I sing ye’ the praise of the sandwich!
That’s right, the sometimes simple concoction set between two slices of bread; a daily staple for many of us.
As a child we ate a lot of bologna. This may explain some things. Ham or Spam and cheese on white bread, liverwurst and red onion on pumpernickel, salami and provolone cheese on a roll, and good old peanut butter and jelly (always Welch’s) were often served, and fresh turkey or roast beef sandwiches always followed a holiday.
The origin of the sandwich is as clear as mayonnaise. The ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder is said to have wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of old-fashioned soft matzah; flat, unleavened bread, during Passover. During the Middle Ages in Europe, thick slabs of coarse and usually stale bread, called "trenchers", were used as plates. After a meal, the food-soaked trencher was fed to a dog or to beggars at the tables of the wealthy, and eaten by diners in more modest circumstances.
Initially perceived as food men shared while gaming and drinking at night, the sandwich slowly began appearing in polite society as a late-night meal among the aristocracy. Apparently, one of these gamblers was none other than the Earl of Sandwich, and it is from him that the food got its name.
The sandwich's popularity in Spain and England increased dramatically during the 19th century, when the rise of an industrial society and the working classes made fast, portable, and inexpensive meals essential. (Wikipedia).
Locally, and chief among my memories, the now defunct Don’s Deli in the Westchester Triangle made the most incredible pastrami on rye sandwiches you could imagine. The pastrami was piled on so high; it was impossible to eat it all. Also a memory, the Cavalier Restaurant at Manchester and Airport Blvd., a Fritz Burns property, made a wonderful open-faced steak sandwich covered in onion rings, and Pizza Napoli’s Vinny introduced us to his submarine sandwich called a Cold Cut. Although Vinny is long gone, his menu remains more or less intact at his second diner, Vinny’s Pizza on Lincoln Blvd.
As for submarine’s, I classify them in two categories, wet and dry. On the dry side, I think that there is none better than those made at Giuliano’s Italian Deli & Bakery in Gardena. It is a bit of a drive to Gardena Blvd., but well worth it, and often you will find these on lunch trucks in the area; still wrapped in their signature waxed paper. Opened in 1952, this delicatessen and bakery call their variety a Torpedo; with mortadella, salami cotto, Italian salami, capicola, provolone cheese, pepperoncini and crisp lettuce.
You can stock up on all sorts of Italian favorites while you are there, as they operate a complete Italian grocery store, and all of the salads are made fresh on the premises. The wine selection is very good as well. Il posto è fantastico!
On the wet side (and over on the West Side); meaning with sauce, salad oil, and so on, nothing in the area has ever compared to the Hank’s Pizza Cold Cut Sub. And the secret here is the Hank’s dressing. This tiny Playa Del Rey institution, opened in the 1960’s, might be small on real estate, but it is huge on flavor and a very good value when you consider that one sandwich must weigh 19 pounds. There are plenty of outdoor tables; in the front and rear of Hank’s and it is always sunny there. The gentle breezes off the ocean will always keep you cool and it never rains here either.
Of course a hamburger is a sandwich, and choosing the best in the area is probably enough for an entire column. But for me, The Shack in Playa Del Rey remains the local champion. The double Shack cheeseburger, which is topped with a grilled Louisiana hot link with fries on the side, is the stuff that dreams are made of. In fact, as I write this at 3AM, I think that I will go back to bed and do just that. The Shack features 13 variety’s of their burgers, with everything from guacamole, bacon, mushrooms, or blue cheese to choose from.
All over town and in surrounding communities, new waves of gourmet burger joints have sprung up, and I hear they are quite good. Grab a Pat’s Pastrami at Truxton’s, or one of the great burgers at Tompkin’s Grill; such as The Eddie burger or the T2 Sliders. You might be surprised, but the patty-melt at Westchester Golf Course is also a winner. P.M. Jay, a local epicurean and world-renowned food aficionado swore by the chicken sandwich at The Grinder, which has unfortunately shuttered its doors. Mike now sings the praises of The Coffee Company, and their oven roasted turkey sandwiches.
Finally, who can forget the hot dogs at Lum’s Restaurant on Sepulveda; which were steamed in beer.
Just in case someone is getting some funny ideas, no one pays me to write this column, nor does anyone give me complimentary food at these places. I wouldn’t take it, even if it were offered. But through the years, it has been an honor to know the people behind many of these restaurants, diners and pizza parlors.
One thing I know for sure, and that is that good people make good food, and to be able to count them as friends is the best benefit of all
PHOTOS: TWO OF A KIND. Hanks Pizza and The Shack have been Playa Del Rey institutions for decades. With summer in high gear, these are just two local eateries that will leave you happy and glad that you came. (PHOTOS, Google).