An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Sep 18, 2013
08:38 AM
The Connecticut Table

From Mystic to New Haven, Westport to Litchfield: Sandwiches Back Big-Time

From Mystic to New Haven, Westport to Litchfield: Sandwiches Back Big-Time

Baos at Mecha Noodle Bar.

Have you noticed? Sandwiches have come a long way from peanut butter and jelly. Connecticut chefs are elevating the traditionally humble, hasty lunch with distinctive ingredients, bringing together flavors and textures “so each bite is the sum of its parts,” says chef Bill Carbone of Dish in Hartford. And what parts! Jams, house-made quick pickles, fresh fruit, local cheeses, roasted and cured meats. The “bread” might be a corn cake, a steamed white bun, or more often than not these days pain-of-the-moment brioche.

Smaller sandwiches are turning up as appetizers on dinner menus, and mini sandwiches are hot hors d’oeuvres at parties. One of the newest and tastiest is on the Snacks menu at Mecha Noodle Bar (mechanoodlebar.com), a modish little place in Fairfield’s Brick Walk. The bao with KFC (that’s Korean Fried Chicken), on a soft, sweetish white bun, slathered with spicy sriracha-spiked Kewpie mayo, is topped with fresh, delicately crunchy house-pickled carrots and cucumbers. Mecha also makes bao with pork belly, a dish made trendy by David Chang at Momofuku in New York City. Some nights, the special is bao with grilled shrimp, avocado, Kewpie mayo and cilantro. “It’s pretty awesome,” says owner Tony Pham, whose family owns Pho Vietnam in Danbury.

At Restaurant L&E in Chester, chef/co-owner Everett Reid goes a similar route with hoisin-barbecue-braised pork belly and pickled cucumber on a mini brioche bun. “Everyone loves a wonderful sandwich, as do I,” says Reid. For fall, he has fun with small soup-and-sandwich courses, with soups like cauliflower and tomato “with mint or basil or maybe tarragon,” and grilled cheese sandwiches made with rich, creamy Bridgid’s Abbey — from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester— on homemade rye or buttery brioche. Chef/restaurateur Billy Grant’s lobster grilled cheese made Esquire’s list of Top Sandwiches in the U.S., and was also featured in O magazine. You’ll find it on the menu at Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury and Restaurant Bricco in West Hartford.

At Dish in Hartford, where sandwiches make up about 60 percent of the lunch business, chef Carbone also uses local cheese — Beltane Farm goat cheese, and cheddar, with sliced Asian pear, grilled on sourdough from Fabled Foods in Deep River. “We try to make our sandwiches unique,” he says. Indeed, Carbone turns the bounty of local squash into a condiment, blending them into a sandwich spread, and makes a grilled sourdough panino with layers of fig jam, blue cheese, Belltown Farm peaches, walnuts and arugula.

There’s no more classic sandwich than the BLT. And Noah’s Restaurant in Stonington makes what they call “just a classic BLT. Nothing fancy.” Not fancy, but . . . the toast is from Noah’s own white Pullman loaf. The bacon is apple-wood smoked. The lettuce and tomato is (in season) local.

At Saltwater Grille in Litchfield, mini BLTs are a frequent catering request for private parties. Chef Albert Clugston makes them with grilled heirloom tomato, Nodine’s apple-wood smoked bacon and creamy blue cheese dressing on mini brioches. “They’re really cute,” says his wife and business partner, Brett. Saltwater’s most popular sandwich at lunch and happy hour (when it’s half-price) is the smoked-salmon club with horseradish cream, bacon, tomato and red onion. The “lettuce” (salad) is on the side. In Mystic, S&P Oyster Co. elevates the BLT genre with swordfish and the chef’s Ecuadorian flair. The tender center-cut fish is rubbed with smoky dried chili-paprika mix, grilled over wood, and paired with fresh tomato, apple-wood smoked bacon and avocado between the layers of a brioche bun.

BLTs appear when you least expect them — between two arepas at Valencia Luncheria, for example, in Norwalk. The Venezuelan corn cakes, which can be griddled or fried, come with a choice of 28 stuffings — including pernil (Venezuelan roast pork), or shredded beef or queso blanco and avocado. Venture further into Luncheria Valencia’s menu and you’ll find pernil on the banh mi. The Vietnamese “sub” is garnished with cucumber, jalapeño, mango, red onion and cilantro. Mecha makes their banh mi with grilled lemongrass pork, Vietnamese ham, house-made pâté, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro.

Another classic sandwich, the Cuban, is a big draw at Soul de Cuba in New Haven. LIsten to the ingredients of owner Jesus Puerto’s souped-up Soul Cubano sandwich: Serrano ham, manchego cheese, roasted marinated pork, salami, roasted garlic and cilantro aioli on toasted, pressed Cuban bread. Thank you, Jesus.

Rarely does a sandwich require a knife and fork. But we’ll gladly pick up these implements to tuck into Restaurant L&E’s version of croque madame, with its layers of creamed spinach and smoked Scottish salmon topped with a local sunnyside-up duck egg. At Dressing Room in Westport, croque monsieur is a decidedly more rustic affair, but once again, each element is special: toasted Wave Hill bread from Norwalk, Nehantic Abbey aged cow’s milk cheese from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme, smoked heritage ham, and a Woosie Wickfors egg.

 And about that PB&J? It’s on the menu at Valencia Luncheria, called the Josie, and it’s on an arepa.

For more great sandwich and lunch options, consult our Best of Connecticut 2013, which can now be downloaded as an iPad app. Also make sure to vote in our Readers' Choice: Best Restaurants 2014 survey, which is live online now.

And anyone thinking about great sandwiches should read Art of the Sandwich: Meat & Co. Opens in Haven on the website of our dining content partner CTbites. The story and photos will make you hungry, for great sandwiches, yes, and for more great content on dining well across Connecticut.

From Mystic to New Haven, Westport to Litchfield: Sandwiches Back Big-Time

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