Serious Sandwiches

Category: Features Written by Diane Bair and Pamela Wright / August 11, 2014

An exploration between the slices

According to common lore, the sandwich was invented by British statesman John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Legend says that he didn’t want to leave the gambling table for dinner, so he asked a servant to throw a piece of meat between two slices of bread to avoid getting grease on the cards. It’s unlikely that this was the first time anyone slapped a piece of food between bread, but the idea caught on and it was named “sandwich” in his honor.

By definition, the sandwich is simple: one or more types of food placed on or between slices of bread. Humble, portable, and ingenious, this culinary creation crosses all walks of life, cultures, and ethnicities. Here on the Seacoast, it gets nearly cult-like attention, with chefs offering a slew of inventive renditions. We sleuthed out some of the best gourmet grabs in the region.

There’s something about Moe’s Italian Sandwiches that keeps it at the top of the sammies-we-love list. In fact, Moe’s, in downtown Portsmouth and other locations throughout the Seacoast, garnered the number one spot in our Best of Taste awards sandwich category. It’s hard to improve on the original Italian, with house- made salami and provolone, topped with crunchy pickles, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and olives, and drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Every once in a while we change it up and substitute ham or turkey, but the fixings remain the same, as they have for more than five decades.

Googie’s Sandwich Shoppe of Portsmouth, a best deli in the Seacoast runner-up, has an impressive array of signature sandwiches, paninis, and wraps. “This is the way a sandwich should be,” they boast, and we agree. The create-your-own choices include some 15 meat, egg, or seafood fillings and a range of toppings, including spreads, veggies, and cheeses, and breads. Popular specialty sandwiches include The Gobbler with turkey, cranberries, and stuffing, and the Bull’s Eye, with BBQ chicken, onions, cheddar, and a sweet-hot BBQ sauce. The Ranch Wrap gets high marks with tender roasted turkey, bacon, cheddar, cucumbers, and ranch dressing rolled into a tomato-basil wrap. Prices are reasonable and the service is friendly and efficient—the way it should be.

One bite of the Porchetta sandwich at STREET in Portsmouth, and we’re transported to Tuscany. The crave-inducing sandwich has chunks of slow-roasted pork, infused with herbs, and served on garlicky bread with sharp arugula and nutty provolone cheese. The lively restaurant and cocktail lounge features modern twists on classic sandwiches from around the world. Other standouts include the Banh Mi, with spicy chicken, pickled carrots and daikon radish, crunchy cukes, and a spicy mayo sauce, and the straightforward Cubano sandwich, with ham, shredded pork, and Swiss cheese.

STREET owners Michelle Lozuaway and Josh Lanahan have also opened Cemita Shack in Southgate Plaza, named for one of their most popular sandwiches. The Puebla, Mexican-style concoction is nearly addictive, with a protein or veggie base, topped with slices of avocado, crunchy pickled onions, cilantro, spicy chipotle mayo, and melted cheese. It’s a perfect blend of textures and tastes, slapped between a traditional Cemita bread roll. Added bonus: the small sandwich joint is now BYOB—and they’ll supply the juicy mixes for cocktails.

The toughest part of samming it up at The Kitchen is deciding what to order; the menu, including daily specials, features more than 20 creative sandwiches. The Italian Tuna is a serious upgrade from the typical tuna salad sandwich, with artichoke hearts, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, and sprouts served between two slices of sun-dried tomato bread. The restaurant also puts its own tasty twist on Porchetta, including pork loin, bits of crispy pork belly, and arugula pesto on a bulky roll, and the Banh Mi, with pate, pulled pork, and crunchy pork rinds, dressed with lime mayo and served on an onion focaccini. We also enjoyed the Tuscan, piled high with prosciutto, capicola, soppressata, and provolone served on seeded ficelle.

If you’re really craving great-tasting, succulent swine, head to Mojo’s BBQ Grill & Tavern. This casual joint serves up winning, piled-high sandwiches served on soft bulky rolls. You can’t go wrong here; try the Porky Pig Melt, with tender slow- roasted pulled pork, bacon, melted cheese, and their signature Arkansawce, or the Chopped Beef Brisket. The Dirty Bird is a favorite too, with a panfried chicken breast topped with melted Swiss cheese and smeared with spicy mayonnaise. If you’re really hungry, go for the Sloppy MoJo, with pork, beef, and slaw, or take thet: 15 pulled pork sliders, a double order of fries, and two 25-ounce sodas to be consumed within 30 minutes ($20 is riding on it!).

On the other end of the sandwich spectrum is the feel-good, do-good Blue Moon Evolution in Exeter, specializing in ultra- fresh, locally-sourced organic meat and vegetables. The Best Ever Wrap is aptly named with raw organic sunflower pate, organic lettuce, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, and onion, doused with a raw cashew mock Caesar dressing served on an organic sprouted grain wrap. The warm La Luna Sandwich features creamy Brie, apple, cucumber, sprouts, spinach, and a homemade chutney. We also like the Nantucket Sandwich, a house-made chicken salad loaded with crunchy celery, cranberries, onion, and cheese served on multigrain bread. The Grilled Reuben has roasted turkey breast or baked tofu with homemade, organic sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread.

The Green Bean, with a few locations in the Seacoast area, has become a local favorite, ever since owners Lori Whitney and Jeff Turner first opened shop in 1997 in downtown Exeter. The restaurant and catering business has garnered a well-deserved reputation for their fresh, made-on-the-spot soups and sandwiches. Start your day with one of their breakfast sandwiches, like the nearly decadent The Kind of Like a Monte Cristo with grilled ham, pepper jack cheese, egg frittata, and caramelized onions served between two slices of French toast. For lunch, begin with a bowl of soup to complement your sandwich. Each day there are five soup selections from Green Bean’s impressive repertoire of 60 different kinds, all homemade. For sandwiches, the Turkey Thai Wrap with shredded carrots, scallions, cilantro, and homemade peanut Thai sauce is a winner. Other top choices include the Baked Meatloaf sandwich with melted provolone, the Chicken Salad with Dried Cranberries & Roasted Walnuts, and Turkey, Bacon, & Pesto with homemade walnut pesto sauce. Sandwiches are served on freshly-baked artisan breads from Borealis Breads of Wells, Maine.

Sliders—seems like every other restaurant in the region offers these mini burgers, so we might have passed them over at Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery, Maine. That would have been a shame. The Oyster Sliders feature impossibly fresh, plump, lightly breaded fried oysters on a tiny, soft brioche bun with just the right amount of lemon caper aioli. The Lobster Sliders are overflowing with fresh lobster meat, kept simple as it should be, but sandwiched in a buttermilk biscuit for added sweetness, providing the perfect few bites. Robert’s new Maine Dip is also getting rave reviews, featuring soft and juicy slow-roasted pulled pork and pickled onions for a nice blend of textures, served alongside a warm cup of cider jus for dipping.

The Fish Tacos and Sustainable Fish Sandwich hit high notes on several levels. They both feature an underutilized species, which a local fisherman hauled in mere hours before. “The big species— haddock and cod—are getting too expensive and are overfished,” says Chef Brandon Blethen. “We like to introduce some other great-tasting but underutilized fish. Our customers are loving it.” We tried the tacos with ultra-moist morsels of redfish tucked in a shell with zippy cilantro lemon crema and crunchy cabbage. The use of the more sustainable redfish was no taste compromise.