Thursday July 8
The Heights Deli & Bottle Shop: 2927 N Broadway, Los Angeles (Lincoln Heights)
Gamboge: 1822 N. Broadway Ave., Los Angeles (Lincoln Heights)
It was friends’ week on Summer of Sandwich! First, on the recommendation of a friend and former colleague (thanks, Jolivette!), we decided to seek out Gamboge, a newish sandwich-ish place in Lincoln Heights (a great neighborhood just north of Chinatown, along the LA River). We went in search of our first num pang khmer (essentially a Cambodian banh mi). Better, we brought along one of our great food adventurer friends (hey, Jeremy!) … because friends are great for so many reasons (they let you use more parentheticals!), most especially being they help you to order even more sandwiches.
We found that near to Gamboge is the aptly named The Heights Deli & Bottle Shop. This place is fantastic. They have an insane amount of beers-by-the-can (I think they had, no kidding, over five hundred), plus the weekday-lunch-time-humming deli, and their own drinks including slushie Palomas and Sangria. I repeat: Slushie Palomas. The slushie machine was out, for shame, but the deli was rocking. The sandwiches are all named for local streets—really this should be mandated; it’s now officially included in the Unified Sandwich Theory©.
We got: a Philly Cheesesteak ($11.60; no street name!), the Daly St ($10.95), and the Lacy St ($10.95). The bread for all three was par: soft rolls with a flaky crust, almost like a Dutch crunch—maybe a bit too soft, really. To the sandwiches: the Lacy St caught all our eyes as it has an ingredient lineup we hadn’t seen before: fresh mozzarella, artichokes, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, and house sauce. This wasn’t my favorite sandwich—sundried tomatoes are, to me, one of the most aggressive ingredients in the world—but Vieve and Jeremy thought it was great, so ignore me. (The fresh mozzarella was exquisite.) I alone preferred the Daly St to the Lacy St: a very, very solid turkey sandwich, with “pitcraft smoked turkey breast (lol), lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard, cheddar cheese, house sauce.” The Daly St isn’t ground-breaking—but it’s very solid.
Surprisingly, the cheesesteak was the star of our show: roast beef, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, mayo, cheese. The cheese was a pleasant complement versus being overwhelming, the downfall of many a cheesesteak, and the roast beef was fantastic—best we’ve had this summer. And, as Jeremy pointed out, having a fifty-fifty mix of traditional bell peppers and jalapenos is a very clever update to a classic sandwich, adding a bit more green and a lot more zing.
- Overall Balance/Taste: +1 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +2
- X-factor: no slushie Palomas!: 0
Overall: +3 points, or a perfectly tasty Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak (wit-out)
Gamboge is a bit less familiar than The Heights, in terms of sandwich style, setting, and service. (You can read more about it in this great LA Eater article.) First, you walk up to a barely signed door beside a narrow breezeway, try the door, and the door is locked. But look: there’s a menu out on a sidewalk A-frame board. So you stand there a minute feeling like an idiot, looking at the menu, and wondering precisely what do to until a woman with dimensions similar to Olive Oyl opens a window and leans out and cheerily asks, Hello, honies, what would you all like to order and where do you want to eat it? From that point, things improve significantly: you order, pay, and walk down the breezeway to a lovely patio that’s a bit shocking to stumble upon in an otherwise very working-class neighborhood. (I wonder if Gamboge might play this up a little more—get a little more speakeasy feeling.)
We ordered three num pangs, the spicy pork ($11), the grilled lemongrass beef ($12), and the chicken ($10.50). All three come not on baguettes but on bolillo bread—still a sign of French colonization, though this time in a different hemisphere. Bolillo is a softer bread, and it’s fair to say that we all missed the toothsomeness of a good baguette. All three feature fresh cucumber (in fun lengthwise slices), Maggi mayo (wake up-o!), pate (sans with the chicken), pickled carrot and papaya slaw (which sounds great but we the papaya got lost, sadly), scallion oil, toasted shallots (which we didn’t see much evidence of), and cilantro.
Along with the bolillo texture and all the wet ingredients, these were all very soft sandwiches—far too soft. The chicken, which is “pulled poached” (lol), was the greatest offender—almost more like a chicken salad sandwich, even without the pate. The lemongrass beef, slices of skirt steak, was on its own delicious, but it got a bit lost in the pillowfest, and I think we all agreed that it would have been better featured on a plate of broken rice. The spicy pork shoulder was delicious—it had enough savory oomph to fight off (or work with?) the other ingredients in a tastier way. These are fine sandwiches, to be clear…but they’re no banh mi from our favorite place here in the SGV—and they’re more than double the price, at that.
Overall Balance/Taste: +0 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +1
- Bread: -1
- X-factor: patio!: +1
- Overall: +1 points, or your standard PB&J
Saturday July 10: Wax Paper Frogtown
2902 Knox Ave Ste 100 Los Angeles
This is from Susie D. on Yelp: “A vegan option with seasonal veggies on a menu with everything named after NPR hosts from a spot run out of a shipping container on a corner in Frogtown by the LA River… is everything I could ever ask for from California *sigh*.”
Plus: kayaking in the LA River! Is! A Real Thing!
Unsurprisingly, we’ve gotten in the habit this Summer of Sandwich of scouting sandwich locations in areas we plan to be visiting for non-sandwich reasons (which exist). And a block away from our kayak river entry is Wax Paper Frogtown, a sandwich place which, as Susie D. has established, names their sandwiches after NPR hosts. It’s mostly national folks—Terry Gross, Kai Ryssdal, Audie Cornish (what a name for a sandwich!), and, locally, our own Larry Mantle. (Unrelated: we can’t stand Air Talk.)
Wax Paper, Frogtown edition (also a spot in Chinatown), is a bit of a trip. If you don’t know Frogtown, it’s an older neighborhood along the river—tiny roads that only sometimes allow two cars to pass, residencies spilling into businesses and vice versa, people wandering around both with extreme purpose and a total daze. It’s a nicely Los Angeleno neighborhood—a little hipster, very diverse, neighborhood pride—that maybe gets overlooked, which, also, maybe some Frogtowners prefer. (One local is apparently deadest against the kayaking outfits. We’re not sure why.)
First the kayaking: Really, you can do this. We did it! I think we went almost a couple miles downriver and only had to portage our kayaks once during the voyage. And this: we saw, no joke, ospreys, kingfishers, stilts, blue herons, and green herons. In the middle of LA. Were there occasional rapids? There were! Did we eat shit and fall off our kayaks? We did! Fun all around.
To Wax Paper: very happily, we got to meet up with a couple friends, one of whom we went to grad school with twenty years ago (and his great wife). We secured (pretty goddamn expensive) sandwiches. We—since Wax Paper really is run out of a shipping container and has no seating—set out a picnic blanket in a patchy piece of dirt, trying our best to avoid various dried out dog droppings. And talked about our friends’ imminent move to LA and their house-hunting search that led them to look at a 14-million-dollar place across the street from Sia. (They were there on a lark. We don’t know anyone with that much money.)
And we ate. The Ira Glass ($12): “avocado, cheddar, garlic aioli, sprouts, pickled + raw red onion, cucumber on Bub & Grandma’s seeded sourdough wheat.” This was a solid sandwich…the bread was outstanding, though the sprouts were a bit too prominent (and we like sprouts), and the sharpness of the (shredded, oddly) cheddar cheese somewhat overwhelmed the other ingredients’ mild flavors.
The Terry Gross ($15!!!), on the other hand, was a sandwich we’d happily sit in a room and be interrogated by for 45 minutes—has Adam Driver ever eaten one? He should! Terry comes at you with roast turkey, an out-of-this-world green chili aioli, jalapeño/cilantro/radish slaw, hominy (we saw no hominy), tomatillo vinaigrette (why not mix with the aioli?), and (again, shredded) pepper jack, this time on Bub & Grandma’s focaccia. The focaccia was the best bread we’ve had all summer. Hand’s down. Terry was a little messy—she tends to veer at times and gets just a little self-focused, but we love her for that. Still, this sandwich has definitely entered our upper echelon. Maybe not inner-inner ring, but it’s close. And definitely—wait for it—not gross. If you’re feeling tired or adventurous, if, uh-oh, you’re running out of breath, then go to Frogtown, where you will, oh, get stamina, and be, well, something like the greatest.
- Overall Balance/Taste: +1 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +2
- Bread: +2
- Integrity: -1
- X-factor: NPR!: +1
Overall: +5 points, or a perfectly tasty Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak (wit)