Totally Tuna

Totally Tuna Sub at Jimmy John's
As far as my tastebuds are concerned, Jimmy John's has jumped to the forefront of massive sandwich franchises. We will always be partial to fresh ingredients assembled with loving care, and JJ's seems to serve exactly that on a consistent basis, and in a very speedy manner.

Tuna salad is not something I'm going to order very much, but this version is strong. Moist, not too much mayonnaise, just enough texture from some chopped veggies mixed in, and just enough seasoning to make ordinary tuna fish something special. JJ's standard sub roll is reliably great, soft and chewy, providing that satisfying tear action with each bite. Large slices of tomato and cucumber probably make this sandwich pop above all else. I'm all for sprouts, but either those or the shredded iceberg is bringing a little too much bitterness to the overall tuna experience. That's the only unpleasant thing about this sandwich.


Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich
I know ... this looks delicious. But something went wrong.

This sandwich was crafted from leftovers, mainly a 5-pound pork shoulder that was oven-roasted in an attempt at Hawaiian Kalua pig. The pork was tender and delicious, and easy to shred. But somehow, after a couple of days in the fridge, the meat's flavor was neutralized. It was tossed in a frying pan with a generous slathering of hickory-hoison barbecue sauce, another homemade goodie that also had been in the fridge too long. The spicy sweetness of the sauce had become uncomfortably numb. Topped simply with pickle slices on a sesame seed kaiser roll, this sandwich was solid and satisfying. But a pulled pork sandwich should pack a flavorful punch. Next time, no fridge days, just freshly prepared ingredients.

Vegetarian Turkey Sub

Vegetarian Turkey Sub at Capriotti's
At a sandwich shop known for serving arguably the most popular turkey sandwich in the nation, my go-to order features something called vegetarian turkey, a soy-based, non-meat replacement. It’s a head-smacker, I know.

I discovered the Capriotti’s veggie turkey years ago, during the height of a strict vegetarian diet. The sandwich was a ray of light, a beacon of hope, because it was simultaneously vegetarian and delicious. There is something about the specific veggie turkey used at Capriotti’s, combined with provolone, a sprinkling of lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, olive oil and yellow mustard, that just tastes good. So sacrilegious as some might find it, I say with conviction that the Capriotti’s veggie turkey is even better than the real thing. Go ahead, say it: Crazy.


Pickle Chicken BLT

Pickle Chicken BLT
This sandwich was inspired by a recipe for chicken brined in common pickle juice. We already had marinated some chicken this way and fried it crispy, and the tenderness and subtle salty flavor seemed like a great choice for a sandwich. So this chicken breast was marinated in pickle juice (regular stuff, just the leftovers from a finished jar of Claussen dill pickles) for about a day and a half, then grilled with a light layer of cajun seasoning for a little extra spice. Also riding on this sesame seed kaiser roll: roasted garlic mustard from a gourmet store (we don't do mayo in this house), a couple slabs of bacon, romaine lettuce and a big, thick slice of heirloom tomato.

It's pretty good. The crispness of the lettuce and bacon on the soft bun makes for a nice bite with a mouthful of juicy chicken. You will taste the pickleness, but it's not as strong as you'd think. It lends a nice tenderizing effect that is at least as worthwhile as the taste. It's a little twist, something different, and sometimes that is all it takes to make a good sandwich.

Double Whopper

Double Whopper at Burger King
Now that health care reform has come, places like Burger King will have to post the calorie count of things like the Double Whopper right on the menu. This will happen some time soon, but will it matter? Do you even know what 900 calories looks like? (It looks like this.) And can you believe there is a Triple Whopper?

Let's allow BK's description for this sucker, because after eating it, I'm pretty tired: "Two flame-broiled beef patties stacked high with red ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce, creamy mayo, ketchup, crunchy pickles, and onions all on a toasted sesame seed bun ... double the satisfaction." Yikes. Although it is true that the flame-broiled beef flavor trumps most of the fast-food competition, there is just too much meat on this sucker. Everything else is untaste-able. There's no crisp, no creamy and no crunch, just a brick of cheesy beef stuck inside you. This is strike two for BK. If you must drive through this drive-through, we recommend a minimalist approach: stick to the regular old 670-calorie Whopper, or better yet, the one-dollar and 460-calorie double cheeseburger.


Pastrami Burger

Pastrami Burger at Sammy's L.A. Pastrami
This looks pretty good, huh? The only drawbacks on this beast are its beastly qualities: A quarter-pound burger is layered with a half-pound of pastrami, melted provolone cheese, big pickle slices and yellow mustard. The soft, standard burger roll cannot contain this meaty one-two punch. So yes, it is excessive, as you can see. You just don't need that much pastrami on a burger. The pastrami packs some powerful, fatty flavor, and it overwhelms a pretty high quality, diner-style, all-beef burger. A more balanced portion would make more sense.

There are quite a few crazy burgers and classic sandwiches on the menu at Sammy's, a place where going overboard is the norm. If they are as tasty as the pastrami burger, it will be fun to work our way through the list.


Canter's Famous Pastrami

Canter's Famous Pastrami at Canter's Deli
Two of the most iconic American delicatessens occupy space in neighborhing casinos on the Las Vegas Strip: New York's Carnegie Deli can be found in the Mirage while Canter's Deli of Los Angeles can be found in Treasure Island. Despite the reputation of these two spots and our obvious deli affection, we have made a habit of avoiding both. Sadly, many times when a popular restaurant expands to a Vegas Strip location the term tourist trap comes into play, and the cuisine is an overpriced, watered-down version of the original. That always has appeared to be the deal at Carnegie, but I can't say for sure because I've never been to New York. The disappointment of Canter's is much more severe because I'm a lifelong west coaster and I've pilgrimmaged to the original on Fairfax Avenue.

But sometimes, you have to give it another try.

The pastrami sandwich I inhaled yesterday was perfect and simple, the way a deli sandwich should be. The bread, seedy rye that always was reliable here, was soft and chewy, with a crusty bite around the edges, and the perfect absorbent for your choice of mustard. There is a quick selection of mustards on each table at Canter's, and if you are wise, you will go with the Beaver brand deli-style, with its whole mustard seeds and grated horseradish. The pastrami was heavenly, tender and moist and not too salty, stacked in abundance. The proportion of fat to meat, something of a problem the last time I ate here a few years ago, has been solved beautifully. Plated with a half pickle and extra crispy shoestring fries, this is the straight-up deli sandwich experience we've been searching for in this city. Canter's Las Vegas is back, and I just have to say: What the hell? Did Mr. Ruffin fix this? MGM Mirage doesn't know how to make a sandwich? It doesn't make sense, but I'm still happy.

A1 Steakhouse XT Burger

A1 Steakhouse XT Burger at Burger King
So I was reading this story about the fancy new robo-broiler Burger King is rolling out these days, and it reminded me that because of the flame broilyness, BK probably has the best tasting meat among your average bajillion dollar fast food franchises. It certainly sells the best tasting $1 double cheeseburger you can get from a drive-through window. So maybe the new burger getting pumped out of this high-tech device is worth a try.

Turns out, not really. The only real difference between the Steakhouse XT and the other BK offerings is the size and thickness of the meat patty. It's a 7-ouncer and it's a mouthful. Perhaps the thickness explains why it doesn't retained the fire-grilled flavor you'll get in a Whopper; it's too big to be permeated. The toppings include whatever is passing as American cheese, A1 steak sauce, fried onions, lettuce, tomato and an excessive amount of mayo. The steak sauce was almost undetectable, but the onions were crispy and nice and the veggies were fresh enough.

In the world of fast food, every brand has a flavor. It tastes like McDonald's. It tastes like Taco Bell. It tastes like shit, I mean, Arby's. Burger King tastes like Burger King, and that flavor comes from the fire. Lose that, and what have you got? (Answer: Jack in the Box.)