Sandwich Optimization Problem – An Homage to Sandwiches

I love sandwiches.  All kinds of sandwiches.  From tea sandwiches to 3 foot subs, I adore sandwiches.  Sandwiches are the ideal food.  Portable, nutritious, and versatile.  I would eat a sandwich anywhere.

Some of you may be wondering what my all time favorite sandwich is.  While I usually have trouble deciding between food, I have a very clear favorite in this case.  Almost.

The best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life was at Bouchon Bakery, in Yountville, California.

The second best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life was also at Bouchon Bakery, in Yountville, California.

Mmm... Oh God.

I wish you could taste this right now.

A bit of background: Yountville is located in the Napa Valley and has the highest concentration of Michelin stars per capita anywhere in the world.  The town is centered almost entirely around gourmet food and world class spas.  Several of the restaurants in Yountville are headed by the man many consider to be the best living American chef: Thomas Keller.  Bouchon is his bakery.

When I was vacationing there last March with my mother, we shared a turkey sandwich and a portobello sandwich with a beef jus. (Side note: a picnic is the perfect place to share two sandwiches.  I’m a big believer in Diminishing Marginal Return of Food, and I love to sample, so I’d almost always rather eat two halves of two different sandwiches than one whole sandwich.  I think it’s a little strange to do this if you’re eating the sandwich in the same place it was made though.)  Both sandwiches far exceeded my expectations.

To this day, I really can’t say which I liked more.  I remember that lunch as being one of those rare moments in which two halves of the different sandwiches complemented each other in playful conversation.  It was just a great sandwich eating experience, all around.  A perfect Northern Californian spring day with two beautiful sandwiches and a box full of pastries.

Which brings me to my next point: what makes a great sandwich?

Going off of the ideal set by Bouchon, a great sandwich doesn’t need to have a lot of ingredients.  Nor does it need to have a lot of height and heft.  What I liked most about the sandwiches I had at Bouchon was the perfect ratio of ingredients.  Sometimes I feel sandwiches can have too many ingredients with dull flavor.  Sometimes sandwich makers will try to compensate for this by putting a lot of substance between the bread.  That’s not what makes a perfect sandwich though.  (At least, not in my mind.)

A perfect sandwich is manageable and minimalist, while still expressing a coherent idea.  The turkey sandwich was a riff on the classic turkey-cranberry-cheese sandwich, but the coleslaw-relish added a perfectly balanced bright crunchiness.  No unnecessary pickle-lettuce-tomato (filler).  The portobello was perfect as well.  Crunchy fresh baked bread, mushrooms tender in a way no deli meat could ever be, and swiss cheese adding a perfect gooey richness to each bite.  The jus was unbelievably beefy without being overly salty.  And I would even argue the compactness of the sandwich and manageability of each bite made it easier to focus on the flavors and textural interplay.  With sandwiches, less is more.

I’ve had some good sandwiches in Chicago.  Bari’s makes good italian style subs and focaccia sandwiches with great cheeses and cured meats.  XOCO is a fun place to go (I’ve had the ahogada and cuban, both very good).  I’ve yet to try Grahamwich (I think I’ll give them a try in the next few weeks now that it seems they’ve worked out their kinks.)

As far as sandwich chains go, I’d have to side with Potbelly’s over Jimmy John’s.  I would prefer either to Subway.  They’re all fairly comparable in price, but Subway uses terrible ingredients and sandwich making technique.  Plus, when I go to Subway I feel as though I’m in a public restroom.  Potbelly’s has a better meat to bread ratio overall and their sandwiches produce the most optimal bites (good distribution of ingredients).  I also prefer the menu options at Potbelly’s to JJ’s.

I’m not really sure how to conclude this string of thoughts on sandwiches so I’ll end with this fact:
Americans eat 45 billion sandwiches each year.  (source)

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