The Best Sandwiches: Part 1
From old favorites to new classics (and a few chefs’ secrets), our ultimate guide uncovers the Hub's best sandwiches.
Given the culinary genius in Boston, we thought a good sandwich would be a cinch to find. So off we went, gobbling up more than 30 contenders. We deconstructed, then reassembled, them, taking into account bite radius, meat distribution, and overall dimension. And what did we learn? That finding the perfect sandwich is like rediscovering a lost art. From old favorites to new classics, edible escapes, and a few chefs’ secrets, here is our ultimate guide to the best.
Part 1: Old Favorites
Roast Beef Traditionalists will tell you to head north of town, where the accents are as thick as the offerings, for a hot roast beef slathered in sauce. But we prefer a less sloppy version from DeLuca’s Market, which has all the flavor without the dialect. Fill a bulkie roll with provolone, tomato, and beef that’s lined with a hot, peppery edge. A green leaf of Boston lettuce is the only accent you’ll need. $5.99, DeLuca’s Market, 239 Newbury St., Boston, 617-262-5990.
Ham and Cheese The whole world has a love affair with this pair. The French transform it into croque-monsieur and the Germans ask for schinkenbrot mit käse. In Boston, the Appleton Bakery & Café calls it a York: thick Black Forest ham piled on a baguette with Dijon, Swiss cheese, crunchy lettuce, and fresh tomatoes. Appleton’s deli masters choose just the right trimmings to make this a world-class competitor. $7.50, Appleton Bakery & Café, 123 Appleton St., Boston, 617-859-8222, appletonbakery.com.
Traditional Turkey The post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich isn’t just a holiday treat when there’s the Mayflower at Cambridge’s Pemberton Farms. Layers of roasted turkey meet with sage stuffing, leafy lettuce, mayo, and a heap of cranberry relish to create a delightfully stackable meal. Homemade touches such as carrots in the stuffing and sourdough bread from Iggy’s make this day-after tradition just right—every day of the year. $6, Pemberton Farms, 2225 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-491-2244, pembertonfarms.com.
Tuna Salad The menu at Parish Café is dotted with celebrity chef–designed stackers, but for a tangy take on the tuna melt, the owners took inspiration from their favorite cartoon character: Charlie T. (for tuna) of the Sea. Called the Alternative, it combines fresh tuna with chopped onions and roasted red pepper mayonnaise for a smoky salad served open-faced on toast triangles. A blanket of Monterey jack with browned bacon on top make it proof positive that celebrity status isn’t everything. $9.95, Parish Café, 361 Boylston St., Boston, 617-247-4777, parishcafe.com.
Meatloaf When you’re, like, “I could eat a shoe” hungry, nothing looks better than a substantial plate of food—especially one with a side of fries. That’s when you’ll want to tuck into the open-faced meatloaf monster at Sólás: a hearty base of Texas toast (translation: grilled white bread) topped with ground beef–chorizo meatloaf and drizzled with mushroom gravy. The requisite pile of fries fills out this already-full plate. $10, Sólás, 710 Boylston St., Boston, 617-933-4803, solasboston.com.
Reuben The South End’s chic Union Bar and Grille isn’t the first place you’d think of for a killer Reuben. But there it is, frank and unassuming. And what a Reuben: Filled with Swiss, corned beef, sauerkraut, and caper mustard, it’s grilled until the rye is ideally toasted—entirely indulgent. $14, Union Bar and Grille, 1357 Washington St., Boston, 617-423-0555, unionrestaurant.com.
Turkey Avocado Club While we appreciate a triple-decker now and then, the single-layered club from Bagel Rising is a fine substitute with one groundbreaking twist: Instead of toast, it’s on a kettle-boiled bagel. An optional layer of mayo and a shmeer of creamy avocado spread enclose a manageable pile of lettuce, onions, deli turkey, Swiss cheese, two slices of bacon, and tomato. $5.93, Bagel Rising, 1243 Commonwealth Ave., Allston, 617-789-4000, bagelrising.com.
Egg Salad There is a serious shortage of decent egg-salad options in this town. But Darwin’s takes a stand with the Sumner: a mouth-watering mix of eggs, chopped celery, Worcestershire sauce, and a dab of mayo topped with lettuce, tomato, and ripe avocado. When it’s served on thick, seven-grain date bread, the hint of fruit flawlessly balances this savory salad. $5.75, Darwin’s, 148 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-354-5233; 1629 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-2999, darwinsltd.com.
B.L.T. If you’re of the school that anything’s better with bacon, the Applewood-smoked bacon, L, and T, at Flour Bakery + Café is an A-plus. We counted four well-crisped strips atop a pile of tomato and a fistful of arugula, all stuffed between mayo-slathered grilled focaccia. Truly a marvel in proportional mastery, it’s guaranteed to convert any waffling vegetarian. $6.50, Flour Bakery + Café, 1595 Washington St., Boston, 617-267-4300, flourbakery.com.
Coming up in Part 2: The New Classics.
The best sandwich-makers know that for every conceivable stacker, there's one perfect bread. Expert baker Christy Timon and husband Abe Faber, who own Brookline’s Clear Flour Bread, couldn’t agree more. “Bread is the foundation for it all. It keeps everything together and flavor really matters,” says Abe. To that end, they bake 12 to 14 types of bread daily to deliver to restaurants like Sibling Rivalry and Oleana and to sell in their own retail store. And while each restaurant (and customer) has a personal bread agenda, the owners have found that for every conceivable sandwich, there’s one perfect bread to make it on. Here’s your cheat sheet.
•Deli sandwiches (sliced turkey or ham): Try a buckwheat walnut bread or sourdough white. Both will stand up to a condiment like cranberry relish or horseradish sauce.
•Hot sandwiches (roast beef and burgers): Soft-crusted bread goes best. It’s hard enough to get the mouth around a burger, so use a pain d’amie or brioche which are both soft and soak up a lot of juice.
•Messy subs (meatball or Italian): These fillings need whole-crusted breads like demi or French baguettes. Pull out a little of the middle to make room for more filling or leave it there to turn it into a big, crusty-rimmed sponge.
•Deli-salad sandwiches (tuna or egg salad): These work best on challah but a seven-grain loaf or even German rye works too.
•Paninis: Ciabatta which is purposely flat is best sliced in half for these grilled sandwiches. The juices won’t go through the outer crust but each slice is still tender.
•Breakfast sandwich: Go with a hearty, full-grain German bread like leinsamenbrot, a flaxseed bread that toasts up beautifully. Clear Flour’s raisin-walnut studded bread Paris Night (limited availability, call ahead) also tastes great toasted with a dab of cream cheese. Clear Flour Bread, 178 Thorndike St., Brookline, 617-739-0060, clearflourbread.com.
Coming up in Part 2: The New Classics.
Reported, written, and eaten by Cheryl Alkon, Jane Black, James Burnett, Blythe Copeland, Sascha de Gersdorff, Alyssa Giacobbe, John Gonzalez, Christie Matheson, Lena Watts, and John Wolfson.