Sandwich party! (Scott Lynch)
May 3, 2022
Mission Sandwich Social is serving up seriously metal subs In Williamsburg
Brian Tsao, formerly of Beauty and Essex and 'Beat Bobby Flay,' is opening an inspired new sandwich stand this week
Long before he was working in the kitchen of Beauty and Essex on the Lower East Side—and running things at Mira Sushi and Izakaya in the Flatiron, and kicking Bobby Flay’s butt on the Food Network back in 2014—Brian Tsao was a sandwich maker.
“When I was 13 years old I worked for my father at his gas station on Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street,” Tsao tells Brooklyn Magazine. “He had me stocking shelves, cleaning bathrooms, taking out the trash, and normally he’d order Chinese food for lunch. But every now and then he’d get sandwiches from the local bodega—these big saucy, meaty, cheesy things that blew me away. And I remember saying to him, ‘Dad I think I can do this.’ So a week later, to my mom’s dismay, he buys a deli slicer, puts it on our kitchen counter, and has me make sandwiches for the gas station staff, which was like eight people. He paid me $20 a week.”
It was Tsao’s first cooking job, but it stayed with him. And in 2019 he decided to go full circle.
“One day I just realized that most of my career has been focused around Asian food, but I also wanted to do so much more. And a sandwich can be a vessel for anything. I can go Asian, but I can also play with a Cubano, I can play with a classic Italian sub, I can go French if I want to,” he says. “There’s no stopping me! That’s what really got me interested to try this medium again.”
And so we get Mission Sandwich Social, a rock-n-roll sub shop opening Tuesday in Williamsburg, after many pandemic-related delays, with a menu filled with entries from all over the culinary map. We stopped in during Mission’s soft opening last week for a sneak peek and anticipate many more visits to come. These sandwiches are massive, thoughtfully constructed, sloppy and delicious.
Start with the Steve Byrne, named after Tsao’s favorite comedian and starring the Korean BBQ short rib that he whipped up on TV to “Beat Bobby Flay” (it’s actually his grandmother’s recipe). The meat is tender and well-seasoned, and there’s also mozzarella, kimchi, ranch dressing, gochugaru, and french fries in there.
The Bensonhurst is packed with chicken cutlet, prosciutto, more of that mozz, and broccoli rabe, and comes with a side of thick marinara sauce for dipping. The Cuban New Yorker is another winner, piled high with thinly sliced roast pork, Swiss cheese, sour pickles, mustard, and enough hot sauce to hold your attention.
When he isn’t cooking, Tsao plays in a metal band called Loss Becomes. So naturally he named a couple of his inventions after his guitar heroes. The Jake Bowen (named after the prog metal band Periphery’s guitarist) is a monster, with roast beef, bacon, Swiss, shredded cabbage, pickle salsa, and Russian dressing. And the Tim Howley (of Fit for an Autopsy) has a Peruvian vibe to it, with roasted chicken, pepper jack cheese, guacamole, and green sauce. Howley’s been to the shop a few times already, Tsao says, and always orders his namesake.
The Byrne, the Bowen, and the Howley aren’t just random creations: During the early pandemic Tsao sent food questionnaires to each of them and structured their namesake sandwiches accordingly. That said, Tsao invented his Post Melón, featuring prosciutto and melon, without any input from the rapper himself. Yet.
Most of the Mission sandwiches have vegetarian or vegan substitutions available. All come packed inside loaves of dense Dutch Crunch bread, a San Francisco favorite that Tsao reverse-engineered here in Brooklyn after a visit to the west coast, and now bakes fresh daily at a secret location.
Mission Sandwich Social is a counter service restaurant, with no seating (though Tsao says he might put some planks on the big window sills, so people can perch), and most of the ambiance comes courtesy of the graffiti covering the walls. And even though it commands an enviable corner location on bustling Bedford Avenue, about three blocks from Domino Park, it’s just far enough away from the tourists around the L train to feel like a real neighborhood spot.
“There’s something special about opening a place in Brooklyn,” says Tsao. “The people here are proud when a cool spot opens up, like it becomes a part of them because they are part of the community. They live here. Being originally from Brooklyn myself, that’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back here, come back to my childhood, and replant roots so to speak.”
Mission Sandwich Social is located at 326 Bedford Avenue, at the corner of South 2nd Street, and as of May 3 will be open on Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m. (347-529-5328)