Scrumptious twists on sandwiches in the Twin Cities

The Korean Cowboy from Hello Pizza.
The Korean Cowboy from Hello Pizza.
EU Photography

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;

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;

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;

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;

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.

MFC Biscuit Sandwich at World Street Kitchen, 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.424.8855;

Forget the Double Down. Forget the sad, limp, chemical-infused tortilla snack wraps. Forget terrifying boneless "wings." Forget biscuits from a pressurized can. Forget what you think you know about fried chicken, and give yourself over to Sameh Wadi's version of Kentucky fried, which is actually North African fried. World Street Kitchen's Moroccan Fried Chicken (or MFC for short) starts with a buttery, crumbly-textured biscuit decorated with sharp white cheddar cheese, spreads it with a creamy blend of feta and chiles, layers in a juicy hunk of crisply fried chicken seasoned with ras el hanout, and piles on some carrot slaw dressed with slightly bitter preserved lemon. Each bite has endlessly interesting textures and the familiarity of American Southern cuisine, with the welcome heat and fragrance of North African spices.

Rabbit Meatballs at Parka, 4021 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612.886.1585;

If you're new to rabbit or wary about eating game in general, Parka's meatballs are a super-approachable way to give this undersung protein a try. Though it's a little hard to glean from the description on their menu, Parka's fabulous sweet-and-savory rabbit meatballs actually come on glossy, toasted Rustica rolls and are served as a pair of mini hoagies. The wild and rich flavor of the meat works well in the comforting form of a pan-fried meatball, calmed by the spread of apricot mostarda — a traditional Italian condiment that blends candied fruit and mustard syrup — that's spread thickly on the bun. The whisper-thin, earthy beet chips with vinegar powder that come on the side are almost as good as the sandwiches themselves. Almost.

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

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