BY KATE BIGAM, LOCAL CORRESPONDENT
Confession: I’m wary of sandwiches served sans meat.
Of course, this very blog dedicated the entire month of September to meatless sandwiches, featuring a number of delicious bread/not bread/bread combos that included no animal carcasses whatsoever. And some of the most beloved classic sandwiches are meatless, including my favorite, grilled cheese, and that childhood staple, PB&J.
What, then, makes me such a hater? For some reason, when I think “vegetarian sandwich,” I think “hummus” — and though my Jewish roots may dictate that I should find joy in hummus sandwiches, I just… don’t.
I was forced to face my prejudice against vegetarian sandwiches when I happened upon Pleasant Pops, an Adams Morgan café that specializes in gourmet ice pops. (Un-sandwich-related sidenote: Their ice pops are made with locally sourced fruit, veggies, herbs, and dairy, featuring 100+ flavors from sweet corn to watermelon mint to Thai iced tea, and just about everything in between.) Though Pleasant Pops doesn’t advertise itself as vegetarian, a quick once-over of their menu revealed my biggest lunchtime fear: not an animal byproduct in sight — but not a slathering of hummus to be found, either, so perhaps it all balanced out.
Unlike their ice pop options, most of Pleasant Pops’ sandwich offerings are fairly basic: peanut butter, honey, and banana on challah; sourdough grilled cheese made of sharp and mild cheddars; the standard tomato-basil-mozzarella combo; and egg salad, arguably the worst “salad” of all time. One option stood above the rest: the Romesco Roasted Squash sandwich, featuring house-made romesco, roasted squash, and feta cheese on ciabatta.
The sandwich is on the small side, the ingredients barely visible unless I pulled the ciabatta apart to reveal the innards. This is not the stacked-high deli sandwich to which my people are accustomed! Still, I was intrigued by its bright colors; this sandwich is, at the very least, prettier than most — but it might be healthier than most, too.
It was my first experience with romesco, a chunky, Spanish sauce made of red peppers and nuts. The spicy, peppery spread was slathered generously across both pieces of bread, encapsulating the “meat,” if you will, of the meal — layers of yellow squash, cut thin and roasted to that point just between crunchy and squishy. It was completed by layer of crumbly feta, often too loose for sandwiches but in this case held in place by all that romesco.
This sandwich is a messy one — have a fork on hand to wrangle its oozy, runaway ingredients — but as it turns out, the spicy romesco, hearty squash, salty feta, and crunchy bread are the perfect ingredients for a surprisingly substantial vegetarian sandwich. Tiny though it may be, the people at Pleasant Pops know their portions. By the time I finished, I found myself in that perfect post-meal state, full but not uncomfortable. I got an ice pop to go, washing down the lasting zing of the romesco with one of their dairy-based flavors, Mexican sweet cream and cinnamon (known as “chongos”).
By the end of my first visit to Pleasant Pops, all of my hummus-and-sprouts nightmares had evaporated into obscurity, gone for good. It’s safe to say I no longer fear vegetarian sandwiches.
Kate Bigam lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a social media and community manager for a large non-profit. She blogs at GreatestEscapist.com.