Sandwiches in the City
New Yorkers are obnoxiously proud of our lunchtime options. We don’t do chains because we don’t have to. Not when you can find everything from banh mi hot dogs to Brussels sprouts sandwiches for under $10. That’s exactly why I’ve been so bothered by the rapid proliferation of Cosi, Pret a Manger and the like across Manhattan in recent years. Are New Yorkers really lunching at these places now? Sure, these semi-upscale sandwich chains are better than Subway or Quiznos, but I’d still take a Boar’s Head bodega roll any day of the week.
Recently entering the midtown sandwich contest and blowing the chains out of the water is City Sandwich, a Portuguese-style sandwich shop from chef Michael Guerrieri. Now, you foodies may be noting that there’s not really any such thing as a Portuguese-style sandwich. This is true. Like most refined Europeans, the Portuguese prefer to sit down and eat their meals with knives and forks. So Guerrieri, who was born in Naples, raised in New York and spent 13 years cooking in Lisbon, has taken traditional Portuguese meals and turned them into an array of newly-invented sandwiches.
The crispy bread is brought in twice daily from a Portuguese bakery in New Jersey; the insides scooped out to make room for fillings and to ensure the sandwiches aren’t too heavy. Each one is spread with high-quality olive oil and built using unique ingredients you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other sandwich shop in the world. For example, the Bench Girl, pictured above, contains alheira, a smoky, spicy sausage that was pioneered by Portuguese Jews during the Inquisition. In an effort not to stand out among their pork-eating compatriots, the Jews invented this chorizo-like link that is actually made from chicken, but looks enough like the real deal that no one could guess they weren’t dining on swine. Apparently, back in the day on the Iberian peninsula, not eating pork was enough to get you burned at the stake. Today, a little bit of pork has managed to sneak into most versions of alheira currently produced in Portugal, but it’s still a superbly rich and flavorful sausage that’s not quite like any other. It’s paired here with an omelet, grilled onions, spinach, and melted mozzarella, for a savory breakfast-y sandwich that is appropriate any time of day.
For a look at City Sandwich’s other inventive, Portuguese-influenced sandwich creations, keep reading after the jump.
The newest addition to the CS menu is the Fatima, which takes another Portuguese classic — octopus salad — and transfers it to the sandwich roll. Fresh octopus is marinated overnight in white wine vinegar and olive oil so that it comes out extremely smooth, without even a hint of that rubbery texture octopus is so often associated with, then topped with diced onions and peppers, plus fresh arugula and parsley.
The Auntie incorporate another hard-to-find-in-this-country item — fresh sardines — which go through a three-day house pickling process and are then joined with sauteed onions, tomato and cilantro. The little fishes’ richness and saltiness come through, but it’s surprisingly not overpowering — a more delicate flavor balance than one might expect from a sardine sandwich.
The Chef sandwich wins the award for least appetizing sounding ingredient that actually turns out to be delicious: “soaked codfish.” That would be dry salted cod which has been soaked in water to cut the saltiness, then topped with tomato, seasonal lettuce, sauteed onions and capers, plus a black olive pesto spread across the bread.
In the Henrique sandwich, that smoky alheira sausage resurfaces, this time paired with collard greens, grilled onions, tomato and melted mozzarella.
The Maria features paio — a dry-cured pork loin sausage, served with egg whites, broccoli rabe, sauteed onions, melted mozzarella and tomato.
In the Nuno the pork product starts getting really interesting. This one has morcela — Portuguese blood sausage — a deeply rich, dark and salty morsel that I swear melts in your mouth. The Nuno also has broccoli rabe AND collard greens, tomato, melted mozzarella and garlic. You may need a hero-sized breath mint after this bad boy, but trust me, it will be worth it.
For those getting a little scared, the Franco is more of a classic: Parma prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and arugula. The kicker, just in case you flavor haters thought you were getting off easy: raw garlic.
The James is a roast beef sandwich that, if there is any justice at all, should put Arby’s out of business: extremely thin slivers of RB topped with roasted red and yellow peppers, broccoli rabe, melted mozzarella, sauteed onions and olive oil.
Don’t think they forgot about you veggie folks. The Diane features radicchio, grilled onions, roasted tomato, roasted zucchini, and ample slices of goat cheese, drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar.
And finally, the palate cleanser: panna cotta with strawberry port wine sauce, in a plastic cup, for a buck.
Your move, Cosi.
649 9th Avenue
New York, NY