Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
In recent years, the most contentious battlefield in the fast−food industry has been the fight for breakfast sandwich supremacy. As the McDonald’s and Burger Kings of the world have ventured into coffee sales, chain coffee shops have begun trying to sell real food (meaning not muffins or donuts) to a larger demographic. The hope here is that people will be lazy enough to pick up a sandwich at the same time that they pick up their morning coffee.
Though I often frequent Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, I have consciously stayed clear of the sandwich options that these two national java titans offer. But this spring, I decided to do some detective work on the subject. The result, dear reader, is this rundown, so that if you are ever in dire straits and need to grab a quick bite, you’ll know what to expect.
The Slightly Pretentious Bacon, Egg and Cheese: Starbucks’ success revolves around a few basic principles: 1) They make tasty lattés, 2) Americans are addicted to caffeine, and 3) average Americans, as proud of their culture as they may be, like to pretend that they are fancy Europeans. Starbucks’ sophisticated sentiment is reflected in the chain’s sandwich options, which are labeled as “artisan.” I ordered the bacon, smoked Gouda and Parmesan frittata sandwich ($3.25 in Davis Square), which is pre−made and then toasted so that the cheese is all warm and melty.
Despite the Parmesan element in the egg being entirely undetectable, and the egg itself having somewhat of a spongy texture, I was actually very impressed by the sandwich all in all, especially from a fast−food joint. The bread is a sourdough bun with a distinctive crust that has some give to it. The Gouda is fully melted and gooey on both slices of bread and actually tastes like real cheese. The bacon has nice fat content and, while overly salty on its own, blends nicely into the sandwich as a whole.
Starbucks’ slogan for its sandwiches reads, “Great coffee deserves great food,” but these “artisan” sandwiches are not great. No pre−made sandwich that does not use freshly cooked eggs ever could be great. The java giant does, however, do an adequate job of masking its faults and offering up a flavorful meal to go along with its beverage content.
America’s Breakfast Sandwich: Dunkin’ Donuts would like you to believe that “America Runs on Dunkin’.” I always thought that America ran on the sweat of over−worked Indonesian youths, but nevertheless, here I am, trying two sandwiches: the basic ham, egg and cheese, and the “waffle sandwich” (both $2.79).
While I like DD’s coffee, their sandwiches left much to be desired. The ham, egg and cheese looked like they were thrown down haphazardly, without direction, on an English muffin. The combination was flavorless, save for the nauseating processed taste of the orange slice of American cheese that the DD server failed to fully melt.
The waffle sandwich was a definite improvement, and kudos to DD for attempting to replicate the McGriddle and create a savory−sweet fusion. There were three problems with this sandwich, however. For starters, the waffle itself had a really mushy texture to it. Second, the egg layer had a mouth−feel similar to a plastic trash bag. And finally: the cheese. Once again, it was orange and not fully melted, but this time smeared around a little to create the viscous illusion of melting.
DD’s waffle sandwich definitely has potential, though. If they can somehow steal Starbucks’ cheese, fix the soggy waffle issue, and learn how to use a toaster correctly, the result just might be something tasty.
Here’s hoping that the next time America decides to run on Dunkin’, we won’t run into an abyss of nauseating misery.
Disclaimer: This column ran in "The Tufts Daily" on April 15, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
I would like to preface what I am about to say with the fact that — albeit with a few exceptions of course — I really do like Danish people. Danish culture has many admirable qualities. Forbes consistently ranks Denmark as one of the best countries for business in the world; plus their pastries are consistently mind-blowing. And while I know that this might be a little provocative, I firmly believe that Jan “Big Mag” Magnussen is the greatest F1 racer of all time.
But with that shameless attempt to pander to my Danish readers aside, here’s the bitter truth: With regard to sandwiches, the Danish are clueless.
In Denmark, you see, the “sandwich” of choice for millions of people is the smørrebrød — one piece of dark brown bread (usually rye) topped with meat, cheese, fish or a spread, and then topped with a garnish of herbs or capers. Other countries in Scandinavia have embraced a similar concept (the Swedes call it the “smörgas,” for example) for what they call an “open-faced” sandwich.
The concept of an “open-faced” sandwich has always made me uncomfortable. After all, when Earl John Montagu invented the sandwich back in 1762, one of the creation’s unique properties was that it enabled him to both gamble and eat at the same time without his fingers getting greasy. A true sandwich allows the eater to have food in a mobile container; it is a food of both deliciousness and convenience. Using only one slice of bread negates this purpose, and while a smørrebrød may be tasty, it is often consumed with a fork and knife.
To back up my argument I turned to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, usually considered a valid source of information. I saw first this entry for the word sandwich: “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.”
OK I thought; that seems right. The inclusion of the split roll is a smart touch, since I couldn’t live with a lobster roll not being viewed as a sandwich. But then I read the second Merriam-Webster definition: “one slice of bread covered with food.”
Oh. My. God.
It’s not that my personal view of what constitutes a sandwich is necessarily rigid and inflexible. Wraps and burritos may not be technically sandwiches in that they don’t have two slices, but they do share the essential sandwich characteristic of one being able to hold it with one’s hands and devour it that way. I would call a burrito a close cousin of the sandwich; maybe not a blood relative, but still family.
But others must feel differently. In the 2006 state Superior Court case of Panera Bread v. Qdoba Mexican Grill, a judge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ruled that a burrito was not a sandwich. So, Merriam-Webster, you’re telling me that I should live my life accepting that rice, beans and meat wrapped in a tortilla isn’t a sandwich, but that one piece of bread with scrambled eggs and anchovy paste spread on it — what the English call the “Scotch woodcock” — is a sandwich?
It’s not that the smørrebrød or the Scotch woodcock isn’t a tasty meal. There are actually a lot of positive attributes to these one-sliced foods: a decreased calorie count, for example, or the fact that one can see all of the vibrant colors of the ingredients instead of being reduced to viewing the contents only in profile if you cut a sandwich in half.
But the concept of a sandwich implies a relationship of a filling being between two pieces of bread. A filling is clearly not here: Solely a topping does not make a sandwich. If we go around calling any food on top of bread a sandwich, then we are in danger of pizza being dubbed a sandwich as well.
So I ask you, Merriam-Webster: Can you live with that?