Like Ginny Braud, I love sandwiches. Let me say that again: I LOVE sandwiches. Everyone who knows me knows this. It's become almost embarrassing given the fact that I'm on the wrong side of 40 and I still get giddy over a food item designed almost specifically for children. And I'm not really all that picky. A good P, B and J is perfectly awesome. I probably would even dive back into a bologna and Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread if it were served with some Hawaiian Punch, like when I was 10. I have a problem.
Okay, maybe that's stretching it, but you get the picture. So, with November 3 being National Sandwich Day, I really had to drop my list of my 10 favorite sandwiches in Houston. I omitted hamburgers, hot dogs, gyros and anything that you wouldn't call a sandwich if it were listed on a menu. Frankly, I had a tough enough time narrowing it down without having to include burgers.
10. Baked Ham and Swiss - Nielsen's Delicatessen
Nielsen's is one of my favorite places to grab a sandwich and go. The tiny little storefront on Richmond barely has any seating, but the food is fantastic. I opt for the baked ham and swiss cheese. The only thing that is typically served on it is their homemade mayonnaise, which is the stuff of legend. If God loved mayonnaise (and I assume He does), He would slather his sandwiches with this stuff. You can choose your bread, but I always go for white in honor of my Scandinavian genes (all 25 percent of them). You'd be nuts not to grab a small cup of their potato salad, which is rich and creamy, like what you'd get at a picnic...in heaven.
9. Turkey, Bacon and Avocado - Natachee's
Sometimes, a simple sandwich is the best answer. Turkey, bacon and avocado doesn't sound all that incredible, but Natachee's makes it work, particularly on warm, toasted sourdough bread. The creamy avocado and touch of mayo are the perfect foil to the thick, crunchy bacon and bread. With all the good things they offer, including the delicious open-faced meatloaf sandwich, I almost never get anything else there. Grab some of the best fried pickles in town to go on the side.
8. Fried Shrimp Po' Boy - Calliope's
A good fried shrimp po' boy is nearly an art form and, for my money, no one does it better in Houston than Calliope's. The shrimp are fried to golden perfection and the trimmings are simply lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo. But, the reason to order any po' boy here is the bread. From what we hear, the folks at Calliope's are sworn to secrecy about the origins of their bread and with good reason. It's a nearly-perfect sub roll with a bit of bite on the outside and warm soft dough inside. It is very difficult to find bread this good, let alone a po' boy to match.
7. Sliced Egg - Cricket's Creamery
Years ago, I discovered this little coffee shop on 19th Street. When I lived in the Heights, I visited with regularity and my sandwich of choice was the sliced egg on sourdough. Layers of hard cooked eggs are placed on romaine and tomato. The fresh bread is covered in a smoky tomato mayonnaise they make in-house. Add a pinch of salt and you are good to go. I recommend a cup of their potato soup, which is made using a creamy cauliflower base, as a side. Yum!
6. Smoked Turkey and Swiss - Antone's
If there is such a thing as a sandwich institution, Antone's is probably ours. Unfortunately, there is only one original left, but it is worth the trek to Bellaire to grab one of their amazing po' boys. As much as I love the "super," my favorite is still the smoked turkey and swiss. The smokey flavor of the turkey and the twinge of tangy sweetness from the sweet pickles turn what would otherwise be a boring turkey sandwich into something much more interesting. While the imitators, located in various spots around town, are not bad, the original is still the best, even if there is only one.
5. Honey Ham and Brie - Carter & Cooley
Another throwback to my years of living in the Heights, Carter & Cooley is one of my favorite delis on the planet. Inside an old bank building with friendly staff and a comfortable environment, it's a great place to stop for lunch while toddling around shops on 19th Street. And if you're going, try the honey ham and brie. This warm sandwich served on an onion roll (though you have your choice of bread) with lettuce, tomato and a couple dabs of honey mustard is sizable enough for dinner. The warm ham and melted brie blend together with the honey mustard into a gooey, delicious mess.
4. Baguette au Poulet - Jeannine's Bistro
When visiting Belgian restaurants like Jeannine's or the Broken Spoke, my tendency, at least at lunch, used to be to gravitate towards the Croque Monsieur or the Croque Madame, but my girlfriend opted for the Baguette au Poulet at Jeannine's one afternoon and I've never gone back. Chunks of flavorful herbed chicken are scooped onto a baguette, smothered in grilled onions (hell yes!), swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and their house mayonnaise. The filling is probably the most flavorful of any sandwich on this list -- I could eat it in a giant pile on my plate without bread, which is where some of it invariably ends up. But the baguette adds a crunchy texture to balance out the filling. This sandwich is served only at lunch, so TREAT YO SELF one afternoon.
3. Fish Torta - Maria Selma
A good torta usually comes with an oversized bun, sour cream, tomato, avocado, lettuce, refried beans and any number of meats from pork to beef to chicken. The fish torta at Maria Selma isn't dramatically different -- they omit the beans and I omit the onion -- but it is how the fish is cooked that makes it one of my favorite sandwiches in town. Light and crispy, it is fried fish and chips-style with a flaky batter that crunches perfectly. The bun is fresh and savory. It's about as close as I've ever come to the perfect fish sandwich, and I would opt for it over a fish taco every time.
2. El Capitan - Bowl
The first few times I tried Bowl, I meandered around the menu trying the smoked salmon, the pulled pork and the turkey club -- all decent offerings -- but nothing compared to my thrill when I tried the El Capitan. I really like prosciutto -- probably more than I should -- and this mixture of salty prosciutto, warm brie, earthy basil and a drizzle of honey blew me away. The sweetness of both the basil and honey perfectly balances out the slight bitterness of the brie and the salty edge of the prosciutto. The whole thing is served warm on French bread fresh from a panini press. It looks sort of flat and almost seems like a smaller portion than the average sandwich, but it is loaded with flavor and more than filling.
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1. Chicken Philly - Pappa Geno's
Look, I know that the traditional Philly cheesesteak is probably everyone's favorite, but, seriously, try the chicken Philly. It is one of the most insanely wonderful things you'll ever eat. The crumbled chicken, onions and spices covered in cheese and served on what has to be the best bread in Houston is simply phenomenal. I've heard they fly the bread in special. Whatever they do, they have to keep it up because I have sweet, sweet dreams about that light, airy perfection. If this big boy didn't deliver enough calories to kill a horse, I'd probably eat one EVERY SINGLE DAY. It is THAT good and the reason it is at the top of my list.