Category Archives: Commentary

What It Is That We’re Doing Here

Red Apron Beef & Cheddar

The Beef & Cheddar from Red Apron Butcher at Union Market. Rare roast beef, atomic wiz and ranch aioli on a burger bun.

A couple weekends ago, I spent 45 minutes waiting in a line that would never move for a sandwich I would never eat.

The sandwich in question — a Wagyu beef cheesesteak — sounded like worthwhile endeavor. But it was probably not the cheesesteak that inspired most of the hundreds of people who choose to stand outside and brave the day’s unseasonably cold temperatures in a queue spanning the entire block-long glass and brick facade of Union Market. The more likely draw was the man who was ostensibly preparing the sandwich, Kwame Onwuachi, a competitor of the most recent season of Bravo’s Top Chef and, that weekend, the host of a pop-up called Philly Wing Fry, staged so as to promote his soon-to-open, much-anticipated restaurant Shaw Bijou. Evidently and much to my surprise, mine is not the only household that still watches Top Chef.

I really enjoy eating sandwiches. Even more, I enjoy eating sandwiches with other people. Over the past year or so, my sandwich-eating and -writing activity has been significantly slowed by other, far more important life priorities. I’m out of the loop, and I’ve missed the eating and the writing. I resolved earlier this year to make time to pick it back up. The Wagyu cheesesteak, with its buzzy celeb chef angle, seemed like a suitable opportunity to have a nice lunch, write an easy blog post, get some retweets, and feel like I was back on top of things.

Nonetheless, as I stood in place nearly an hour after the posted open time, with the chef still glad-handing other would-be customers, and with a single meal yet to be served, I started to ask myself what I was doing there. I didn’t start this blog to become a food scenester. I have no desire to snap a selfie with a minor reality TV star. I do not aspire to conquer Eater’s Heat Map. I’ve never been to Rose’s Luxury. That’s not what this blog is about.

The day took a marked turn for the better when I jumped ship and joined my family inside.

Some friends of ours recently took a trip through Italy, and I got to hear all about it. I introduced my wife to the glory of kolaches. We picked up a baguette and a bottle of Cotes du Rhone for our dinner that night***. I drank a truly brilliant oatmeal stout, and after everything else, I got my sandwich: a Red Apron Butcher Beef & Cheddar, which is quietly becoming one of my favorite sandwiches in the city.

The highlight, though, was watching my ten-month-old son drool over his mom’s meatball sub. While I don’t begrudge the folks who stuck around to eat at the celebrity chef’s pop-up, that is exactly what this blog is about.

Anthony Meatball Sub

Want.

*** Union Market is, admittedly, a bright, shiny monument for the yuppie takeover of Northeast DC. I hate myself for how much I love it.

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

Commentary: The Ephemerality of the Sandwich

“All we are is dust in the wind, dude.” – Bill S. Preston, Esq.

The Michaelangelo, from the erstwhile The Italian Market, in Merrifield.

The Michaelangelo, from the erstwhile The Italian Market, in Merrifield.

One of the major themes of this blog is the enduring nature of the medium to which it is dedicated. While Sandwich Jack’s recent post What is a Sandwich? demonstrated that there is room for debate over the exact taxonomy of a sandwich, the entire exercise was an attempt to apply a timeless standard that would be as recognizable to an 18th century English nobleman as it would to a hoverboarding, vest-wearing, time-traveling 21st-century high schooler. Such a definition is a tribute to the form and its endless adaptability.

In another sense, though, a sandwich is an inherently fleeting thing. No matter how standardized the McDonalds, Subways, and Burger Kings of the world may become, or how exacting the French Laundrys, an indelible feature of the culinary arts is that each production is unique, unrepeatable, and subjectively experienced by the diner. No Big Mac is exactly the same as another, just as no two rillettes of poullarde can be identical. I have groused innumerable times at the variability of my Chipotle burrito. Continue reading

What is a Sandwich?

The Nobadeer from Jetties

The Nobadeer from Jetties

Sandwiches are pretty great, aren’t they? They possess qualities both practical and sentimental. They can be as simple or as complex as one’s heart desires, and they are capable of satisfying the tastes and preferences of even the most fastidious appetites. They’re so, so delicious.

If there’s one thing I like as much as sandwiches, it’s words. I dig how different people from different places and times use different words to describe the same thing. I also appreciate that despite these differences in vernacular and dialect, we usually figure out how to communicate without too much trouble.

When I started planning Eat a Sandwich, I had in my head a pretty solid idea of what I would and would not consider to be a “sandwich” for the purposes of our content. Most people enjoy the luxury of freedom from strict definitions of what is and is not a sandwich, but when writing a sandwich blog, some parameters become necessary. Sandwiches are incredibly versatile and diverse, but there must be limits: When does a sandwich stop being sandwich and become something else altogether? Continue reading

Where Did You Go, Sloppy Joe? Conversations on a Classic in Decline

The classic Sloppy Joe.

The classic Sloppy Joe.

I realized this week that literal decades have passed since I last ate a Sloppy Joe sandwich, a childhood favorite that has, from all indications, faded in popularity. While plenty of other supposedly kid-centric meals have been reinvented for more discerning, more mature—dare I say more upscale?—palettes, the poor Sloppy Joe has not, as of yet, gotten the same treatment as macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. What’s more, I’m not even sure children are eating them these days.

There are numerous possible explanations for this decline in prominence, and it’s also completely possible that I’m totally off-base. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. Maybe kids from Kalamazoo to San Berdoo are still chowing on the tantalizingly spiced, definitively messy, tomato-based hodgepodge of ground beef, onions and, let’s be honest, whatever the hell else Mom could find in the bottom drawer of the fridge. For what it’s worth, a Twitter follower hipped me to existence of a gourmet Sloppy Joe truck based right here in D.C. Perhaps the reports of Joe’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Nonetheless, I took to Google Chat yesterday afternoon to collect some completely unscientific evidence that might help explain  or disprove the Sloppy Joe’s dwindling prominence. What follows are selected transcripts from those conversations. Share your thoughts in the comments below! Continue reading