Mmmm…sandwiches. We personally would like to thank the Earl of Sandwich for his part in establishing this lunchtime trend, now extended to all hours of the day. According to legend, the hungry 18th-century nobleman refused to leave a gaming table and asked his valet to bring him meat between two slices of bread. It may have been just a humble salt beef, but the name "sandwich" and a fast meal were born. Centuries later, the advent of sliced bread sent Americans into their own sandwich frenzy. The possibilities were endless. Today, the traditional version has many relatives—from paninis and burritos to pitas and wraps. In fact, we stuff almost anything between our bread. According to Becky Mercuri, author of American Sandwich, we each devour about 193 sandwiches a year for a hefty 45 billion annual total nationally. No wonder we're tipping the scales on the heavy side. And, now, sandwiches have reached the status of culinary stars. Bon Appétit had a recent article on them, including one from Baltimore's own Dogwood Deli, and even Oprah featured a "Sandwich Showdown" with gal pal Gayle on TV not long ago. Not to be left behind, we started looking for the best local examples. Our food writers and starving college interns prowled the area, finding an assortment of combos we'd go back for time and again. We'd say sandwiches are definitely here to stay.
Sammy's Deli/The Big Cheese
47 Randall St., Annapolis, 410-263-6915.
While tourists and locals line up at Chick & Ruth's Delly on Main Street in Annapolis (and for good reason), there's another deli within a block of the dock that assembles some of the best sandwiches in town—Sammy's Deli. There's no seating, but it's just as much fun to find a table at the Market House food complex or a shady bench by the boats to savor one of the deli's fine specimens. Our fave is the Annapolitan ($7.75). It's got a soft, crunchy, sweet, hot vibe going on with creamy brie melted over shaved roast turkey and Granny Smith apple slices on the freshest-ever multigrain bread. Oh, yes, zingy honey mustard pulls it all together.
Greenspring Shopping Center, 2849 Smith Ave., Pikesville, 410-602-2233.
The deli seems like it belongs in a bigger city (there is one in San Francisco)—and an earlier time. The inside walls are decorated with posters that hark back to a glitzy age of technicolor Hollywood. There's also a great selection of food—from pancakes to pastrami—but we were after the beef brisket sandwich ($6.29) with its great mound of tender meat and beefy gravy and a hefty portion of thick-cut fries to complement the brisket. We like that the service is quick and the management is friendly. The only thing you need to bring is an appetite.
Miss Shirley's Café
513 W. Cold Spring Lane, 410-889-5272.
One glance at the lunch menu, and it's obvious that this is not your father's diner. The upscale menu is chock-full of interesting sandwich options, from lobster salad sliders to a dressed-up hot brown, but our hands-down favorite is the spicy-sweet bistro beef sandwich ($15.99). Not content to be standard lunch-box fare, this sandwich is worthy of any dinner plate. Peppery, tender beef is grilled to order, topped with blue cheese, tangy tomatoes, crisp mixed greens, and delicately roasted vegetables, like peppadews and Vidalia onions, then piled on chewy ciabatta bread. Served with Miss Shirley's signature dipping salsa and either seasonal fruit or a mixed green salad, the bistro beef sandwich hits all the basic food groups, and does so with enough substance and style to carry us long past lunch.
Johnny's Bistro on Main
8167 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-461-8210.
The simple sandwiches/salads/pizzas menu and order-at-the-counter service make a deceptively lackluster first impression, but each offering is carefully thought out and more than the sum of its parts. The Bistro ($9.99), for example, starts with dense, herb-flecked ciabatta bread, toasted to crunchy light-brownness. It is topped with strips of grilled, marinated flank steak, cut thick but still so tender that the layers are easy to bite through and chew. The richness of the meat is then balanced with a thin smear of horseradish aioli, a few rings of grilled onion, and roasted red peppers. It's served with a sour pickle spear and house-made coleslaw with crunchy cabbage and vinegar dressing instead of overly sweet mayo or shoestring fries. Perfect.
Bruce Bitner's Café & Grill
2235 Churchville Rd., Bel Air, 410-879-6399.
Bitner's makes the most of its location amid Harford County's many farms by using local ingredients throughout its menu. Its chicken prosciutto sandwich ($8.25) features a chicken breast straight from Amrein Foods, a wholesaler in Joppa. The hot, juicy, marinated chicken, served open faced on homemade grilled focaccia bread, is topped with a slice of melted provolone made just a few miles away at Broom's Bloom Dairy in Bel Air. The brilliant red ripe tomato slice comes from Harman's Farm Market just up the road in Churchville. The provincial ingredients get a bit of an exotic flavor kick from a slice of salty prosciutto ham and a spread of nutty homemade basil pesto. It's a sandwich that satisfies both your cravings and your environmental consciousness.
908 W. 36th St., 410-235-2326.
Someone needs to take a bow for creating this deep-fried burrito creation. We think they're an evil genius. Locally, we think thanks can go to Hampden hotspot Holy Frijoles!, which serves a delicious version of this Mexican staple. For $9.95, you get a large flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, poblano peppers, onions, and a choice of fillings, ranging from chorizo and grilled veggies to black beans and corn. Once you've mixed and matched your fillings, the whole deal is dipped into the deep fryer, just long enough to give the tortilla a crunchy casing. Top it off with picante, salsa verde, and/or sour cream, and savor this amazing wonder.
Cloak and Dagger
Eddie's of Roland Park
Two locations, including 5113 Roland Ave., 410-323-3656.
Behind the deli counter at Eddie's are some of Baltimore's best creations between two slices of bread. The menu has a variety of special sandwiches named after local places and schools (like Boys' Latin and Gilman), but we cleverly decided to stay neutral and go with the Cloak and Dagger ($5.99), which features a generous portion of lean turkey instead of corned beef. Topped with coleslaw, Swiss, and Thousand Island dressing, this heaping sandwich has a slightly sweet taste that is pleasantly different. Grab a bag of all-natural kettle-cooked chips, or go for a side of potato salad, and you've got yourself a great combination of sweet and savory that's guaranteed to please.
Petit Louis Bistro
4800 Roland Ave., 410-366-9393.
Feel like breaking away from the typical brunch fare of omelets, quiches, and pastries? Then try the croque monsieur at Petit Louis. This ham-and-cheese sandwich is a staple in French cuisine and rightfully so with its melted slices of Madrange ham and Gruyère cheese, sure to satisfy any palate. Thick slices of brioche bread are dipped into egg before grilling, resulting in melted ham and cheese squished between two heavenly slices of French toast. It's paired with salty pommes frites. And that is a brunch that works for us.
710 S. Broadway, 410-522-0000.
After multiple trips to Florida, we're always on the lookout for a good Cuban sandwich. While it sounds simple enough: roast pork, baked ham, dill pickles, Swiss cheese, and yellow mustard melded together between artisan bread and pressed to a golden state, it's not so easy to find a version that meets Miami standards. At Alexander's Tavern, though, you'll discover a Cubano ($9) with flavors that jolt your taste buds into sharp focus—each chewy, warm bite reviving memories of sultry, tropical days. But what we really like at Alexander's is a clever substitution to the classic—prosciutto ham. The salty bite of fried prosciutto creates an added layer of wow in the popular Latino sandwich.
410 S. High St., 410-685-6727.
We can't get enough of the eggplant parmigiana sandwich ($7.95) at Café Gia. Who can blame us? We take a trip to southern Italy with each bite of its three thin layers of breaded eggplant separated by two pieces of mozzarella cheese that meets another skinny slice of eggplant, more cheese, and sweet pasta sauce spread on both parts of a crusty role. Based on an old family recipe from Sicily, the sandwich is savory and tender. More to our satisfaction, the sandwich comes with a salad of fresh greens, juicy tomatoes, and zesty Italian homemade dressing. Make sure to make the stop during lunch hours (11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily), otherwise you'll miss the chance to take your taste buds abroad because the sandwich is not on the dinner menu.
Three locations, including 798 Kenilworth Dr., Towson, 410-938-8775.
Picking a favorite sandwich at Atwater's is like picking your favorite child: You like them all for different reasons. But lately we've become obsessed with the Greek veggie. It feels weird saying this, but it's a refreshing sandwich. In between two slices of handmade kalamata olive bread, you'll find crazy thin layers of marinated cucumbers, Vidalia onions, tomatoes, green-leaf lettuce, and an olive- and-artichoke-heart tapenade. Every bite bursts with an intense flavor, and the way the sandwich is constructed, you truly get a taste of each ingredient. And because it's Atwater's, the bread is super delicious, and we always pair our sandwich with one of the fresh soups. We never know which to eat first, so we alternate bites.
The Land and Sea
Beach Bum's Café
1038 Light St., 410-528-8300.
Despite our occasional fascination with all things gourmet, we realize that often the best delis are the least dressed-up. Beach Bum's—an ice cream shop/deli—certainly fits this bill. The menu is a single sheet of laminated, bright-yellow paper; the lettuce is iceberg; and the potato chips are ridge-less. Despite the lack of extras, we keep going back because Beach Bum's knows more about putting a sandwich together than we ever will. The Land and Sea ($9.25) is an example. Yes, combining roast beef and shrimp salad really does work—the mayonnaise-y shrimp-salad dressing provides the perfect sauce for the beef, and the two flavors, separated by a layer of bread (we suggest rye), are distinct but complementary. From now on, we'll trust Beach Bum's to make our sandwich decisions for us.
Radisson Hotel, Village of Cross Keys, 5100 Falls Rd., 410-532-6900.
Remember the Maine (lobster, that is): If you think you have to drive to the Connecticut shore to get anywhere near a good lobster roll, head for Crossroads Restaurant. Okay, so at $18, it's not cheap, but it's still a lot less than the gas to drive to New England. Using his own recipe, chef Don Crowther puts lots of meat in there, diced and tossed in lemon aioli, and serves this winner on a buttery, toasted roll. If you want to get totally in the crustacean zone, try it with his cream of roasted-red-pepper-and-crab soup, with lots of lump crab, and a cream base that is surprisingly light.
The Main Street Muffuletta
2 N. Main St., Bel Air, 410-803-0000.
This old-world-style Italian deli reinvents the Southern sandwich with a vegetarian flair. The traditional aged cheeses and Italian meats are replaced with fresh mozzarella and veggies. Savona keeps the familiar crusty, flat loaf—delivered fresh daily from La Pasticceria Aldo bakery in Little Italy—and it preserves the signature olive spread—made fresh on site. But the rest of the muffuletta ($7.49) is all Savona's own: roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, lettuce, tomato, and sliced onion. Ask for it grilled, and with each bite, the softened cheese yields to the bread's crunchy texture. The eight-inch-long sandwich makes a filling meal for two. Because Savona recently got a license to serve beer and wine, you can enjoy the sandwich with a glass of Chianti and watch the Main Street bustle go by.
On the Hill Café & Market
1431 John St., 410-225-9667.
The restaurant fits in perfectly in Bolton Hill—it's a bit eccentric with lime walls and a chalkboard menu but also welcoming with a happy staff delivering sandwiches on cafeteria-style trays. It also features sandwiches named after neighborhood streets with unusual twists to make them special. For instance, the tuna salad gets dressed up with lemon and capers; the turkey comes topped with cranberry chutney. But the one we seek out is The McMechen ($7.75). The wrap folds up a careful balance of curried chicken salad, pecans, red grapes, greens, and mango chutney for a taste range that varies from spicy to sweet and crunchy to soft with every bite.
The 98 Rock Hercules
Pickles and Chips Deli & Grille
1220 E. Joppa Rd., Towson, 410-321-1088.
Someone has a sense of humor here—as well as a creative streak in putting together some of the most interesting combos around town. The sandwich names are just plain fun, honoring or poking fun at local celebs like Ed Norris (hot roast beef, of course) and Laurie DeYoung (grilled ham and cheese). And bless their hearts, there's one still named for Brian Billick (hot corned beef) as well as new Ravens coach John Harbaugh (turkey and ham). But the reason to keep returning (besides the thick, homemade potato chips and fat, garlicky pickles) is a piled-high stack called The 98 Rock Hercules ($7.59): ham, bacon, Swiss, mayo, tomato, hot peppers, Old Bay, and pickle slices on wonderfully chewy pumpernickel. Another plus: 25 cents from each signature sandwich is donated to charity. So now, you can feel good about yourself while you stuff your face.
F & L Pit Beef
1101 Cromwell Bridge Rd., Towson, 443-622-2688.
Around here, you're likely to find pit-beef stands in unexpected places, like the one in the shadows of the Beltway off Loch Raven Boulevard. F & L Pit Beef is disarmingly low key, as it should be. But step up to the white truck's open window, order a regular pit beef ($6), and get ready to chow into a fresh, soft bun (five inches across) filled with tender, charred beef. Oh, and be sure to say "hi" to Amarillo the caged cockatoo as you go around to the side for condiments—the requisite stinging horseradish and onions. There's also relish, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and, since this is Baltimore, Old Bay, to add. You can take out or eat at one of the umbrella-shaded picnic tables, where strangers suddenly become friends discussing the sandwich's merits. The truck is open from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, until Thanksgiving.
Isabella's Brick Oven Pizza and Panini
221 S. High St., 410-962-8888.
Fans love this Little Italy place as much for its corner-store feel and friendliness as for its amazing pizza. But Isabella's sandwich menu is where the real magic happens. In particular, the porchetta ($6.99 small/ $8.99 large) has our mouths watering at first tantalizing scent. The rich, garlicky aroma of roasted pork is just a prelude to the outrageous flavors to come. Rosemary-spiked pork, fresh mozzarella, and bright, slightly acidic tomato are layered on an Italian roll and toasted, if you'd like, in the brick oven. The result is a sandwich that's warm, creamy, crispy, and intensely flavorful all at once. We always go for the large—and we never regret it.
The Real Italian
DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace & Deli
3700 Gough St., 410-276-6787.
It takes guts to call a sandwich The Real Italian (small, $5.95; large, $7.95), but the gang at DiPasquale's, a Highlandtown fixture since 1914, comes by it honestly. From the jars of peppers and dried beans, to the case of salamis and sausages, to the wise-cracking cast of characters who preside over the cash register and deli counter—it doesn't get any more Italian than this marketplace and deli. As for the sandwich, it's not for amateurs, instead made for those who can distinguish their mortadella from their capicola and their prosciuttini. The meats are piled high (there's also salami on that sucker), along with provolone cheese, plus olive oil and vinegar, lettuce, tomato, onions, and a smattering of hots—all served on a substantial Italian roll, made in-house, with just the right amount of crustiness, but nothing you'll break a tooth on, capisce?
1019 E. Lombard St., 410-563-2666.
If you're going to do it, do it right. That's how we feel about getting a traditional corned beef Reuben at Attman's, part of the historic Corned Beef Row, a marketplace of Jewish eateries opened in the 1920s on East Lombard Street. Today, only Attman's and Weiss's delis remain (cafeteria-style Lenny's opened in 1991), and we couldn't be happier because we can still order an Attman's classic corned beef Reuben ($8.29) for lunch. The sandwich has generous portions of hot sauerkraut and their "famous" corned beef, sliced incredibly thin so it melts in your mouth. The deli doesn't hold back on the Swiss cheese, and the subtle flavor of the Russian dressing is just enough to add a little tang. As you elbow your way through the always-packed lunch line, be sure to get one of their jumbo kosher pickles to complete the meal.
Reuben Royale (vegetarian)
1626 Aliceanna St., 410-276-6606.
When we think of tofu, the word wiggly comes to mind with texture that's just hard to swallow. Not at Liquid Earth in Fells Point, where the thin, invigorating, marinated layers of pinkish red tofu in the Reuben Royale ($8.95) can be easily mistaken for fine slices of real corned beef. The sandwich's traditional flair makes for a well-balanced triple-decker of melted Yarlsberg, warm sauerkraut, and fresh red onions blended with the restaurant's own Thousand Island dressing on toasted Jewish rye. What we like even more is the option to add extra onions or tofu for $1.50 and the impressive array of more than 20 freshly squeezed juices with fun names like Facelifter (honeydew melon, mint, ginger, orange, and grapefruit) and Phat Kiss (pineapple and lemon). And it gets even better. When we eat at Liquid Earth, we are supporting our local economy. They use regional organic products and produce when possible.
Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce
Krause's Lite Fare
400 W. Lexington St., Lexington Market, 410-244-0748.
As far as we're concerned, the saddest day of the year is when all of the Thanksgiving turkey has finally disappeared, and we face another long year without leftovers. This year, instead of crying in our stuffing, we'll head to Krause's for a quick fix, sandwich-style. Famous for fresh-roasted turkey, Krause's deserves its reputation as a Lexington Market institution. It's our favorite makeshift Thanksgiving treat: whole wheat bread piled high with juicy dark meat, lettuce for crunch, and a thick slather of sweet, jellied cranberry sauce ($4.85). No matter what the calendar says, when we close our eyes and take a giant, messy bite, we'd swear we're digging into dinner on the last Thursday in November.
Several locations, including 5100 Falls Rd., Village of Cross Keys, 410-532-7611.
It's hard to believe that when Donna Crivello opened her first café and coffee bar in Mount Vernon in 1992, words like tapenade and espresso didn't easily roll off our tongues. Now, they're part of our everyday lexicon. Crivello nudged our culinary awareness with other dishes, too, like fragrant roasted vegetables. Today, that luscious mix of red peppers, onions, eggplant, and portobellos is still around. A recent roasted vegetable sandwich ($8.95) at Donna's reminded us all over again why we like her style. The warm, crusty ciabatta roll was packed with tender roasted veggies and smoked mozzarella and came with a welcome side of fried sweet potatoes.
Ceriello Fine Italian Foods
529 E. Belvedere Ave., Belvedere Square Market, 410-532-1840.
The Roma ($7.95) is the kind of sandwich you want to savor, except that it's so good you can't help but scarf it down. Maybe it's the rustic ciabatta bread. Maybe it's the layers of finely sliced prosciutto. Or the fluffy yet dense mozzarella cheese and tomato, drizzled with a pleasant splash of olive oil, and punctuated with the slight tang of basil. Maybe it's the way the bread crunches when grilled, panini-style (one option), or the way the cool, salty meat and rich oil combine when eaten cold (second option). Of course, it's hard to really analyze it when eating this fast.
911 W. 36th St., 410-889-0952.
Formerly known as Dogwood Deli, this is the hot lunch spot on The Avenue in Hampden. Serving salads, sandwiches, and smoothies made with locally-sourced, organic ingredients, the tiny takeout offshoot of The Dogwood Restaurant has earned a reputation for providing quality and quantity to hungry patrons. The Salmon B.L.T. ($11.75) is a prime example of this. (It's not always on the menu, which changes often, but ask for it, and the deli will fix one.) Inside two plush pads of house-made sourdough bread, we found a thick filet of wild-caught salmon, chunky slices of heirloom tomatoes, hearty strips of local bacon, and hunks of romaine lettuce. An acidic kick is provided with a slathering of whole-grain mustard mayo. Perhaps best of all, Dogwood sandwiches come with a side of house-made, russet-colored potato chips and a pickle. It's enough to make lunch, not breakfast, seem like the most important meal of the day.
4301 Harford Rd., 410-426-3519.
While shrimp salad sandwiches are pretty standard fare in our area, some are better than others. The shrimp salad sandwich ($13.95) at Koco's Pub in the Hamilton-Lauraville area is one of our faves. Served on a sesame-seed bun, it's quite simply delicious. Giant-size shrimp are mixed with just the right amount of mayo, so that the shrimps' naturally sweet taste pops through. A sprinkle of Old Bay adds just enough zing. Utz potato chips and a pickle complete this classic treat.
Spoons Coffee Café & Roastery
24 E. Cross St., 410-539-6751.
The owners of Spoons in Federal Hill are not kidding when they call this thing tuna salad ($7.95). While most tuna salads have some mayo, maybe a little chopped celery or pickle, this concoction seems to contain an entire salad—minced broccoli, carrots, onions, celery, and even bits of apple. (Come to think of it, even without the tuna, that salad sounds good). Indeed, this recipe is so uniquely delicious, we think it could make a convert out of even the most stubborn of tuna purists. We suggest eating it on crunchy sunflower, where the nuttiness of the bread perfectly offsets the tangy and sweet tuna concoction. Wash it all down with a cup of the café's aromatic house-roasted coffee and you've managed to enjoy two of Baltimore's gustatory pleasures in one sitting—not too shabby.
Turkey, Brie, and Chutney
Golden West Café
1105 W. 36th St., 410-889-8891.
On The Avenue in Hampden and looking for a sandwich that's a little out of the ordinary? Head to the quirky, colorful, and eclectic Golden West Café. It specializes in traditional New Mexican fare, but its menu includes a variety of other dishes. Patrons can order breakfast all day or choose from a long list of sandwiches. We recommend the turkey, Brie, and chutney sandwich ($9.99)—you'll be pleasantly satisfied with the combination of sweet and savory flavors. The sandwich is piled with sliced turkey and lots of melted Brie with smooth mango chutney spread on top. Chutney choices include tart cherry and mango. (We usually opt for mango.) Another plus: Sandwiches are served on plush, house-made, grainy bread. We also loved the garlic fries, made with fresh, chopped garlic and peppercorns, but we don't recommend them if you have a hot date later.
Two locations, including 2819 O'Donnell St., 410-675-9300.
This is a sandwich that believes in teamwork. Individually, the aged white cheddar, Granny Smith apples, field greens, homemade honey mustard, and multigrain bread would be good, but not spectacular. Together, they create a sensation. Maybe the folks at Rosina practice some sort of sandwich voodoo, but the combination of the tart apples—which are always thinly sliced and crisp—sweet mustard, and tangy cheese is unexpected and yummy. We like biting into the soft bread while positioning our sandwich over the white butcher paper to catch the drips of honey mustard.