Among meatless sandwiches, there are those that are simply free of animal proteins, and there are those that — SHOCK — highlight actual vegetables. It’s the latter I’ve attempted to celebrate during our month-long exploration of vegetarian sandwiches. One of the most popular varieties within this category is what I’ll call the vegetable mixed grill, in which a mélange of veggies is seasoned, seared and stacked atop a crusty hoagie roll or baguette. Woodward Table’s Provençale, the first sandwich we featured for Meatless September, is an excellent example. The vegetable sandwich at Cork Market is similarly constructed and similarly delicious. At their best, these sandwiches are characterized by a seamless integration of sometimes contrasting ingredients. The vegetables are prepared more or less uniformly, and each bite brings a consistent and reliable blend of texture and flavor.
The Bulgarian Feta from the Philly-style hoagie joint Bub and Pop’s, recently named among D.C.’s best sandwiches by Washingtonian, eschews this principle. On paper, the ingredient list is long and descriptive: sheep’s milk feta, arugula, eggplant caponata, oven-roasted tomato, caramelized onion, caramelized mushroom, grilled zucchini, grilled fennel, balsamic vin cotto, hazelnut gremolata and pecorino romana. In person, the sandwich is imposing, looking more like a salad piled on a sub roll than an actual sandwich. A heap of arugula and pecorino completely obscures the weightier innards. As a result it’s impossible to know what you’ll come up with (other than a face full of tangy balsamic, which is all but assured).
Unlike other sandwiches of its ilk, the Bulgarian Feta is exceptional not because its many pieces fit together snugly, but precisely because they don’t. Every bite is a new adventure, and the vegetable components, unlike the aforementioned others, cry out unapologetically for attention. Whole mushrooms. Big, meaty chucks of roasted tomato. Crunchy eggplant. Although the combination of balsamic and gremolata provides some semblance of cohesion, there’s a certain disarray that I was surprised to find myself enjoying. Although I almost always prefer a tidier sandwich, Bub and Pop’s Bulgarian Feta is well worth getting your hands dirty.