Sink your teeth into these primo St. John's sandwich spots
Here's Andie Bulman's guide to great eating that you can put your hands on
A few weeks ago, I was a guest on CBC Radio's CrossTalk with guest host Cec Haire. The theme: sandwiches.
So many of you called in to the show, tying up the lines for the entire hour. We heard a plethora of travel stories: fresh chicken on focaccia in Florence, smoked meat in Montreal, German summer sausage with sauerkraut on thinly sliced, toasted rye.
Some callers suggested pickles and potato chips as the best sides.
Plenty of others waxed nostalgic about potted meat. I also heard about pickled Vienna sausage sandwiches, fried bologna, and one man called to tell us about his favourite combination of peanut butter, molasses and white onion. (Sir, I'm worried about you, and I have followup questions, but you hopped off the phone quickly.)
Sandwiches loom large because they are often the first thing we learn to make as children. After all, the stakes are low, and the process is safe. Even a lousy sandwich is worth eating, and condiments are spread with a butter knife or the back of the spoon, making sandwiches a safe starting block for young cooks.
I've created a list of places in St. John's to find a perfect sandwich, but I'd love to hear about your favourites outside the Avalon.
In these pandemic times, I can't jump in my car and seek out Newfoundland and Labrador's best sandwich, but let me know about your picks, and I'll make a mental note to do some exploring when things feel safer.
In the meantime, here are my favourite sandwich spots in St. John's.
Safaa's Kitchen: A Taste of Syria
Look, there are plenty of places to get a chicken shawarma in town, but I think your best bet is Saafa's Kitchen: A Taste of Syria at the St. John's Farmers' Market. Saafa Tohme came from Syria to Canada in 2016 and started at the market in September 2018. Her shawarma has been a top seller ever since.
Traditionally, shawarma meat comes from a slowly rotating, almost hypnotic, spit. Saafa achieves the same flavour by marinating halal chicken in olive oil and using a spice blend created by another market vendor — Condiments by Steve Curtis. French fries get chopped and folded into the mix; the whole thing gets served with a creamy garlic sauce that I could eat with a spoon.
I usually get my shawarma with a side of very lemony tabbouleh, but Tohme says the best side is the fattoush salad.
"People enjoy it. The ingredients are tomato, lettuce, cucumber, coloured capsicum and fried bread with sumac flavour, garlic, mint, olive oil and lemon."
The Jewish Deli
Waking up early, trekking down to the market and buying a smoked meat sandwich from the Jewish Deli is my interpretation of "self-care." Jonathan Richler, the owner and operator, says the salty, smoky sandwich is his bestseller. "Hands down, my Montreal smoked meat sandwich on Manna's marble rye — double caraway — sells best. The Texas barbecue smoked brisket would be a close second."
Currently, Richler operates at the St. John's Farmers' Market. His pickles and vacuum-sealed meats are available via the 7th Wave Coffee Roasters website. During the pre-pandemic days, the Jewish Deli would do pop-ups, too.
"Usually, we'd pop up at Wedgwood Cafe, Terre or Adelaide Oyster House. We got our start at Chinched Bistro before moving to the Jag Hotel. It is terrific to have nice friends."
The Jewish Deli pickles are also famous, but Richler could only divulge a few of his pickling secrets.
"My pickles are great because I choose the freshest cucumbers, dill and garlic. The best time to make and secure my half-sour dill pickles is August when I receive hundreds of pounds of the actual Kirby pickling cucumber from Mark's Market in Wooddale and maybe 100 pounds from Murray Meadows. I usually secure 50 pounds of local garlic, so the jar is nearly 100 per cent local."
Richler's pickles have the most satisfying snap, but I couldn't get him to spill.
"The crunch is a trade secret, sorry. I will tell you that I sing and talk to my briskets — I think it helps."
I've mentioned Mickey's before, but it bears repeating: this place knows sandwiches. Mike Boyd, chef and owner/operator of Mickey's on Water Street, believes there is a science to good sandwich making:
"Central ingredient: garnish, condiments, and bread. You start by building your foundation with your main ingredient, then you think about what pairs well. You want to balance flavour and think about the food groups. Condiments are important; they can make or break a sandwich. As a kid, I used to cry if there was mustard on a sandwich."
Boyd also has powerful feelings about selecting the proper bread.
"I don't love hard or chewy bread on a sandwich. A crusty baguette is a beautiful thing, but it can shred your mouth. French jambon-beurre defies the concept, but it's the exception. If you are going to use a firm bread, you just have to make sure the contents are minimal or firmly planted, or they just squeeze out on your first bite."
There are a few top sellers at Mickey's, but the fried chicken always flies out the door. Brined, butter-milked and seasoned to perfection, it's a sure bet.
"They are a guaranteed way to draw business, but I feel like they would lose their lustre if we did fried chicken all the time. It feels like a cheat code."
Boyd recently caused a stir when he put a decadent foot-long, Chinched-filled hot dog on his menu. This monster was topped with crispy onion bits, bacon and pickled jalapenos. The sensation had customers arguing over whether a hot dog qualifies as a sandwich.
"I believe it counts. Think of it as a 'wiener sub.' We ran a poll, and 52 per cent of our followers claimed hot dogs are not sandwiches. In fact, one of our customers joked that the 'hot dog is a sandwich' argument would lead to people claiming that cereal is a soup."