A SandwichQuest Origin Story

I started SandwichQuest to find the perfect sandwich in Los Angeles, but I already knew that the perfect sandwich existed in Chicago.

The sandwich of my dreams comes from an unassuming storefront in lakeview called Panes Bread Cafe. They make their own bread and everything I’ve ever ordered there has been incredible. But nothing compares to the Turkey Turkey. It’s a simple turkey sandwich with avocado, roasted red pepper and chipotle mayo on a soft/crispy tomato bread. And as with all the simplest things, there’s nothing simple about it. The favors meld in a way that’s cosmically transcendent, and I thought about the sandwich so much that I started SandwichQuest to replace it, like rebounding to get over an old lover.

I used to love this sandwich when I lived in Chicago, and as with all old loves, I was afraid I was building it up the more I pined for it. It would be never be able to live up to the sandwich in my memories.

My friend Cynthia humored my deep love for this sandwich and we hit Panes almost immediately when I got to Chicago this week. To my relief, amazement, and delight, the Turkey Turkey was just as I remembered it. SandwichQuest continues, but this will always be my sandwich.

Grade: A+

Spiritual Wholeness Quotient: On par with discovering a box of old photos that should be faded and discolored, and finding that instead they are even more vibrant than you remembered

A SandwichQuest Mirage

In case you’re new to My Adequate Lifestyle, I’m on a quest to find the perfect sandwich in Los Angeles. A sandwich that satiates my body and also my soul, that makes me feel spiritually whole. It is a SandwichQuest, and it is a serious matter.

Sandwich.

The Melrose Cafe was not on my SandwichQuest spreadsheet. I’d never even heard of it before (and haven’t since…hmmmmm). But my friend Eric and I were looking for a place to have lunch, and we walked there because it was nearby. The storefront is unassuming and easy to miss – almost too easy to miss.

As we were waiting in line to order, we started to wonder, “Aren’t these sandwiches pretty cheap for everything that’s on them?” They were. At the counter, the woman asked us which side we wanted – it was included with the sandwich, so she said. Highly questionable that a $7-8 sandwich would include a side. Something wasn’t right. Still, we both ordered salads.

Then two of these arrived at our table:

 

Side salad.

 

Immediately, we were suspicious. Two kinds of cheese? Three kinds of peppers? What’s the catch here? Did we actually walk into an unassuming storefront, or is this a deal we made with the devil? Were we even at a restaurant at all?

Then the sandwiches came out. I got the toscano panini, which featured turkey AND chicken, plus pesto and tomatoes and…avocado? Very Italian. I’m not complaining. It was a little too much meat for me, but overall was nearly perfect. It almost felt like a sandwich I’d made up myself. But…did I?

We each packed up more leftovers than should ever come from a light lunch, and stepped out into the bright sunshine. Had we just experienced a collective sandwich hallucination? WAS there even a Melrose Cafe? I guess I’ll never know unless I drive by or go back again or look it up on the internet. But some things are meant to be mysteries.

Grade: A

Spiritual Wholeness Quotient: On par with stepping through a wardrobe and finding Narnia, only instead of Turkish Delight there are sandwiches.

The Fickle Nature of Sandwiches

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Fresh, disappointing sandwich

In life as in sandwiches, sometimes things don’t reveal themselves to you immediately. The universe rewards patience. People take time to warm up, to trust. And perhaps, so do sandwiches.

I stopped at All About the Bread between therapy and a screening of Room. Somehow my sandwich escaped being soaked in tears, which is a SandwichQuest miracle all on its own. I ordered a turkey club, since it involved turkey and avocado. Quests need a control group; this isn’t anarchy. Mostly though, I was excited about the implication of good bread, and the logo led me to believe that I was going to an off-brand Jimmy John’s. Very promising.

When I looked at the bread, I was disappointed. I expected it to be softer. Not Subway-yoga-mat spongey, but softer. The flavors in the sandwich felt muted – the turkey and guacamole were there, but they weren’t there. The bread was…dare I say hard and flavorless? I expected better from a place that claimed to be “all about” the bread. But the things you love? Sometimes they disappoint you. Yes, even sandwiches. I wasn’t that hungry, so I put the second half of the sandwich in the fridge and went to drain all my tears into a Buncha Crunch box and contemplate the meaning of freedom.

The next day, I sat down to eat the second half of the sandwich because, well, it was there. And if you can even BELIEVE it, the leftovers were incredible! I’m not sure what it was – maybe the tomato had soaked into the bread just enough, or the turkey was softer and more flavorful – but all the flavors had come together. With a little time and space, the sandwich was free to become what it was. And it was excellent.

(This story has a postscript, which is that I was immediately shamed by my friend Will, who recommended All About the Bread, for not ordering the meatball sandwich. And so a second trip was made. Again, the sandwich was good (better than the turkey), but the leftover second half of the sandwich was absolutely transcendent. Finally, having the appetite of a baby bird pays off.)

Grade: A-

Spiritual Wholeness Quotient: On par with spending a long time searching for something, only to find that you’ve had that thing inside you all along.

Logic Hacks to Make Guacamole an Acceptable Dinner Choice

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Guacamole is so delicious, it’s too bad I can’t eat it for every meal. But I can’t, because avocados are expensive and there’s no second reason. When I have avocados on hand, though, I try to make the most of it. Here are a couple ways that I shoehorn guacamole (or guacamole-like-substances) into a completely legitimate main course.

Chips for Dinner

No doctor or reasonable person would ever tell you to eat chips and guacamole for dinner. But I’m going to let you in on a secret so you can do it guilt-free. The secret: homemade chips!  That’s right, if you bake the chips yourself, it’s as if you were eating a tortilla. Tortillas are for sandwiches. Ergo, eating chips and guacamole for dinner is equivalent to eating a sandwich for dinner. And no reasonable person would complain about that.

To make chips: Slice a tortilla into wedges, lay on cookie sheet and spray with olive oil (and salt/chili powder/etc). Bake at 375 for 8-12 minutes.

To make guacamole: Oh come on, you know how to make guacamole. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you a guacamole recipe. I put cumin in mine, though, which feels like a worthwhile secret to share.

Avocado Toast

Avocado toast is very hip and expensive right now, but it’s also very a-normal-breakfast. And if something is breakfast, you can definitely repurpose it into a dinner. Avocado toast is basically a deconstructed guacamole, but it requires even fewer ingredients. So you’re at least 50% more likely to be able to make it at any given time.

Here’s how I made the one above: Mash an avocado with a little lime juice. Scoop onto toast. Top with salt, pepper, tomatoes.

There you have it: not one but two dinners made out of condiments. I ate both of these dinners last week, and I feel GREAT and kind of weak and tired.

Get Reggie’s Deli a Netflix Show!

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Apparently, Reggie’s Deli has been living in the shadow of Brite Spot all along and I had no idea until SandwichQuest: Part Three. Very sad, because Reggie’s Deli has been featured on no Netflix shows this year and Brite Spot is in at least two.

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Anyway, I went to this delightful – and admittedly, barely existent – deli with my friend Kurt, who was in town for work. We hadn’t seen each other since college and SandwichQuest facilitated this reunion, which is totally the kind of minute detail you could put into a show about my generation.

My sandwich featured turkey and avocado, which means it’s definitely in the running for the “cosmically perfect sandwich” title. The sourdough bread/swiss cheese/mustard/mayo situation worked really well. I liked it a lot, even if Netflix doesn’t feel that the tiny closet of a storefront is a fitting place for dissatisfied thirtysomethings who are just like me to discuss their angst.

Added bonus! The sandwich came with an (unadvertised) side of totally passable potato salad. This meant I was full, and saved half my sandwich til later. Aimless TV thirtysomethings can afford to go out for whole meals, but aimless real life twentysomethings need to make everything last two meals.

Reggie’s Deli, I’m writing a show for you (and me).

Grade: A-

Spiritual Wholeness Quotient: On par with watching something that was filmed in your neighborhood and is eerily reminiscent of your life to the point where it’s infuriating

Too Much Cheddar

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SandwichQuest: Part Two led me downtown to The Sandwich Shop, a place that put as much effort into its decor as its name (a fact I admire – sandwiches don’t need frills). I went around noon for a work day lunch with my friend Bradley. The sandwich immediately got points for involving both turkey and avocado. Because when you’re looking for your soulmate sandwich, you know what you want even if you’re too scared to require it outright.

Anyway, the turkey-avocado-cheddar also contained some chipotle mayo that I found delightful. My only problem was with the cheddar. And you know what they say, “when a sandwich tells you who it is, believe it” – cheddar was right in the name. So I should have known that this might not work out. Still, I’m open-minded, and I like cheese. Ultimately, while I enjoyed the time I spent with this sandwich, the cheddar was a little overpowering.

I found myself envying Bradley’s vegan chicken bahn mi, and sandwich envy is an ugly feeling to have. I’d order this sandwich again, but it’s not an every day sandwich. And I’d definitely try the bahn mi first.

Grade: B+

Spiritual Wholeness Quotient: On par with the moment you realize you just ate half a jar of queso dip, but the dip was delicious but still, you ate half a jar of it