Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taquería Los Ocampo - Spicy Chicken Taco

If you've been in any large public place in the last few weeks, you know that cold and flu season is in full swing. I can spot co-workers and friends popping decongestants and cough syrup, but when I feel like I'm getting plugged up, I go for more of a natural cure: good old-fashioned spice. Let's just say that I have a different type of over the counter cold remedy in mind.

I got worried when I felt a bit stuffy the other day, so I wanted to make sure I did everything possible to prevent a cold, not only because I'll be off to Mexico soon, but because if I get plugged up, I'll lose my sense of smell, and even worse, deplete my sense of taste. Now, I just can't let that happen. I decided to break out the big guns and headed over to Los Ocampo for a nice spicy taco. Now, I know this blog is all about sandwiches, but I feel like tacos are close enough to my definition of a sandwich, and at the end of the day, it's my blog, so back off!

I ordered a taco as a quick snack before I shopped at the Midtown Global Market and was shocked at the variety of fillings I had to choose from. I wanted something with some nose-knocking spice and went for the spicy chicken filling. As I waited for my taco, I marveled at the sheer amount of offerings they could crank out of their little kitchen. Everything looked and smelled great and all of a sudden my wait, which was only a few moments, seemed as if it lasted an eternity. Finally, my number came up and I bolted to the counter to grab my taco.

It was a work of beauty. The taco came on a perfectly authentic tortilla and was piled high with spicy shredded chicken. The taco was topped with tons of fresh cilantro and a nice fine dice of fresh onion for some brightness and a bit of kick. The small plate is also overloaded with fresh radish and some lime wedges to provide some crunch and punch. I loaded my taco up with as many toppings as the tortilla could handle and dove right in.

It was a serious treat. The chicken was perfectly spicy with a nice burst of heat, and the accompanying toppings added some serious flavor to the dish. The freshness of the cilantro, onion and radish provided a really nice texture and contrasted the abundantly spicy chicken. The lime juice made the flavors sing, and provided a nice tang at the end of each bite. I don't know if it was the speed of which I consumed this frugal little piece of paradise, or the heat provided by the spicy chicken, but when I finished my last bite I could breathe easy and felt no more pressure in my sinuses. Either the spice truly worked, or the satisfaction of the meal provided just the relief I was looking for. Look out NyQuil, I've got something much, much better in my flu-fighting war chest.
Sandwich Rating: Killer. I'll be back for the tacos soon, but will expand my ordering as well. The food was authentic, flavorful and well worth the trip. I can't imagine going any where else for a quick, authentic Mexican fix.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cossetta's Italian Beef Sandwich

I had to run into St. Paul to grab a few goodies for Christmas and managed to avoid the temptation of the newly created St. Paul versions of the Bulldog and Pop!! to head to an old favorite, Cossetta's. Cossetta's is a St. Paul institution, and is always jammed with folks digging into hearty Italian pasta classics, sandwiches and pizza. Cossetta's also has an extensive Italian grocery and deli as well as a frozen take-away section. The Italian grocery has a ton of great stuff including olives, breads, imported canned tomatoes and a whole array of Italian meats and cheeses.

Although I did breeze by the grocery to inspect the goodies, I was at Cossetta's in search of immediate relief for a sandwich jones, and couldn't be distracted for long. I passed the pizza line and decided against the mostaccioli (both of which are favorites) for the allure and promise of an authentic Italian beef sandwich. Besides, the lines in the cafeteria-style Italian eatery are always wicked long for the perfect pizza and decadent pasta.

The sandwich starts with a nice fresh roll and they pile it high with thinly sliced Italian beef that has been soaking in a pool of it's own rich jus for what must have been some time given the delicate consistency of the beef. I ordered mine with hot giardiniera, and they really piled it on! I tore into the sandwich and immediately ran into a salty jolt of the beef jus and was then quickly bombarded with the spice of the giadiniera. Both flavors were bold and were greeted warmly by my now desperate taste buds. The only issue was that the salt and the heat really masked the beef, which should be the heart and soul of the sandwich. I found the roll a bit dry as I like my beef sandwiches "wet," or fully immersed in the jus. However, that isn't for everybody and most people would have found the roll just fine, but that's just my own personal taste. I feel a good slice of provolone would have helped mellow out the hot peppers, and added quite a bit to the sandwich, but it didn't stop me from wolfing the sandwich down.

Sandwich Rating: Tasty. It was super satisfying and really filling, but I felt like the Italian Beef and it's delicious blend of spices was buried underneath the mound of hot peppers and salty jus. I would consider ordering the sandwich again if I went back, but would likely give the Italian Sausage or Meatball hoagie a shot if I can resist the delicious pizza and heavenly, ricotta spiked mostaccioli.

Happy Eating,


Monday, December 1, 2008

Manny's Tortas - Pollo Torta

I've been meaning to get out to the Midtown Global Market for quite some time and for no reason other then the fact that I had a lonely stomach and was craving something different, I decided to finally pull the trigger last Saturday. The market is a loud and vibrant place with a healthy pulse and food everywhere. It's pretty much my own personal heaven. You can get just about every type of ethnic cuisine and take care of your grocery shopping as well. There are some very good meat, seafood and produce purveyors, and I know exactly where to go next time I need to go get some already ripe avocados.

I've been obsessing over pictures of Manny's Tortas for quite some time so after making the rounds and evaluating my food options I decided to look no further than their sandwich booth. There was no line when I arrived and I breathed a huge sigh of relief because after a quick lap and observing all the tempting food I was ready to do some work.

I shot through the menu quickly and settled on the pollo, although there were several combos that looked like they would be right in my wheelhouse. I would have easily gone for the eggs and chorizo, but the overindulgence of Thanksgiving was still fresh on my mind, so I played it safe. Plus, I just knew I was going to dig this shop, so I figured I could experiment further on a return visit.

The sandwich came out fast and I was more then ready to finally sink my teeth into the heaping construction. This particular beauty was built for flavor and not for function or style. I could tell I was in for a sloppy ride, but I was up to the challenge. I took a huge bite and the sandwich was a bit slippery, but it was really freakin' good. The bread had a nice crunch on the exterior, but was soft and chewy on the inside. A layer of chipotle mayo was a nice vehicle for spice and added a smokiness to the sandwich that played well with the other ingredients. The chicken cutlets were breaded and heated up so that they were crispy and flavorful, yet a bit oily. The real kicker for the sandwich was the fresh toppings. Fresh ingredients make for great tacos, and the same idea is applied here. A nice smash of avocado added a degree of tongue cooling richness that makes for a killer sandwich. The fresh jalapeno added a smooth layer of heat that mingled really well with the fresh lettuce, tomatoes and snappy onions. The textures made this sandwich feel completely substantial and fulfilling. It was so fresh and so flavorful, that it was a true pleasure to down. Before I knew it, it was all over. My only complaint was that it all ended too soon. The sandwich (served with chips) was only $8, and made those $5 footlongs look like a tragedy of a deal in comparison.

Sandwich Rating: Killer. Too flavorful and too fresh to be anything else. I'll be heading back to the market just to pick up these delicious tortas in the very near future for sure. It's pretty far out of the way for me and parking can be a pain, but it's a small price to pay for the excitement of a fresh sandwich loaded with layers of flavor.

Happy Eating,


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Smalley's Jerk Chicken Sandwich

I enjoyed my meal so much the first time I went to Smalley's that I had to go back just 2 weeks later. Actually, my brother and sister-in-law were in town and my parents were heading back to Stillwater, so I jumped at the chance to enjoy another meal at Smalley's and was thrilled that I could do it with my family.

It was a very cold and windy day down by the water, so after some serious retail therapy for my mom and sister-in-law we rushed into the warmth of Smalley's and plopped down right next to their huge fireplace. The room was pretty sparse, which is too bad, but I didn't mind because I knew I was in for a treat. We all deliberated for a bit and I settled in on the Jerk Chicken sandwich (please note my picture is of the pulled chicken sandwich). Smalley's specializes in smoking their meats with authentic pimento wood, so I figured they could make a mean jerk sandwich. I was not disappointed.

The huge sandwich came out and was adorned with an awesome pirate brand. The roll was soft and able to keep the heft of the sandwich in check while absorbing the Jamaican seasoning. The jerk rub was bold and had the perfect mix of the smoke and a nice spicy finish. The flavors were simply harmonious, and the chicken was nice and juicy - not even a hint of dry out. The sandwich had a good piece of crunchy lettuce and a thick slice of tomato to help smooth out the bold jerk spices. The kicker for me and what really helped make the sandwich great was the homemade spiced pickles. It's little touches like that that can really elevate a sandwich to rock star status. The extra vinegar and heat supplied by the potent pickles was a nice way to add onto the already intense flavors.

Sandwich rating: Killer. There's no way I'll go back to Stillwater without going there, and I can see the frequency of my trips increasing based on the quality of the food at Smalley's alone. They added all the little extras that makes for a great little (huge, actually) sandwich.

Happy Eating,


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Byerly's Caprese Chicken Sandwich

I attended a good friends wedding last night so I woke up a bit groggy and really hungry. I decided to do the right thing and headed to church to atone, but soon after I was on my way to the grocery store to pick up some necessities for the week and grab something for lunch. I had a serious case of the lazies, so I decided I would just grab a sandwich from Byerly's little panini stand. I rolled through the options and saw the country club which I know is good, but is a total gut bomb, and I needed to be gentle with my tummy after a solid night of beer.

I noticed they had a muffuletta. Jackpot! I asked the guy behind the counter about it, and he described it as more of a salami sandwich with "Bysal" (OK,I think he meant basil) oil and olive tapenade. No mortadella and no olive salad = no muffuletta. I scanned one last time and settled on the chicken caprese sandwich. I figured that was pretty simple. I got it heated up and hit the road to enjoy the sandwich from the confines of my favorite couch. I opened up the sandwich and quickly realized it wasn't exactly what I thought it was. The chicken was generous and tasty, but the caprese triumvirate was reduced to a few mushy tomatoes, a very thin slice of what likely was mozzarella and some of their self lauded "Bysal" oil. The sandwich would have been much improved if they stuck to the traditions of caprese and used fresh basil, but I continued regardless. The bread was a bit much, and diluted the flavors in the sandwich with it's abundance, but a nice layer of caramelized onions helped balance out the dryness of the roll.

Sandwich Rating: Good, not great. I know they have better sandwiches in the case, but I thought this was a lay-up. I usually never go to Byerly's unless they have something I can't get at Linden Hill's Co-op or Clancey's. Regardless, I might grab a sandwich there again if in a pinch and already there, but certainly wouldn't go out of the way and would not get this particular one, either.

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions. I'm always looking for a good new sandwich to try.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scott Jamama's BBQ

I love good BBQ and it was pretty nice out last Saturday, so I decided to try and squeeze a few last drops out of summer and grab a nice BBQ sandwich. You could drive past Scott Jamama's BBQ in Tangletown and not even realized you missed it - good thing I know what I'm looking for. The place is a classic dive with only two tables and a little register to order at, but it's swimming with character and the appearance of a serious BBQ joint. I walked right in and all the seats were taken as usual, but since I live right down the street I had already decided to take it home anyways. I ordered the pork sandwich and Scott asked if I wanted mild, medium or hot. No brainer - hot. Scott reappeared a few minutes later and told me I owed $5 and he handed over a foam container that felt like it had a small dumbbell in it. If you pair the enormous sandwich with the cole slaw, bag of chips and soda he gives you, you realize you are getting a crazy deal.

I took the sandwich home and soon realized the generous allotment of pork and sauce quickly overcame the inconsequential bun, and I decided to attack this with fork and knife. The sauce was rich, sweet and hot at the same time. You definitely got the heat in the finish, but the rich pork flavor was sort of lost. I managed to get a few bites that weren't overloaded with the robust sauce ad it was really good. The pork really was pull apart and was cooked to perfection. The bun, as mentioned, was nothing special and was essentially an attempt to organize the pile of swine and sauce.

My Rating: Good, not great. You literally can't beat the deal, or the convenience, but I think you can beat the execution. I would have liked about half the sauce I received so I could get a little more balance in the sandwich. I think over saucing is a common mistake in BBQ and getting less sauce would greatly help the cause here. I'll head Back to Scott Jamama's, but probably not until a very cold day in the winter when I need a jolting reminder of warmer days to be savored.

Happy Eating,


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Corner Table Ham, Cheese and Rustica Baguette

I swung over to Rustica this morning to grab another sandwich from the Corner Table. I arrived right when they were setting the display up and the gentlemen doing so told me they make their own corned beef for the sandwiches. I thought that was a nice little nod to their pursuit of excellence. I settled on the ham and cheese sandwich because it looked tasty and because it featured a smoked paprika aioli,.

The sandwich is composed of a nice crusty baguette layered with Hidden Streams ham and Fenceline Farm provolone. They used some nice buttery bibb lettuce ans smeared a delicious aioli on the bread to make the flavors nice and bright.

The ham was really good. It was firm and think and was closer the the variety you would eat during the holidays vs. what you would pick up at the deli. It wasn't too salty and the marbling of the flesh made it rich and luscious. The provolone cheese was pretty strong and a bit gamy for what I typically perceive as a pretty creamy cheese, but it was a nice contrast to the firm and flavorful ham.
The aioli was really nice and light especially when compared to a standard mayonnaise. It had a serious jolt of lemon which was nice and refreshing, but I didn't catch much paprika, which was a bit disappointing. Overall the sandwich was rich, satisfying and a meal in itself. I really appreciate the fact that Corner Table uses good ingredients and still manages to keep their prices low. The $7.75 I paid for the sandwich was more then worth it and I'll be back to enjoy some of their other creations soon.

Sandwich Rating: Tasty. I'll be back at Rustica several times a year to eat, but I'll want to try something new every time I'm there. The sandwich was very good, but not enough to overcome my curiosity for something different when I return. The sandwiches Corner Table makes to sell there are all quite good and I'd rather keep things fresh before I settle in on a favorite.

Happy Eating,


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Broder's - Caprese Sandwich

I love Broder's Cucina Italiana like I love my Italian Grandmother. It's the perfect place to swing by and grab delicious pizza, pasta, hoagies and a whole mix of Italian favorites ranging from pasta to cold salads to authentic Italian foodstuffs.

I go there quite frequently and enjoy a number of things, and falling into that category are their delicious paninnis. Last night I had the caprese sandwich. Take a fresh, chewy baguette and brush some olive oil on the inside of the loaf. Then sprinkle with some coarse ground pepper and salt. Layer in incredibly fresh basil and some nicely sliced tomatoes, and then, the star of this sandwich: fresh, pillowy mozzarella. It's essentially a caprese salad on a nice baguette.

I enjoy this sandwich and it's a go-to in Lent for me on my flesh free Fridays. Although the caprese sandwich was tasty and light, it's better suited for spring/summer or when you need a nice reminder of the pending warmth in the late winter months. I recommend the sandwich, but as temperatures drop I'll start to favor their South Jersey hoagie or the meatball sub.

Sandwich Rating: Tasty. I'll eat this several times a year and it's a good meal to cycle into my regular trips at this neighborhood favorite.

Happy Eating,


Friday, October 10, 2008

The Future

Ok, this is going to be pretty bare while I get it up and running. I'm trying to scratch my itch for good sandwiches, and I feel like the tale is worth telling due to the pure enjoyment I get from tearing into an epic 'wich. I've seen the future, and there will be sandwiches. Stay tuned as I try and kick-start my second endeavor to spread the good word on the Twin Cities food scene.