is a modern city unlike any I’ve ever seen. Monuments of humbling historic and cultural significance are one winding corner from flagship showrooms of the world’s most famous fashion labels. Magnificent works by artists whose names you’d recognize from textbooks hang in sleepy, nearly deserted neighborhood churches. And, as evidenced by countless impromptu lunches, numerous pizza stops and our one fancy night out at Dillà, great food is more rule than exception. Like anywhere, it is possible to find a bad meal in Rome — the only sandwich I ate while there, a textbook pressed panino, was decidedly ho-hum — but far more often than not I was surprised, delighted and full by the time the check arrived.
Although the food media (including blogs like this one) tend to fetishize extravagance, scale and intricacy, the single rule of thumb that seems to guide continental European cuisine more than any other is to use simple, high-quality ingredients and not screw them up. The best sandwiches we ate on our two-week honeymoon, during a day trip to Florence, adhered to this principle.
Needing a respite from the Roman clamor, we took a 240-kmph joyride through Tuscany (didn’t see Diane Lane) to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Il Panino del Chianti, at the southern foot of the Ponte Vecchio, is the kind of no-frills sandwich joint I dream of opening someday. It’s roughly the size of a cozy walk-in shower, walls lined with wooden wine racks and converted wine barrel tables spilling onto the sidewalk. The focal point: a gleaming steel deli case stocked with a variety of stunning meat and fixings. The menu: a few varieties of two types of sandwiches — panini and schiacciatta — and a small menu of wines by the glass, with more by the bottle available or carryout or drinking in.
Over the course of an hour, we split a bottle of wine and three sandwiches. The porchetta was sublime. The prosciutto was divine. The manza was transcendental. The company was better than all of it.