One of the reasons I enjoy Brown Bag Deli so much is having options.
Yes, it's a locally owned sandwich shop (brought to you by the same folks as Barnaby's), so you can feel good about supporting the community. Yes, they use all recyclable materials. Yes, the bread is baked fresh in house. Yes, they serve Amy's Ice Cream. But what I like the most about Brown Bag Deli is being able to indulge my carnivorous side while my vegetarian significant other (who, as it turns out, is having second thoughts after 10 years of no meat after reading this Salon article) can order a Boca Burger sandwich, a Garden Burger sandwich, a hummus sandwich or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off the chain's large menu.
The original location of Brown Bag Deli (2036 Westheimer) is still my favorite, but there are also outposts in Rice Village, downtown and at 290 and Hollister. It's usually quite laid back inside, a pleasant mixture of Montrose types, hipsters, hippies and yuppies from across Shepherd. They even have a Mac available for use, in case you forgot your MBP and your iPhone at home (bad hipster!) and desperately need to check your Gmail.
And that's all fine and well, but the real fun comes when you step up to the counter. Grab a brown bag and a pencil and get to work building your monstrosity of a sandwich.
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Recently, I made a tribute to roast beef: On went the shaved ribbons of medium-rare roast beef, covered with extra horseradish sauce and slices of horseradish white cheddar cheese. A few pickles and onions for some bite, and the sandwich was complete. No tomato or lettuce interference here -- just meat and heat.
Unfortunately, the horseradish sauce and cheese weren't quite as spicy as I'd hoped, but that didn't stop the sandwich from being delicious. What seems to set Brown Bag Deli apart from so many sandwich shops in town is their soft, fluffy bread with a touch of sweetness. Even the wheat bread tastes like a King's Hawaiian roll. I'm thinking of trying to replicate this sandwich at home with a few of these and some real horseradish sauce. It would be triumphant.
As for my dining companion, he happily munched away on his Garden Burger sandwich on a jalapeno-cheese bun with extra pickles. And I have to admit that the slightly nutty Garden Burger patty (I know it doesn't contain nuts, but it sure tastes like it) was good in its own way, nestled between some thick, crunchy pickles and that sweet bread.
I don't want to eat a Boca Burger when I start craving a meaty sandwich, but -- like I said -- it's sure nice to have the option.