Scrumptious twists on sandwiches in the Twin Cities

Startling and sublime, these are some of our favorite concept sandwiches around town

Scrumptious twists on sandwiches in the Twin Cities
EU Photography
The Korean Cowboy from Hello Pizza.

I've always been a soft sciences person. Anthropology, linguistics, and history fit comfortably in my wheelhouse, whereas chemistry and physics are forced to wedge themselves in the remaining awkward spaces. In order to graduate from college, I had to take a human physiology class that my advisor claimed was "designed for the humanities-minded," which sounded great but had a twice-a-week 8 a.m. lab — not so great. As it turned out, my lab partner and I were the only non-nursing majors in the class. Without fail in every class experiment, we'd be the ones with the data that didn't quite add up, or the test tube of urine that spilled, or the laptop that froze right as we were about to save our work. One particularly sad lab required us to anesthetize frogs, observe their blood flow patterns, and then plop them in a water bath to revive them. We watched as each group baptized their frogs, bringing them immediately and miraculously back to life. After about 10 minutes of staring at ours, floating listlessly in the top of the bucket, the professor came over and gave it a poke. "Yep, that is one dead frog," he said, wholly unsurprised that our specimen was the only casualty.

After every scientific failure, we consoled ourselves with a breakfast sandwich from the student union cafe. They weren't particularly fancy — just a good, craggy toasted English muffin; a runny, over-easy egg; and a thin, sage-scented sausage patty. As the semester progressed, the motivation of knowing that a breakfast sandwich was just one class period away was how I ultimately managed to pass the course. Sandwiches were, are, and always will be the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and often what powers me throughout the day. Even when a menu offers steak au poivre, lamb chops with mint, or spice-rubbed pork loin, I find myself imagining ways these dishes could be reincarnated between two slices of bread. Thankfully there are some newcomers to our local restaurant scene that are similarly sandwich-minded, and they're putting a delicious twist on what it means to live hand to mouth.

Connecticut-style Lobster Roll at Smack Shack, 603 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612.259.7288; smack-shack.com

The MFC Biscuit Sandwich is made with Moroccan fried chicken
EU Photography
The MFC Biscuit Sandwich is made with Moroccan fried chicken

When you think of a lobster roll one way your whole life, it's very difficult to become a convert to anything other than the classic New England style. And even though Smack Shack's chilled lobster salad sandwich — with scant mayo, loads of licorice-y tarragon, and itty bits of fresh cucumber on slightly sweet, butter-toasted milk bread — is the one that gets all the national attention, we were shocked to find there is another, arguably more purely lobster-y version with roots in the Constitution State. The Connecticut-style roll is served warm on a split-top, almost hot dog-like bun with generous chunks of lobster meat tossed in drawn butter, bright lemon juice, and scattered with chopped chives, unmasking and highlighting the sweetness of the meat and intensifying its richness.

Fried Tomato BLT at Moral Omnivore, roaming, Nicollet Mall, 612.532.2084; themoralomnivore.com

It takes moxie to believe you can improve upon a sandwich as iconic and perfect as a BLT. Many have tried by adding avocado (a fine effort), smoked salmon (with mixed results), or subbing in flavored mayos for the usual stuff (almost always a bad idea). But one new food truck that seeks to serve "ethical eats" has found a pretty amazing way to set its bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich apart from the rest: fry the tomato. Thick bacon goes on the bottom of a sturdy bun, dark greens dressed with lemon and chipotle pepper replace dull Romaine, and instead of putting the mayo right on the bun, Moral Omnivore tosses it into a cabbage slaw. Crispy golden-fried red tomatoes are the crowning component, but they don't outshine the bacon, because the B should still come first in a BLT.

Korean Cowboy at Hello Pizza, 3904 Sunnyside Rd., Edina, 952.303.4514; hellopizza.com

Ann Kim's latest venture, Hello Pizza in Edina, may be centered on New York-style pizza, but Kim also finds unexpected and ingenious ways to sneak flavors from her Korean heritage into the traditional Italian-American cuisine. The Korean Cowboy combines elements of a Vietnamese banh mi with a hearty meatball grinder, all supported by the smoky-sweet flavors of bulgogi. As with any sandwich, the bread here is key, and as good as she is with flour and water, Kim was wise to source these perfect crusty rolls from Trung Nam Bakery in St. Paul. The heavily spiced, slightly soft meatballs are covered in spicy, tangy barbecue sauce made from a base of gochujang — a fermented paste brewed from hot peppers — and finished with crunchy, cooling components such as daikon radish, shredded carrot, cilantro, Thai basil, and pickled onion. The whole thing is finished with a smear of garlicky mayo that infuses the bun with flavor and lends some added richness to this sub-shop take on Asian takeout.

Fig and Blue Cheese at Chez Arnaud, 1085 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651.330.4453; myfrenchbakery.net

Though the exquisite confections — such as the enormous cream-filled macarons — at Chez Arnaud are the main draw of the pastry case, the item I kept returning for was the sandwich that showcased French simplicity at its finest. Massive squares of chewy yet fluffy ciabatta bread get slathered with a sweet, sticky jam of figs and honey and dotted with pebbles of veiny, sharp blue cheese. The middle strata of the sandwich are just delicate slices of smoky prosciutto, so you get all the flavors of a fine cheese board packed into a hand-held meal.

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