Author Archives: Jack Nank

I Ate a Vegan Reuben (So You Don’t Have To): Four Lessons Learned

Vegan Reuben

It looks like a real Reuben, anyway.

To be ordered by a meat-eater is the highest compliment that can be paid to a meat-free sandwich. I’m a devout omnivore, but I nonetheless consider myself a champion of the veggie sandwich, which, done well, can be every bit as satisfying as its meatier counterparts.

But underneath the big, beautiful umbrella of meat-free sandwiches, there’s an important distinction to be made for vegan sandwiches, which usually stink for two primary reasons. First, vegan bread, woefully lacking in diversity of flavor and texture, is generally pretty awful. Secondly, vegan sandwiches are far, far more likely to feature tofu, seitan, tempeh, or other meat analog prepared in a futile attempt to mimic a real hamburger, cheesesteak, or fried chicken breast.

Put simply, my favorite thing about vegan sandwiches is that I can order something else when I want to. At Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, a vegan bakeshop in Columbia Heights, this is a luxury not afforded. Several weeks ago, on the enthusiastic recommendation of a theretofore respected coworker, I ordered the vegan Reuben. It was the first and last vegan Reuben I’d ever eat.

Here are a few lessons learned…

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Taylor Gourmet: The Slow Fade of a Once Great Sandwich Shop

Broad Street

My final Broad Street? A hoagie to end all hoagies.

On Wednesday night I decided that I had eaten my last sandwich from Taylor Gourmet. Admittedly, I came to this decision lightly, in the aftermath of a minor service gaffe at the Gallery Place location that warrants mention only because it clarified a fact I’d avoided admitting to myself for a long time: This is no longer a special place for sandwiches.

For those unfamiliar with the sandwich scene in Our Nation’s Capital, some context: Taylor Gourmet is a local chain of Philly-style hoagie shops that opened its first location on H Street NE in 2008, when that now bustling nightlife corridor was still the kind of place cab drivers refused to go. Like the handful of quirky and curious taverns that neighbored it, it took on an air of exclusivity. Anyone who experienced it firsthand came home and told tales of its awesomeness. The sandwiches are huge! It’s open late! It has really cool rustic/industrial decor!

But at some point between the opening of that first location and the ninth, something changed, and it’s hard to say exactly when or what. “Selling out” is a phrase that comes to mind, but we’re talking about a business here. Really it was something more than that. Much was made of the switch, in 2011, from Philly-baked Sarcone’s rolls to those of a local, ostensibly lower-quality baker. It could have been when Taylor stopped serving the Aramingo Avenue, history’s greatest breakfast sandwich. The owners opened and closed Taylor Charles Steak & Ice, a really decent cheesesteak shop, and replaced it earlier this year with Parts Parts and Service, a pretty lousy pizza joint. Or maybe it was President Obama’s visit late last year; it’s hard to maintain any semblance of mystique once the world’s most powerful suit has been there. Continue reading

The Uptowner Cafe Has Closed

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The Uptowner Cafe, in its prime.

It’s with a heavy heart that I share the news that The Uptowner Cafe, the independently-owned sandwich shop I wrote about so lovingly last month, has closed.

The writing on the wall was there for anyone willing to see it. The scarcity of business was the biggest hint that all was not well. Located directly below my office, The Uptowner was the kind of eatery where nary a frill could be found. It was a simple place that sold well-crafted, simple sandwiches. It was a favorite of mine and my colleagues partly because it reliable and cheap, but most of all because it was fast — this because there was rarely a line to wait in. On any given weekday, you were as likely to run into one of the 48 employees of Threespot as you were any of the other 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia. Continue reading

Each Peach Market, in Mount Pleasant

The Dude, from Each Peach Market Salami, ham, hot capicola, mozzarella, arugula, tomato, and banana peppers

The Dude, from Each Peach Market
Salami, ham, hot capicola, mozzarella, arugula, tomato, and banana peppers

Among the retailers that define a mature urban enclave — a dry cleaner, a watering hole, a coffee shop, a drugstore — none is more crucial than the corner grocery. It’s a place to grab a bulb of garlic on the quick, a baguette at sunrise, or a bottle of wine (or pint of ice cream) after a long day. Convenience and quality come at a cost, of course, but no neighborhood is truly complete without one.

Residents of Mount Pleasant, in Northwest D.C., are lucky for a lot of reasons unrelated to their skyrocketing property values. The Raven is one of the District’s great dives, and the long-standing Heller’s is a D.C. legend for good reason. But while many hoods around the capital can boast a nice bar and good bakery, none other has a local grocery quite like Each Peach Market. Continue reading

On The Lobster Roll, The World’s Greatest Sandwich

Made from the best stuff on Earth.

Made from the best stuff on Earth, the lobster roll at Thurston’s Lobster Pound

The culinary principle that the best meals start with the best ingredients — garbage in, garbage out, you might call it — applies to a much greater extent to steak tartare or trout amandine than it does to a sandwich. Sandwiches, at least the good ones, are inherently greater than the sum of their parts. They rely on technique, proportion, construction, and contrasts of flavor, texture, and temperature. By and large, getting these things right matters far more than whether a cheesesteak is made with shaved truffles and sliced Kobe beef or grocery store sirloin. Continue reading