Chow Down Challenge: Sandwich hunt

By Hana Nobel, News Staff

Challenge: Picnic-worthy sandwiches
Budget: $10

Few things epitomize spring weather more than grabbing a sandwich and eating outside. Luckily, Boston offers a variety of restaurants that push the ultimate picnic food further than the classic peanut butter and jelly. I ventured to five neighborhoods in search of sandwiches that refuse to bore. The rules? The sandwiches must be available for takeout and must be under $10. I divided my hunt into five categories: the classic sandwich, the late night snack-wich, the vegetarian option, the exotic sandwich and the high-end sandwich.

For a classic sandwich shop, a friend pointed me in the direction of WAN’s Convenience Store on Mission Hill. I was skeptical – The Hill isn’t exactly known for fine cuisine, but I did a quick internet search and was surprised to find that WAN’s was rated No. 1 on Yelp. I almost walked past the 1508 Tremont St. location – WAN’s looked more like a place to pick up milk and cigarettes than a corner store with famous sandwiches. Inside, however, loyal customers sat or stood around the four seats at the counter, and spoke with Al, the man behind the sandwiches.

I forwent the popular “Hush” option – a “secret” sandwich (meaning whatever Al feels like making). Mike, a regular raved about the Heaven is Here sandwich, which is piled high with buffalo chicken, roast beef, turkey, bacon and vegetables, but since I’m not a huge carnivore, I ordered his second choice – The Bizzy Bone – a chicken salad and bacon sandwich topped with lettuce and tomatoes on a French baguette. Like all of Al’s sandwiches, it is priced at $7. Mike told me that though Al takes his good ol’ time making each sandwich, the wait is worth it. He’s right. The sandwich was great, and Al is a character I hope to visit again in the near future.

I found a classic sandwich stop, but now I wanted a sandwich for late night snacking. After visiting a friend at Rutgers University, home of famous grease trucks where sandwiches are stuffed with finger food, I vowed to find “fat sandwiches” in Boston. As luck would have it, a take out menu for Café Mitti’s appeared in my mailbox, with an entire section devoted to exactly what I was craving. Most of the “double stuffed sandwiches,” as Mitti’s calls them, are named after local college or sports teams. So I trekked out to Allston (140 Brighton Ave.) and picked up an MIT: A sub roll filled with mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, french fries and marinara sauce. At $9.53, the MIT is the perfect, albeit unhealthy, sandwich for late night junk food cravings. And they’re open until 3 a.m.

After eating the MIT, I needed to detox from junk food. So, I headed to The Crema Café at 27 Brattle St. in Harvard Square to try the vegetarian Sweet Potato Sandwich, which I had heard a friend talk about in the fall. The café was filled with college students and young professionals stopping by after work or class to catch up on reading or meet up with friends. The menu was scrawled on chalkboard, and included breakfast and sweet sandwich options along with a changing menu of specials. The $6.95 Sweet Potato Sandwich contained ingredients I loved – green apple, sweet potato, hummus, avocado and sprouts, but I was skeptical of the combination. After tasting them together on toasted wheat and finished with caramelized shallot vinaigrette, my doubt evaporated and I realized that it was one of those weird combinations in life that just simply works.

I’d heard about Banh-Mi for a few years, but hadn’t gotten around to trying it. I decided the Vietnamese take on a submarine sandwich was a good fit for my exotic category. Banh-Mi is available all over Chinatown, so I ventured into 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches and Bubble Tea (66 Harrison Ave.) to try one. The shredded pork version was $2.75. All of the Banh-Mi are under $3.50 – a steal for a fairly large sandwich on a baguette. All sandwiches come with mayo, cucumbers, pickled carrots, onions, chili peppers, cilantro and soy or fish sauce. It was a lot of flavor going on at one time. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was supposed to taste like so I’ll have to do some comparison at a later time, but at less than $3, I’ll be sure to try Banh-Mi again for a bargain.

On the opposite end of the bargain spectrum, I visited The Parish Café’s new location (493 Massachusetts Ave.) in the South End for my high-end sandwich stop. The menu is a combination of sandwiches created by the chefs of Boston’s most noteworthy restaurants. Most of the options exceeded my $10 budget, but I did have a few choices. I decided on the Egg Sandwich Lyonnaise which was conceived by Tony Maws, the executive chef of Cambridge restaurant Craigie on Main. At $9.75, the sandwich stayed just within my budget. Two eggs over easy on toasted white bread were topped with bacon, tomatoes, onions and Dijon mustard aioli. It came with homemade potato salad. I probably would have been more excited about the sandwich if I hadn’t read the descriptions of the more expensive and creative options on the menu, but it was well done. The Parish Café is located on the corner of Tremont Street and Massachusetts Avenue, a quick walk from campus for a leisurely lunch or late dinner. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m.

After five days of sandwiches, I am going to be off sandwiches for a while. However, when I can bear to look at another one, I can honestly say that I’ll be back to all of the places I visited on this hunt. Boston is filled with great sit down restaurants, but it’s picnic season, so grab a sandwich, pack a blanket, and enjoy the few months of warmth we get.

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