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Sandwich porn: Top 10 sandwiches of the year

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A sandwich can easily become frivolous and hackneyed, trailing festoonery behind it with wild abandon, magnanimous as a drunk uncle with a shirt pocket full of candy and gum. Those aren’t the sandwiches we’re after. Because while almost any sandwich is better than none at all, we appreciate it when one bothers to be high, mighty, and patrician enough to suit a straight-backed nun. Which is not to say a serious sandwich cannot be fun. But fun and tomfoolery come after the hard work is done, remember? Make your sandwiches carefully and diligently, cooks and chefs. Or else we’ll rap you on the knuckles with a ruler and make off with your meats.

The 10 best sandwiches we ate this year: 

10.  Duck Meatloaf Sliders, Spoon and Stable 

In a strange turn of events, our favorite way to enjoy fancy and fine Spoon & Stable is in the lounge, where the best cocktails in the Twin Cities are to be had, along with, probably, the best finger foods in town. Democratic and approachable old faves are given the Midas touch and updated to exacting standards — things like Cubanos, hot dogs, and french fries are somehow made erudite, and we like it. But the finest bites of them all are the Duck Meatloaf Sliders, inspired in part by chef Gavin Kaysen's grandmother's recipe, then glazed with tamarind and sprinkled with shaved celery, all of it placed between two golden brioche toasts. Four precious bites each, this could be Spoon & Stable's crowning glory. Yup, a slider, but there's nothing simple about it. 

9. The Sandor, Gyst

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In one of those it-shouldn't-work moments, peanut butter gets blasted with piquant and funky kimchi, crunchy crushed peanuts, and pungent scallions for an adult peanut butter toast experience to make you kick your jars of Welch's Grape straight down the street and into the neighbor's yard. Fermented cabbage makes an ideal foil to anything creamy (really, try it on grilled cheese) but we like this for its rare achievement: a vegan extravagance. Served next to Ruffles, which are vegan, too. 

8. Reuben, Iron Door Pub

A hot, salty, briny, drippy, meaty mess, this one is just what you're after when you order a Reuben. Served on marble rye, it's democratically likable and irresistible as the blockheaded but dashingly handsome football captain. There's no way to say no, so just submit. 

7. Croque Madame, Le Town Talk Diner

Le Town Talk Diner's everyman's approach to French bistro fare is irresistible once you give it a chance. A ham and cheese to end them all, smoked ham is pressed, inside and out, with Gruyère, browned at the edges, but also béchamel, because there are never enough reasons to put cheese sauce in a sandwich, and finally, a sunny egg on top because nobody likes a dry sandwich. This touch is the cherry on the sundae. 

6. Fried Bao with Braised Beef, Rainbow Chinese 

A standard bao is a satisfying little marshmallowy bun, steamed to perfection, then stuffed, usually with pork belly. Tammy Wong has gone one way better by tossing those bao in the deep fryer so they emerge bubbled and toasted as though they had been sitting on the surface of the sun. Her braised pork is an exacting wonderland of umami, acid, and spice, and garnished with pickled veg and cilantro. This is tremendous art, as you can plainly see. 

5. French Dip, Nighthawks 

If a French Dip sounds like the kind of thing only your grandpa eats, then you haven't had the $18 Nighthawks French Dip, with shallot jam, beef fat mayo, enough Gruyère to smother a cow right to death, and an au jus that's nothing short of the finest demi glace. Put it next to a potato salad that's the distillation of a proper delicatessen — your grandpa never had it this good. 

4. Fried Green Tomato BLT, Butcher and the Boar 

We all know it's nigh impossible to improve upon the trusty and noble BLT, unless of course you put an egg on it, toss in some deep-fried goodness and toast up some buttery Pullman loaf. They've done all of the above at Butcher and the Boar, plus slipped some chile in the mayo, and finally did the only upright and conscientious thing there is to do: retain the iceberg, the one and only lettuce that ought to come within any distance of a BLT. 

3. Fried Chicken Sandwich, Burch  

Every component of this Fried Chicken Sandwich on the Burch brunch menu has been coddled with loving and chefly hands. The juicy breast meat is sliced so that it's pretty and pleasant to bite, and the biscuit is tender and flaky enough to make a Southern grandmother peek at the recipe when nobody's looking. Butter lettuce, beautiful tomato, pickled shallot and mayo could be enough here, but the side of fine dining gravy sends the total package into a category of cuisine where few sandwiches have gone before. At $12 it's like stealing. 

2. Medianoche, La Ceiba Bistro  

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Everybody's doing a Cubano and virtually nobody is doing them purely or properly. Moreover, while the double pork decadence of a Cubano is surely alluring, we prefer the simple yet stunning grandeur of a Medianoche, where smoked ham meets Swiss, yellow mustard, pickled cucumbers, and a light citrus aioli on toasted sweet, eggy bread that's a bit like French toast but better. Pressed together in a tight compendium of precision, this is like a master seamstress hemming a classic A-line skirt. No frills, and none necessary. 

1. Pastrami on Rye, St. Paul Meat Shop 

Sandwiches get such heavy handed, schlocky, ooky treatment in our over-the-top, I'll-one-up-you world, it's disgraceful. Consider that all a person needs to do, in order to make a legit sammie is some good meat, some good bread and a schmear. Butchers know this, and butchers don't attempt to put lipstick on a pig because a good pig don't need no lipstick. And nor does killer pastrami, which is as difficult to come by as a swimsuit in December around here. At probably only about a half dozen places will you find lovingly smoked pastrami with proper lean-to-fat ratio, given a prominent place on simple but good bread, just barely offset by grainy mustard. Eaten off butcher's paper, and only off butcher's paper, this is a Sandwich, and our favorite of the year.