Why get the same boring bites, when sandwich shops are increasingly
trying to dazzle your palate?
When is the last time you ate a sandwich? I'll bet it was within
the last week. What's more, I've got a dill pickle spear and a bag
of potato chips that say your sandwich was OK, but not one of the
best you've ever had.
Granted, that's not a very risky bet. The sandwich is universally
popular, after all, thanks to its portability and infinite variability.
It's a staple in virtually everyone's diet, so commonly -- and often,
hurriedly -- consumed that we tend to think of it as little more
than mere fuel consumed on the go. And, let's face it, it isn't
that difficult to make a sandwich that satisfies that minimum requirement.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of sandwich shops are
content to do just that. And because we don't generally think of
the humble sandwich as a culinary creation on the level of, say,
a perfect soufflé, we often settle for mediocrity. So what
if the bacon is skimpy and the tomato mealy on our BLT, or if the
corned beef on our Reuben tastes of little more than salt? It's
just a sandwich, right?
Wrong. It isn't too much to ask that a sandwich be made with as
much care and attention to detail as a meal at a sit-down restaurant.
Indeed, as a small, but growing, number of area sandwich shops are
proving, it's possible to make sandwiches so good that they transcend
the genre. Just check out the goods at these four counter-service
eateries, all coincidentally in the western Triangle, and taste
In fact, I'll wager you double or nothing that you'll find yourself
slowing down so that you can savor every bite.
345 W. Main St., Durham
First-rate ingredients are as key to the success of the sandwiches
at Toast as they are at any outstanding sandwich shop. That includes
the breads, which are supplied by the bakeries at Rue Cler in Durham
and The Bread Shop in Pittsboro. But here, once the ingredients
are assembled, the sandwiches aren't yet quite complete. They have
yet to undergo the final step, the pressing between the plates of
a special grill that transforms them into panini.
And boy, does Billy Cotter know his way around a panini grill.
Cotter, a Durham native whose résumé includes such
notable area restaurants as Magnolia Grill and Lantern, owns the
restaurant with his wife, Kelli, an erstwhile Magnolia Grill server
who cheerily takes your order.
It's a good thing she's cheery, too, because I'm guessing she frequently
has to be patient while customers (if they're like me) wrestle with
the decision of just which crisp-crusted sandwich they want. Will
it be rapini with sweet Italian sausage, roasted garlic and asiago
fresco? Or spicy tuna with olivada, fennel and lemon? OK, I'll go
for the three cheese with truffle oil. No, wait! Make that local
farm egg with Taleggio and chives.
And that's not even considering the alternatives to panini. Tramezzini,
for instance, cold sandwiches on crustless white pullman bread,
with fillings ranging from egg salad with capers and chives to house-cured
salmon with watercress, pickled red onion and lemon aioli. Then
there are bruschetta and crostini, with toppings such as North Carolina
shrimp with pancetta and radicchio; and chicken liver with pickled
To date, Toast is the only restaurant in the Triangle to bill itself
as a paninoteca, a sandwich shop that specializes in making panini.
Lucky for us, it's a very good paninoteca indeed.
Aug. 8, 2008 - Greg Cox, The
News & Observer