Like every year before it, a lot went down in 2013. Triumphs and tragedies, deaths and rebirths, dustups and shutdowns. On the personal front, I got married. I traveled. I moved to a new neighborhood on the other side of town. And through it all, there were sandwiches. In most cases, I can remember what I was doing immediately prior to and after all of them. I remember what the weather was like outside. The sandwiches I ate over the past 12 months are a thread that binds together an otherwise meandering and disjointed collection of experiences.
All these sandwiches were enjoyed, of course, but some clearly stood above the rest. A few were noteworthy for their bizarre ingredients. Others are memorable for where, when or with whom they were eaten. Still more were exceptional for their pure, indisputable excellence. As we approach a new beginning, it’s important to take a look back and appreciate the spoils of a fantastic a year, and to be thankful.
What follows is a chronological listing of the 10 sandwiches that defined 2013.
Salmon BLT at Neopol Smokery
January 2013 — Even in its fledgling days, Union Market was a playground for sandwich lovers. The indoor gourmet bazaar opened in Northeast D.C. last fall, and my first visit, in January, was made particularly memorable thanks to the stellar Salmon BLT from Neopol Smokery. Though I’m admittedly not generally fond of fish sandwiches, I swooned over the combination of fresh smoked salmon, free-range bacon and fixings on sunflower flaxseed bread. The market has continued growing around Neopol, but this sandwich remains a can’t-miss. It was a fitting start to a year full of unforgettable sandwiches.
The Pastrami at Stachowski’s
March 2013 — The towering pastrami sandwich at Stachowski’s, in Georgetown, is a steal at $13. It is not the most artful sandwich on this list, nor is it the most structurally sound. But for sheer scale and mass, it is unmatched. And while size clearly does matter at Stachowski’s — the shop’s 4 Meat Grinder is perhaps even more imposing — the quality of the ingredients is not compromised. The peppery wet-cured and smoked pastrami is lean and sliced thick and stacked so high (almost a full pound per sandwich) that you’re guaranteed to enjoy it for days. It wasn’t the first or even second sandwich I tried at Stachowski’s, but having since moved far across town, it’s the one for which I most yearn.
Roast Beef on Weck at Carving Room
May 2013 — Not only is Carving Room one of the District’s most unfairly overlooked first-class sandwich destinations, it’s very possibly the only shop in the city that serves a Beef on Weck, the signature sandwich of Buffalo, N.Y., highlighted by its distinctly salty, caraway-seeded kümmelweck roll. Carving Room’s rendition also includes pickled red onions, melted provolone, tangy horseradish and a fat stack of some of the richest, most tender roast beef in D.C. It’s just one of a menu full of top-quality sandwiches, but for the first-time visitor, the Beef on Weck is the place to start. And did I mention there’s a full bar?
Brains and Eggs at The Pig
July 2013 — I eat a lot of sandwiches, but rarely do I get a chance to eat something as genuinely extraordinary as the Brains and Eggs from The Pig. The sandwich pairs a hefty slice of crispy-fried head cheese with a generous heaping of scrambled eggs and veal brains on a sweet brioche bun slathered with salsa verde. And while that might sound bizarre, you might be surprised by how extremely familiar it tastes. The meaty head cheese packs a satisfying crunch, and the creamy eggs are studded with brains that have a consistency not unlike loose breakfast sausage. On paper, the sandwich is something of novelty; on your plate, it’s a pure delight. Who would have thought? It’s the kind of sandwich that I could eat every day.
The Cuban at Fast Gourmet
August 2013 — As you do when you’re a sandwich professional, I spent a couple weeks this summer sampling several of the finest Cuban sandwiches D.C. has to offer. The South Florida classic is a tough one to screw up, but the superb, mostly faithful-to-standard Cuban from Fast Gourmet just might have been the best of the bunch. If you know two things about Fast Gourmet, you know that it’s located inside a gas station and that it’s famous for its version of the gut-busting protein-bomb Argentenian standard Chivito sandwich. And while these two facts are true and noteworthy, one would be doing himself a disservice not to explore the menu a bit further. Try the Chivito if you must. Come back for the Cuban. Repeat.
Trigueros con Romesco at Pepe Food Truck
September 2013 — There was no probably no sandwich in 2013 that surprised me more than the Trigueros con Romseco at Pepe Food Truck. For a long time I’ve made the case that any great meal could exist as a great sandwich, but grilled asparagus? In sandwich form? Believe it. The lightly seared, smoky asparagus proves a more than capable main component, while politely sharing the spotlight with a fantastic, peppery romesco sauce. Not only was it far away the finest sandwich I ate during my monthlong exploration of meatless sandwiches, it was one of the most genuinely satisfying, unique meals in recent memory.
The Big G at Mangialardo and Sons
September 2013 — For as long as I’ve been writing about sandwiches, the unsolicited praise I’ve heard heaped upon Mangialardo and Sons, particularly its G Man hoagie, has been relentless and enthusiastic. But due to the shop’s far-flung Pennsylvania Avenue S.E. location and its weekday daytime-only hours, the sandwich became something like my own personal white whale. The week following our move from Adams Morgan to Lincoln Park, waiting for the furnace guy to arrive, I had my chance. I ultimately opted for the bulkier Big G for even more ham, salami, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone, fontina and hot peppers, and it did not disappoint. The sandwich was pretty good; checking off my list a visit to one of D.C.’s oldest and most revered sandwich shops was even better.
Muffuletta at Red Apron Butchery
November 2013 — The muffuletta might be my favorite sandwich of all time. I had the privilege in April to eat one at the historic Napoleon House in New Orleans while on my bachelor weekend, and my now-wife and I have made our own version at home on several occasions prior and since. It’s a sandwich I generally give a shit about. Red Apron’s version, served hot and crispy off a grill press with spicy mustard in addition to the usual array of cured meats and olive salad, is not exactly a traditional preparation. And while it would be blasphemous to suggest these tweaks are an improvement on the standard, there’s no doubt this sandwich is something special in its own right. That it’s now available six days a week right around the corner from our new house means there are many more muffulettas in my future.
The Cemita at El Chucho Cocina Especial
November 2013 — My wife and I arrived on a bustling 11th Street hoping to grab dinner before a housewarming party for friends who had bought a house nearby. We were lucky to find a table anywhere; we were even more fortunate to have ended up at El Chucho. When the charming, shoebox-sized Mexican joint opened in summer 2012, it was the gimmicky Torta Ahogada that got the ink. (To keep things tidy, the sandwich, which is “drowned” in red chili sauce, is served with a pair of gloves.) But the the more deserving star is the Cemita, a magnificent mountain of a sandwich comprising chicken milanesa, delicious head cheese, avocado and a bevy of delicious fixings. My server’s one-word response to my order — “Niiiice.” — should have been a clue: It’s an audacious dinner to kick off a Saturday night. It’s big, meaty, gut-busting. In a word, it’s glorious. I got to El Chucho for the first time by happy accident. I’ll be making it back by hook or by crook.
The Bobbie at Capriotti’s
December 2013 — Surely not in the year and a half since I started this blog, and likely for long before that, has a sandwich shop arrived in D.C. to such fanfare as Capriotti’s. The much-loved Delaware-born chain opened it’s first location here the week prior to Thanksgiving — good timing considering its best and most famous offering, The Bobbie, is a recreation of the classic Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. Owing to my policy against visiting a brand-new establishment, I didn’t try my first Bobbie until after Turkey Day, but it was well worth the wait. Probably the best compliment I can pay the Bobbie is that it tastes like something I could make at home. Specifically at my parents’ home, hungover, the morning after a hearty family feast, using whatever scraps I can pull from the Frigidaire. That’s no easy feat.