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Item #17 on the menu at Juan Mon's International Sandwiches is the "Venice," a fresh baguette stuffed with spaghetti, salami, provolone cheese, grilled onions and sour cream. To be honest, I ordered it because it sounded goofy. But after my first bite, I put the ridicule on hold. Shockingly, the pasta-filled #17 was very good. Then my dining companions tasted it, and I found myself in an unlikely tug of war over a spaghetti sandwich.
I sampled five sandwiches that first time I visited Juan Mon's International Sandwiches on Taft just south of West Gray, and there wasn't a clunker in the bunch. I was also blown away by the selection of chips. Along with the thick-cut salt and vinegar potato chips, there were also chile pequin chips, Asian sweet and spicy-flavored chips and salsa roja-flavored Cheetos.
Besides the Venice sandwich, I particularly enjoyed the "San Diego," a bolillo stuffed with carne asada, fried potatoes, Oaxacan cheese, sour cream and several salsas. The "Rome" was an Italian hero with the usual ham, salami, provolone, tomato, lettuce, onion, mayo, and Mediterranean dressing, with the unlikely addition of roasted jalapeños.
Houston, TX 77006
All sandwiches: $5.50
Sandwich, chips and drink: $8
Sandwich, fruit and juice: $9
The "Cancun" was a turkey sandwich with bacon, Oaxacan cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and chipotle salsa. And the "Cuernavaca" was a grilled chicken breast sandwich with Oaxacan cheese, grilled onions, red salsa, mayo and lime juice.
The sandwich creations here at Juan Mon's International Sandwiches are known as "Juanwiches."
"The sandwiches are good, but the place is really silly," a friend of mine told me after his first visit. Juan Mon's International Sandwiches is the brainchild of a recent University of Texas grad named Juan Montero, who hails from Mexico City. The young entrepreneur put himself through school selling real estate in Austin. He has no previous restaurant experience.
One corner of the tiny restaurant is decorated with photos of Juan Montero posing with various sandwiches in the cities of their origin. The young man evidently fancies himself an international playboy. He is pictured sitting next to beautiful women with impressive cleavage in a luxury resort, posing on the balcony of luxurious digs overlooking a turquoise sea and folding his hands Buddhist-style in front of a temple in Tokyo.
The modest restaurant, which is furnished with sofas and a dinette that looks like it came from somebody's apartment, doesn't quite fit the "most interesting sandwich man in the world" image. But the young hipster crowd that hangs out there doesn't mind. Everybody who walks in the front door seems to know the owner, and they don't hesitate to harass him. Among his friends, who don't take him very seriously, Juan Montero seems like a nice kid who got in over his head.
The restaurant opened in September, but things aren't going exactly the way the owner imagined. "I am still experimenting," he told me one evening while I paid for my sandwiches. "This is going to be a chain someday." If you are interested in purchasing a Juan Mon International Sandwich franchise, you can fill out a form on the restaurant's Web site.
Juan Mon's Web site also encourages you to buy items from a clothing line and order sandwiches from a delivery van with live GPS tracking. "Place an order and track the van as it travels to your door," reads the copy. But there are no clothes to buy. And although there is a van sitting out front, the restaurant doesn't deliver. No one bothers with the elaborately constructed drive-through lane, either. The restaurant is too understaffed for fast-food-style service or deliveries.
Juan Montero would have been better off billing this as a "Slow Food" sandwich shop. You might as well go inside and sit down, because there is only one guy making sandwiches, and he is in no particular hurry.
As a sandwich lover, I was quite excited by the concept of Juan Mon's when I first heard about the place. I imagined an international sandwich shop where you could get great Mexican tortas, Italian-American heros and Mediterranean sandwiches. At first glance, Juan Mon's seems to fit the bill.
The menu includes 17 Juanwiches. A little flag decal next to each one denotes its national origin, and there are no less than 11 countries represented. But on closer inspection, the "international" thing turns out to be a bit of a stretch.
Considering the owner's ethnicity, it's no surprise that five of the 17 sandwiches on the menu are Mexican tortas. But the "Buenos Aires" milanesa sandwich is nearly identical to the "Mexico City" milanesa sandwich. And the "San Diego" carne asada, fried potato and salsa sandwich is really a Mexican torta as well. The "Tokyo" and "Santorini" (Greece) are vegetarian lettuce, tomato, cucumber and cheese sandwiches with no real connection to the cities they are named after. Juan Mon's International Sandwiches is really a Mexican torta stand with a few other offerings.
The best of the non-Mexican tortas are the breakfast sandwiches. My favorite is the "Amsterdam," with hard-boiled eggs, ham, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, Dijon mustard and mayo on a fresh baguette.
The "London," with eggs fried in olive oil, bacon, ham, cheddar and ketchup on a wheat roll, was oddly nostalgic. It took me back to a brief period in my adolescent years when, in a fit of independence, I insisted on covering everything I ate, including my breakfast eggs, with ketchup. Unfortunately, I am not that fond of ketchup and eggs anymore, so I won't be getting any more "Londons."
Next time, I'll try the Ibiza, a scrambled egg sandwich with bacon, fried potatoes, Oaxacan cheese and salsa verde. I don't know what makes it Spanish, but it sounds good anyway.
If you set aside all the GPS tracking, clothing line and franchise opportunity silliness and realize that Juan Mon's International Sandwiches aren't really all that international, you might actually enjoy the place.
The tortas are great. And where else can you find spaghetti and salami sandwiches and 14 varieties of chips?