Food Fight

Food Fight: Battle Tuna Salad Sandwich

When it comes to tuna salad sandwiches, I'm with David Rosengarten: there is no better homemade sandwich. So simple - in its most basic form, comprising only canned tuna, mayonnaise, and bread - and so delicious. But there's also a dark side (besides the dolphin issue and inspiring the worst album title of the 1970s): Tuna salad sandwiches don't travel well. The moist filling quickly makes the bread soggy, which leads to a failure of hull integrity. Before you know it, you've got clumps of bread stuck to your fingers and albacore bits dripping onto the floor. And while I am a dedicated adherent to the five-second rule, I draw the line at tuna salad.

Because most people don't work at home, I decided to compare the tuna salad sandwich at two standout lunch places: Kraftsmen Baking and Weslayan Cafe. Narrowing it down to these two was a bit arbitrary; I could just have easily included stalwarts like Carter & Cooley Company, Nielsen's Delicatessen, or others that I'm sure I'll hear about in the comments. But Food Fights follow Thunderdome rules.

Kraftsmen Baking The lunch menu describes the tuna fish sandwich as "tuna salad topped with a hard-boiled egg, sherry vinaigrette, Swiss cheese, and spicy arugula on sourdough bread." As you might expect from the description, this wasn't an ordinary tuna salad sandwich -- for better and for worse. The vinaigrette and arugula added a nice bit of tartness, and the egg a pleasing richness, but as the egg was quartered lengthwise, it kept falling out of the sandwich and I ended up having to pile it on top burrito-style. The Swiss cheese smoothed out the flavors and also helped bind the bread to the tuna salad, which (as best I could tell) was a simple blend of finely chopped tuna, mayonnaise, and minced celery.

I especially liked the choice of sourdough bread, both for its tang and for its sturdiness. It was a great-tasting sandwich, with uniformly fresh ingredients, but it had so many flavors that I could barely taste the tuna. As my wife noted, "If I didn't know this was a tuna sandwich I would have thought it was chicken."

At $7.75, the Kraftmen tuna salad sandwich is fairly expensive. This includes a bag of Frito-Lay potato chips, but there's no option to ditch the chips and save the cost. Why not? It's not like Kraftsmen makes the chips on site. I don't always feel like chips, and I certainly don't feel the need to subsidize a Plano-based Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo. I'm surprised that Scott Tycer couldn't at least have found a smaller or more local purveyor. You can also upsize your sandwich into a box lunch, but it's a weird sort of combo: For an extra buck fifty, you get to add a cookie. Don't get me wrong, I like sweets as much as the next guy, but how does sandwich + chips + cookie make a rounded meal? Where's the fruit or vegetable side? Potato salad, at least!

Weslayan Cafe EOW has previously waxed ecstatic about the Weslayan Cafe's tuna-hummus wrap, but I wasn't in the mood for any late-'90s fusion. Just a straight-up tuna salad sandwich, please. According to the menu, I would be getting albacore tuna salad, with my choice of bread and cheese. But I wasn't offered a choice of bread (it came on whole wheat), and there was no cheese offered or provided. I didn't necessarily want cheese, but still. That said, whole wheat was a great call.

Weslayan Cafe gets its loaves from the Slow Dough Bread Co., and the nutty, slightly sweet bread was a perfect foil for the savory tuna salad. As at Kraftsmen, this tuna salad was a simple blend of tuna, celery and mayonnaise, but Weslayan's version had a strong tuna flavor, which is, I think, what most people want from a tuna salad sandwich. The rest of the sandwich was old-school, but in the best way: a few sliced tomatoes, pickles, and red onions, plus some shredded green leaf lettuce and a smear of mayo.

At a very reasonable $5.50, this sandwich is priced to move. Added bonus: Weslayan Cafe has IBC root beer in its self-serve soda fountain. Although St. Arnold's would be preferable, IBC is one Dallas-based product I can get behind.

The Verdict Both sandwiches are excellent, but if you want one that actually tastes like tuna, go with Weslayan Cafe.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Dresden
Contact: Matthew Dresden