June 24: Roma Market
918 N Lake Ave, Pasadena
Here during the Summer of Sandwich, it’s fair to wonder if maybe you’ve heard of the chicken sandwich wars. Chick-fil-A, the Christian purveyor that’s faithfully closed every Sunday, made its bones with a solid but overrated chicken sandwich: it’s not particularly good, it was just better than everyone else’s for a long, long time. Then folks started protesting their anti-LBGTQIA beliefs. Enter Popeyes, of all places. Hey, I make good chicken, thought Popeye. Why not a sandwich? You certainly know the craze that followed the unveiling of Popeyes chicken sandwich, the lines, the sellouts, the social media madness. (FWIW: Popeyes version is vastly superior to Chick-fil-A. Also: What does Popeye have to do with Popeyes?) Now everyone else is following suit: McDonald’s, whose sandwiches sound good only because Bryan Cox voices the commercials; Burger King (voiced by Paul Giamatti, I’m pretty sure—these sound worse) has the utterly nonsensical Ch King, with its equally nonsensical commercial that looks very much to have been stolen off The Masked Singer cutting room floor. Wendy’s and Jack in the Box are trying to remind everyone they’ve always had bad chicken sandwiches. Even, inexplicably, In-N-Out. (Not really. Or: not yet.)
Anyway: as part of their chicken sandwich land grab, Popeyes is now calling theirs “The Sandwich.”
Listen carefully: Popeyes does not sell The Sandwich.
Roma Market does.
You can read more here—Jenn Harris does a better job at this than me—and learn about the history of The Sandwich, a creation that very much checks our early Unified Sandwich Theory© boxes: complete roll? Check. Simple high-quality toppings? Check. That’s it, that’s our theory. The Sandwich is: salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone (not overly sharp), and a drizzle of olive oil on a Sicilian style roll. The end.
Everything on this sandwich is good. The mortadella is fantastic. The salami is out of this world. And guess what? Unlike Popeyes, Roma Market also has ANOTHER The Sandwich: the vegetarian version. You thought the OG was simple? The vegetarian The Sandwich has: swiss (good swiss, not American crap swiss), provolone, and marinated artichokes. That. Is. It.
It might even be The Better The Sandwich.
Go to Roma Market. Walk in. Grab a The Sandwich—even more impressively, they’re premade—and plop down the six bucks they each cost. Get one of each, even. Eat. Be happy.
- Overall Balance/Taste: 2 points
- Quality of Ingredients: +2
- Bread: +2
- X-factor: Italian market! +1
Overall: 7 points, or Xoco’s Milanesa Torta
A Sweet Affair Bakery: 1815 Ygnacio Valley Rd Suite F, Walnut Creek
Two sandwich places in one meal! Bail posted, we were finally allowed to leave the Southern California region. And where to go but one’s in-laws in beautiful Walnut Creek, the most suburbian suburb in the West? Happily, the in-laws were excited about our blog, and they wanted to take part, and even more exciting, Vieve wanted to introduce me to A Sweet Affair Bakery, known colloquially as Sweet Affair and as the maker of the Kaplan family’s favorite sandwich of all-time. Does brother Josh love the sandwich? He does. Do Ma and Pa Kaplan pick up a sandwich every now and then and head up to Mt. Diablo for a nice picnic? They do!
My expectations: raised.
Unified Sean Theory©: Don’t raise Sean’s expectations.
Rather than belaboring the family favorite, I’ll simply include a picture of the sandwich, describe its composition, and share an anecdote.
Here’s the menu description: “Turkey ~ Generous portions of freshly sliced turkey with cream cheese, avocado, cranberry sauce, sunflower seeds, Swiss cheese, sprouts, and lettuce. One bite and you will find yourself craving for more.”
Just to repeat: cream cheese, avocado, cranberry sauce. Sound…mushy? And the anecdote: supposedly the sesame herb bread is the only way to truly enjoy this sandwich. (Though, I don’t know—maybe a soup bowl?) Well misfortune struck this sad June Sunday as the bakery ran out of sesame herb bread without telling our orderer, Ma Kaplan. When she went to pay, they handed her the sandwich…made on multigrain. We were circling in our car in the parking lot, so we couldn’t hear Ma Kaplan’s verbal response to this affront. But we could see her gesticulations. They weren’t pleased gesticulations.
New Unified Sandwich Theory© entry: Don’t cross Ma Kaplan when it comes to sandwich breads. You’ve been warned.
- Overall Balance/Taste: Sean: 0 points Vieve: 800 nostalgia points
- Quality of Ingredients: Sean: 0 points Vieve: all
- Bread: Sean: 0 points Ma Kaplan: -90 points
- Integrity: -2 points (consensus)
- X-factor: sentiment?: +1
Overall: -1 point, or your standard PB&J
Brioche de Paris: 1421 Locust St, Walnut Creek
Our second place was Brioche de Paris, a bakery in fancypants DTWC. We ordered, between the four of us, the turkey, cheese, and pesto (pesto and cheese?) and the salami, cornichon, and butter, both served, of course, on house-made baguettes.
We took a bite of the sandwiches. We chewed.
We’re still chewing.
Other than that…the bread actually had fine flavor (and flavor, and flavor). On our sandwich, the salami was meh, the buttery barely present (either visually or in terms of taste), and the cornichons were utterly hilarious: four tiny guys on a foot-long sandwich. Is that really a topping? It is not. For shame, Brioche de Paris.
- Overall Balance/Taste: boring points
- Quality of Ingredients: eh
- Bread: chewy
- Integrity: totally
- X-factor: the crème brulee madeleines looked really good!: +1
Overall: -1 point, or your standard PB&J
June 29: Country Kwik Market and Deli
3024 W Temple Ave, Pomona
And another thing about sandwiches: WTF with all the sandwich places closing so early in the day? I’m guessing it’s because most are bakeries which open really early so by midafternoon the workers just want to go home…and maybe many (at least the good ones) are family-run, by families who like each other and want to go home and spend time together…and maybe, most of all, Americans don’t really think of sandwiches as dinner. Foolish Americans.
In our immediate area, not counting the sandwich chain that shall not be named, all the good sandwich places close up shop at, variously, 7pm…6pm…3pm…2pm…and, too, they’re variously closed on Sunday … or Monday … or Tuesday … or just give us sandwiches, please?
Anyway: while Country Kwik has good reviews, we don’t recommend it (unless you’re stocking up on strange varieties of Kettle chips, which, sure, do that). We got the turkey and cheese and the Italian. On the former: The turkey: meh. The cheese: meh. The extra avocado and cucumber? Not bad? We also got the Italian, a sandwich varietal I’ve been avoiding all summer (Roma’s The Sandwich is not an “Italian,” to be clear—it’s a “The Sandwich”). I always used to get Italian grinders growing up, mostly because they were the one sandwich that never came with mayo, and as all mayo-haters know, requesting no mayo on a sandwich that normally comes with mayo guarantees nothing. Italians were safe, is the thing.
Also gross, is the new thing. Because an Italian sandwich is what—a way to sneak bologna into a sandwich? A way to increase your sodium intake a thousand-fold? Why hide mortadella behind pepperoni…why even put pepperoni on a sandwich … why again bologna? … and how does ham fit into all this? Was someone thinking, Hey, not enough cured meat, let’s add ham! Can an Italian be good? Possibly. But the ingredients need to be good. These were not. The bread was rough—by far the worst of the summer—and the meats were mostly individual salt bombs that together became a cluster salt bomb.
I want to take it easy on Country Kwik, as it’s a fairly busy small market with that amazing chip selection, and the counter guy was also doubling as the sandwich guy, meaning he was making our sandwiches while also working the very busy register. Not his fault he couldn’t give our sandwiches the full attention a good sandwich deserves…but he didn’t order the ingredients, so the real problem doesn’t rest on his sandwich shoulders. The best part: not surprisingly, the shredded lettuce, tomato, and oil and vinegar. This ingredient combo—simple, familiar—is a crucial ingredient on an American style sandwich: Unified Sandwich Theory© confirmed.
- Overall Balance/Taste: -1 point
- Quality of Ingredients: -1 point
- Bread: -1 point
- X-factor: Chile Verde Kettle chips! +1
Overall: -2 points, or Bologna & Mayo on Wonder bread