By Bread Alone

In search of the humble, perfect italian sub

Loving my new role of the Goldilocks of Bread, I thought the bread at Golooney's was too soft. Yet everything else was just right: A thin lace of fiery capocollo, good mortadella, salami, Provolone, a few leaves of romaine, a center ribbon of sliced pickled-pepper rings and onions, and a little swipe of hot-pepper relish on the bread. The six-inch sub is too big to eat comfortably ($3.75), the 12-inch ($6.50) a family affair--but just. Oh, that bread.

At Buon Giorno, the sub was undeniably perfect. Actually, it was almost too perfect. The bread was just right, light in the middle, crisp and shattering at the crust. Inside, top-quality mortadella enlivened with slivers of pistachio, assertive salami, hefty Provolone, two slices of tomato, and two pieces of lettuce had been laid in there with such utter assurance it brought to mind Italian design studios, with their pure disdain for excess. Was this sandwich, this hero, too perfect? Or, more likely, was I simply losing my mind?

Onward! At Broders' Cucina Italiana (the takeout one, not the pasta bar), I got the South Jersey Hoagie ($6.95) made simply with Genoa salami, capocollo, Provolone, tomato, and a mélange of shredded, dressed iceberg lettuce and onion. This was very nearly the perfect hero. The bread looked hard but wasn't, and it had just exactly the right texture throughout, the crunch of lettuce, the chew of bread, the resilience of cold cuts. So why did I, the next day, go to two separate bakeries, buy two loaves of bread, go back to Golooney's, get a large sub without the dressing, take the whole mess home and transfer the Golooney's filling lock, stock, and barrel to the new bread? That didn't work at all. It didn't taste right in the least bit! Plus, I lost the pepper relish in the transfer process.

My hero: Broders' Cucina Italiana
Diana Watters
My hero: Broders' Cucina Italiana

Location Info

Map

Broders' Cucina Italiana

2308 W. 50th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Edina

Also, I scared myself: Yikes! If I told a professional about this, they'd have me on drugs to fight obsessive-compulsive sandwich disorders. And what was I looking for, anyway? I'd found three perfectly good sandwiches: The Italian heroes at Broders', Buon Giorno, and Golooney's were each quite beyond reproach, really. What do I care if there are nearly 16,000 Subways on earth, when I've got three keepers of the faith close at hand? Was I looking for the lost sandwiches of my youth? Homesick? Merely hyperindulged with every food whim that floats through my head? It is no fun turning into the Close Encounters of the Third Kind guy, I'll tell you that much; if I end up sculpting mashed potatoes to indistinct ends please know I'm crying on the inside.

Then I went and had lunch with Anthony Bourdain, and--revelation! A hero sandwich, why, that's a perfect example of the food of the poor, brought to exaltation. What is sausage, but the scraps of butchery, spiced, smoked, and dried, to prevent decay? (Capocollo is pork scraps, coated in spices, and cured; mortadella is made with ground pork; hard salamis will tend to be made of whatever didn't have any obvious other purpose. And of course, they're all meats stuffed into guts--that's what the casings were.) What are the other things, the lettuce and tomatoes, but the cheap stuff from the garden meant to fill up the meal? And what is the bread but the most of it all?

Whenever you hear one of those spiels that runs, "Chinese food, Americans don't eat it right, it's supposed to be a little protein and sauce seasoning the rice, not protein and sauce with a side of rice"--this, this is what they're talking about: The Italian hero, somewhere back in the mists of time, it's just seasoned bread. And you can spend the better part of a week combing the Cities for the right one, and you'll get in touch with something essential, and you'll see some things you needed to see. Like that Cossetta's on a Saturday afternoon was packed, just packed, in a way Subway never will be, with families teaching the kids the way of ordering, with chaos and hubbub and moms doing the shopping while dad waited on the pizza line and kids played on the floor. That the teenager behind the counter at Broders' had such beautifully blow-dried hair it was almost painful to leave before finding out whom she went to all that trouble for.

And, above all, that you can get a little cracked looking for the perfect, even if going into it you knew you'd never find it, but for some reason you find what you need to find, anyway.

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