Feb 1, 2016
Reinventing Sliced Bread, or: The 50 Best Sandwiches in Brooklyn
Everyone loves sandwiches. And while a simple grilled cheese will always maintain its strong elemental appeal, the sandwich’s basic foundation of bread and fillings can be, and have been, added to in such a wide variety of ways since its invention that this seemingly humble culinary form has achieved such a startling degree of maturity and depth that it’s hard not to question what could possibly come next? Well, wonder no longer because, as it turns out, there are all sorts of exciting things happening in the world of sliced bread. Here, we present to you 50 sandwiches pretty much guaranteed to blow your mind.
1) The Yam and Cheese at Court Street Grocers
Forget the classic ham and cheese: once you try this savory wonder featuring tangy whipped goat cheese and roasted sweet potato with tart pickled beets and onions cutting right through all the rich flavors, drizzled with a lemony sumac vinaigrette and held together by a pillowy Caputo’s seeded roll, you’ll never look back.
485 Court Street, Carroll Gardens
2) Pearl’s Bake and Shark: Williamsburg finally has easy access to that Trini specialty known as the bake—puffy, deep-fried pocket breads traditionally stuffed with spiny shark (or for sustainability’s sake, any sort of white-fleshed fish), and finished off with hot pepper sauce, tamarind chutney, and a pulverized, cilantro-esque herb called shadon bennie.
3) The Brooklyn Star’s Meatloaf Sandwich: No calorie counting allowed at the comfort food king, the Brooklyn Star, especially when it comes to the hot meatloaf sandwich that’s been propped on mashed potatoes and enveloped in bacon—a full-on American dinner, disguised between slices of floury pullman bread.
4) Mighty Quinn’s Burnt End Sandwich: Forget about selecting fatty or lean smoked brisket, and zero in on the burnt ends if Mighty Quinn’s still has them—hyper-caramelized coins of beef conjoined with sauce and vinegared coleslaw, all huddled together on a egg-washed brioche bun.
5) Greenpoint Fish & Lobster’s Market Sandwich: The ‘Ladies Man’ could have significantly raised his game if he’d offered up this fish sandwich; featuring sustainably-sourced and freshly-caught filets served on Balthazar Bakery sourdough, and topped with tartar sauce, tomato, and rings of raw red chili.
6) The Chicken Buddies at El Cortez
Let’s face it: We’re living in the golden age of the fried chicken sandwich. They’re everywhere! So what could possibly be done to a chicken sandwich to make it into something new? Oh, I don’t know, maybe making four of them and in a super-small size? Yup, that’ll do the trick. If there’s anything better than one crispy piece of chicken, smothered in mayo, lettuce, and pickles and shoved in between the soft layers of a potato roll, it’s having four of them.
17 Ingraham Street, Bushwick
7) City Subs’ “Degraw Street”: Recently re-opened by the last remaining employee of the original, much-loved City Sub, the only major change (for legal purposes) is the addition of that interloping “s.” Otherwise, Park Slopers can still rely on generously proportioned hoagies, christened after the surrounding streets, such as the assertively savory “Degraw,” made with smoked turkey breast, smoked gouda and smoked ham.
8) Brooklyn Ice House’s Pulled Pork Sandwiches: The Ice House may look like a dive bar, but it happens to serve some of the very best, extraordinarily affordable drinking grub in all of Brooklyn; namely, cheese-stuffed and bacon-wrapped hot dogs and two for $5 pulled pork sandwiches; miraculously assembled in a cluttered sliver of a kitchen.
9) Cemitas’ Fried Chicken Cemitas: Like the corpulent cousin of the torta, Mexican cemitas generally feature six layers or more, and this popular Smorgasburg vendor certainly doesn’t skimp; starting with a hearty protein like panko-crusted chicken cutlet, it forges on, Dagwood-style, with stratums of black bean spread, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, papalo, and chipotle puree.
10) Randazzo’s Soft Shell Crab Sandwich: If Randazzo’s steamers are the quintessence of Brooklyn summer, their market-priced soft shell crab sandwiches all but embody spring. The singularly sweet, cornmeal-crusted sternums and claws are barely contained by sesame seeded buns, requiring only a single squeeze of lemon for accent.
11) The Egg Sandwich at Tilda All Day
This ultra-charming newcomer has a highly seasonal, rotating menu, but we hope there’s always a spot on it for the egg sandwich. While this might seem like the most basic of breakfast bites, at Tilda, this humble commuter-friendly sandwich is beautifully elevated with the addition of an umami-rich, smoky tomato spread to the standard sharp chedder and gently scrambled eggs—plus peppery bacon and avocado if you want to treat yourself. It seems simple, but so are many of the finer pleasures in life.
930 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill
12) Egg’s Country Ham Biscuit: Egg may serve breakfast all day every day, but this dish is special enough to only be available on the weekends. We’re talking textbook buttermilk biscuits, stacked with Newsom’s country ham, housemade fig jam and aged Grafton cheddar, and paired with a bonus side of grits.
13) Cooklyn’s Lamb Buns: Move over tacos; nowadays, everyone wants to put their globally influenced spin (such as a Greek-inspired collection of pulled lamb, pickled daikon, feta cream and fresh dill) on Chinese steam buns.
14) Paneantico’s B8: We’ve dutifully eaten our way through the majority of Paneantico’s 100+ sandwiches so we can authoritatively affirm that this is the very best one; torpedoes of reduced balsamic-moistened, house-baked brick oven bread, are piled with supple imported prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers, and fat panels of fried eggplant.
15) Red Star’s Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich: For the past year, fried chicken has been heralded as the best thing between sliced bread around these parts—but instead of going the American-style fast food route, Cobble Hill’s Red Star offers up a Korean variation; coated in a gossamer rice flour batter, it’s capped with lettuce, dill and daikon slaw, and slathered with gochujang sauce and mayo (extra points for vegetarians; you can even order a tofu version!)
16) The Braised Cauliflower at Endless Summer Sandwich
Maybe we really need to sell you on a sandwich that uses cauliflower as its main ingredient; maybe you’re someone who doesn’t think any sandwich should lack the presence of formerly sentient beings. But look, if you can’t see the beauty of chowing down on silky, braised cauliflower piled on sturdy ciabatta and studded through with sweet raisin-pine nut relish and slicked with artichoke-sage pesto, well, then, that’s ok. There’ll be more for us.
525 Dekalb Avenue, Bed-Stuy
17) Batata’s Sweet Potato Falafel: Sweet potatoes appear in multiple guises at the aptly named Batata (it’s Hebrew for, you guessed it, sweet potato), but they’re an especially convincing chickpea substitute in the yielding, velvet-centered falafel, surrounded by all manner of virtuous vegetation, like pickled cabbage, beets, and chopped Israeli salad.
18) ALC Italian Grocery’s Imported Tuna: There’s a reason it’s called chicken of the sea—canned tuna is generally characterless, flavorless, and altogether insipid. Not so the oil-packed, imported yellowfin used at this Bay Ridge salumeria, which in no way requires being masked in gloppy mayo—instead its potent unctuousness and concentrated salinity is underscored by coarsely chopped kalamata olives and frills of wild arugula.
19) Bombay Sandwich Co.’s Chana Masala Sandwich: Debuting at Smorgasburg in 2012, Bombay’s objective was twofold—to expand public perception of Indian food beyond samosas and chicken tikka, and offer a dynamic brand of good-for-you, vegan food, owing nothing to deep fat fryers, dull salads and imitation meat. Mission accomplished with their signature sandwich, an Orwasher’s ciabatta roll cradling slow-cooked curry chickpea stew, along with mixed greens, pickled onions, and sultry date chutney.
20) Bread and Spread’s Cast Iron Chicken Caprese: This DUMBO newcomer peddles made-to-order sandwiches, crafted with proteins like sriracha-marinated chicken from Dellapietras on Atlantic Avenue, which receives a hard sear in a cast iron pan, before being paired with classic caprese components—tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella—in a ciabatta roll.
21) The Wagyu Roast Beef at Mekelburg’s
A roast beef sandwich is pretty hard to mess up—its primary ingredient is unbelievably delicious. But Mekelburg’s takes it to a whole other level by first using superior Wagyu beef, and then adding luscious, melty comte cheese, peppery arugula, and heat from fresh horseradish, all of which would be amazing enough, but then those ingredients are loaded onto an everything bagel-seasoned baguette, and perfection is achieved.
293 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill
22) Noorman’s Kil’s Maefred: A popular purview of food trucks, this Williamsburg whiskey bar was one of the first brick-and-mortars to dedicate its food offerings exclusively to grilled cheese, from the not-so-plain Jane (NY sharp cheddar and My Friend’s Mustard) to the extra-indulgent Maefred, featuring double crème brie needled with rosemary, onions, and local, sautéed mushrooms, encased in dense, pressed ciabatta from Orwashers.
23) Ends Meat’s Muffuletta: The muffuletta sandwich may be the pride of New Orleans; but how many purveyors actually make their cold cuts in house? Ends Meat even goes so far as to butcher the piggies that find their way into site-smoked and cured salami and mortadella — so we’ll forgive them not baking off their bread as well, which comes from a fourth-generation bakery in nearby Sunset Park.
24) Early’s The Kwa’Son: Forgo the standard BEC (bacon, egg and cheese) peddled at every corner deli for Early’s elegant Kwa’Son—a goat cheese-piquant, red pepper-flaked scramble packaged in a buttery croissant, along with a salad bar’s worth of avocado and sprouts.
25) Wilma Jean’s Fried Bologna Sandwich: An affectionate, unadulterated homage to the first dish Rob Newton learned to make as a child, this is no misbegotten attempt to gourmetize bologna, rather it owes everything to pan-sizzled slices of Boar’s Head.
26) The Veggie Joe at Hi Hello
Get messy with this vegetarian update of a school cafeteria stalwart. Oh, and throw out any and all preconceptions of how boring a Sloppy Joe usually is, because the Veggie Joe is anything but, comprising, as it does, perfectly tender edamame, lentils, and corn, with some added heft in the form of red rice, avocado, a squirt or two of spicy mayo, and shredded monterey jack cheese for extra-deliciousness. This is not your lunch lady’s Friday afternoon special.
247 Starr Street, Bushwick
27) Morris Sandwich Shop’s Big Trouble in Little China: While perhaps primarily known for their unctuous grilled cheese (long-served out of a food truck before moving to more permanent Crown Heights locations, including an outpost at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum), it would be a shame if you overlooked this sandwich; served on house-made flatbread, it’s a decadent pile-on of lush Sichuan braised pork, brightly tangy cabbage, and sweet hoisin-mayo.
28) Littleneck’s Clam Roll: This sandwich is one of the few “classics” on the list. It’s nothing fancy exactly, but it’s absolutely perfect in its simplicity. The fried clam bellies are plump and briny, the buttered roll is toasted to crisp-crunchy deliciousness, and the sprinkling of lettuce adds a little fresh greenness to this decadent flavor-bomb.
29) Champ’s SAG Sandwich: You can feel totally good about yourself even if you eat one of these breakfast sandwiches every day. Why? Well, it’s vegan! So it’s got to be healthy, right? Even if it included a layer of crispy fried hash browns, pillowy tofu scramble, melty “cheese,” and a spicy smother of chipotle mayo. See? Super healthy! And delicious.
30) Samesa’s Chicken Shwarma: Forget every shwarma you’ve gotten from the halal cart near work—this one blows them all away. The shreds of chicken are flavor-bombs, and the tangy buttermilk sauce is laced with tahini. Bright green, cilantro-infused z’hug adds just the right amount of heat.
31) The Balmy at Saltie
We love a classic bánh mì, but we also love Saltie’s take, which contains all the usual suspects—lush chicken liver pâté, toothsome ham, hot slivers of jalapeño, brightly pickled veggies—but combines them in such a way that the sum is even more than its truly amazing parts. And, oh, are those sesame seeds adding a whole new flavor dimension? Why, yes! They are.
378 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
32) Little Skip’s Vegan BLT: Hey, BLTs don’t really need the B, do they? Not when it’s replaced with smoky tempeh, and joined by plump tomatoes, crisp greens, and a drinkably good cilantro-lime aioli.
33) The Wheelhouse’s Morning Wood: As if the name of this sandwich wasn’t good enough, the thick-cut, maple-sweet smoked bacon, blended with a perfectly fried egg and decadent aged cheddar puts this breakfast sandwich in a class of its own.
34) Roberta’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Sure, Roberta’s is best-known for its pizza, but all that means is that this is a place that knows how to do melted cheese on bread. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they offer a killer grilled cheese too. This version is exquisite, featuring two kinds of cheese (mozzarella and cheddar), plus Calabrian chili for that extra bite.
35) Brunswick’s Veggie Sandwich: We love both branches of this little cafe (Bed-Stuy and Windsor Terrace residents: You’re lucky!), and this ultra-healthy snack—piled high with avocado, cucumbers, kale, and spread with creamy house-made hummus and walnut pesto—makes us feel virtuous the many, many times we hang out there.
36) The Oregon Albacore Tuna Melt at Bunk Sandwiches
Do tuna melts make you think of lunches you’d get when you were home sick from school and you had not a care in the world because your mom had it covered? Us too. But also, this sandwich is even better than what your mom made for you, because it’s easier to eat (what with not being open-faced) and the unctuous tuna and melted cheese are spiked with bright pickles. Pro tip: Get it with a sprinkling of Bunk’s special marinated peppers too. You won’t regret it.
740 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg
37) Defonte’s Firehouse Special: It’s not that this Red Hook stalwart is reinventing anything, but we gotta give respect where it’s due, and what Defonte’s does with the sandwich is really out of this world. We love the way the Firehouse Special comprises some of the best roast pork we’ve ever had with not-greasy, just-delicious fried eggplant, melted provolone, beautifully bitter broccoli rabe, all doused with house-made gravy. This could easily serve two. Or, like, an entire firehouse full of hungry men.
38) Prime Meats’ Sauerbraten Reuben: While we’d never tell you not to just straight order sausages at Prime Meats, we also have to recommend that, the next time you’re there, you try this amazing riff on the New York deli classic. It features the restaurant’s excellent melt-in-your-mouth brisket as well as tangy shreds of sauerkraut, and since fermented foods are all the rage, you just know this is good for you. Right? Absolutely.
39) Brooklyn Commune’s Truffled Egg Salad: We think the egg salad sandwich is one of the most underrated sandwiches out there. When done right, it’s a revelation. This version is our favorite going right now: The egg salad is creamy and light, and balanced by jammy roasted tomatoes and wilted spinach. Perfect.
40) Lioni’s Mike Piazza: This is a particularly good year to be getting this sandwich, what with Piazza entering the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. But also? This sandwich, featuring Lioni’s own famous smoked mozzarella, as well as roast pork and copious amounts of olive oil and black pepper is good any time at all.
41) The Reubenese at Boomwich
Reubens are such an iconic New York deli sandwich that it probably feels sacrilegious to some to even dream of reinventing it. Just call us heretic, then, because we strongly endorse Boomwich’s riff on the Reuben; piled high with house-roasted pastrami, melted mozzarella, and shreds of sauerkraut, this beauty is sharpened up with a Chinese mustard that manages to recontextualize the deli classic once and for all.
311 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
42) Tchoup Shop’s Catfish Po’Boy: While the menu at this long-running, Big Easy-inspired pop-up is constantly in flux, the classic catfish po’boy (featuring craggy, bite-sized nuggets of firm-fleshed fish) is a welcome old reliable, with scallion mayo standing in for the traditional remoulade.
43) The Heyward’s French Toast Sandwich: There’s a lot of good breakfast sandwiches out there, but how many are made on French toast? Clearly, judging by how good the Heyward’s sandwich is, the answer is: Not enough. Comprising lush slices of caramelized brioche, country ham, cheese-laden scrambled eggs, and lip-smackingly good fig jam, this is sandwich will keep you full all day long.
44) Eugene and Co.’s Meatloaf Sandwich: Meatloaf sandwiches are sooooo good, but to make your own requires making meatloaf the night before, and who has time for that really? Not us! That’s why we head to the masterful chefs at Eugene and Co. for a meatloaf sandwich loaded with a meatloaf that’s a blend of veal, beef, and pork, and slathered in aioli, smokey tomato jam, and topped with crunchy onions and crisp bacon. And, frankly, it’s much better than anything we could come up with on our own anyway.
45) El Tenampa’s Chorizo and Huevos Cemita: This authentic Mexican riff on a BEC is a winner, due in no small part to the oily, decadent heat courtesy of the presence of chorizo. Make sure to smother your cemita with one (or many) of the available gratis sauces on offer.
46) The Vegetarian Sandwich Meat Hook Sandwich
Italian heroes are great and all, but they’re also loaded down with enough processed meat to make even the most confirmed carnivore look at them askance. And yet: How else to replicate all that flavor sans cold cuts? Well, simply take a page out of the Meat Hook playbook and use only the best ingredients and combine pickled, cooked, and raw veggies in a combo that will leave precisely no one wondering “where’s the meat?”
495 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg
47) Pork Slope’s The Mother Porker: With all due respect to the Filet o’Fish, what else is one expected to order at this self-proclaimed temple of pig? A mere $3 separates the comparatively moderate Porky Melt from the mammoth Mother Porker—as does the addition of fried egg, jalapenos and bacon, to a base of grilled onions, cheddarwurst and rye.
48) Ba Xuyên’s Meatball Bánh Mì: If you believe more is more when it comes to bánh mì, you’ll doubtless be drawn to the pâté thit nguoi at Ba Xuyên; an all-in assemblage of ham, head cheese, pork roll, pork teriyaki and bbq pork. But the sleeper hit here is the springy (pork) meatballs—while a coat of tomato paste underscores their Italian origins, pickled daikon, verdant cilantro and a swirl of sweet chili sauce asserts this sandwich as unambiguously Vietnamese.
49) David Brisket’s House’s Brooklyn Cheesesteak: Sorry, Philly, but you can’t hold a candle to this “Brooklyn” cheesesteak; featuring sautéed onions and elastic slices of American draped on gravied deckle brisket, that’s been braised low and slow in-house.
50) Brancaccio’s Ricotta with Fig Jam and Prosciutto: If Windsor Terrace is becoming a bit of a food hub, you can thank Brancaccio’s for making waves first with their cold cut-eschewing sandwiches, including this one, featuring clouds of freshly made ricotta cheese, pulpy fig jam, and wafer-thin ribbons of prosciutto on soft slices of country loaf (just be sure to arrive before 4, which is when the Caputo-sourced bread generally sells out).
All photos by Jane Bruce.
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