• Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    All Star Sandwich Bar

    The Concept
    A dictionary entry for “Sandwich” is cleverly stenciled on the wall.
    Function: noun
    Etymology: John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich died 1792 English diplomat
    1 a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between

    Eager to try Chris Schlesinger’s tribute to the all American institution: the sandwich, which I love. We hopped over to Inman Square, a funky neighborhood near Central Square. Inman Square is also home to Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill – well known to those of us with a love of heat.

    The All Star Sandwich Bar was nearly packed, clearly humming. It was about what I expected including the crowd: hipsters, a fair amount of ink, piercings, the ubiquitous wrinkled clothes, and a sprinkling of tech geeks, noses in books.

    The Menu
    The menu intentionally tilts toward retro and celebrates the down-home comfort of a I respect it for not trying to be something it’s not, and for celebrating the simple joy of something good stuffed between two pieces of bread or roll.

    The “no wraps” logo on servers’ shirts and elsewhere indicates the disdain for the ubiquitous tortilla, or lavash wrapper for fillings that seem to be everywhere since carbs were demonized by the late Dr. Atkins and his diet. (If his slip-and-fall death is not evidence of the universe’s sense of irony, but I digress.)

    Menu features I like:

    • regional specialties like (a French Dip, I think, from Buffalo NY);
    • BBQ Pork (Eastern NC);
    • Tuna Melt (Rexburg, ID – I thought some college diner was responsible for these but no further info on origin is offered.)

    The menu also offers lunchtime diners the half/half option, which I love. Half a sandwich and soup. Here, you may also order a duo and trio; any two or three half sandwiches. Very cool.

    Three hot dogs are offered including the ominously named “Ripper”. I didn’t ask.

    Back to our order. I normally avoid ordering a Reuben, even simple corned beef or pastrami, unless I am sitting in a proper Kosher deli. God knows what goyem will do to these lovely items. I’ve heard some even defile them with mayo. I trust Schlesinger to get it right, so I fearlessly order a Reuben. Plus, the corned beef is done in-house, who could resist?

    My dinner partner ordered an “Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown”, described as “Grilled Meatloaf with Monterey Jack Cheese, Inner Beauty Hot Sauce and Red Onion Chutney on Sourdough.”

    We also order fries with gravy on the side and cider cole slaw. (Admittedly, proper Reuben sides should be: dill pickles, pickled tomatoes, maybe some slaw. I’ve been telling my husband about gravy on fries forever, and here they were. We order them. I know, it’s almost as bad as mayo.)

    About 5 – 10 minutes after we order, another couple comes in and sits at the far end of our six top.

    Another 10 minutes or so go by and the couple, who sat down after we placed our order, is served the following:
    One Reuben; one Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown; one order of fries, with gravy on the side.

    Hey, wait a minute….
    I expect one of them to say, “This isn’t what I ordered.”
    Instead, I hear “I could NOT be happier.” “Mmmm, great.”

    I try to get our server’s attention, and try…

    The Service
    I didn’t see “in the weeds” stenciled on the wall, but it could be added. Then again, it probably isn’t necessary as the definition is becoming apparent quickly.

    For those who’ve not waited tables, to be “in the weeds”, is to be so hopelessly behind, to be swamped, that you are unable to keep up. Imagine being in a swamp with your motor, oars whatever, tangled in the unseen weeds along the bottom and edge, you get the picture.

    To be fair, it’s opening week and we were there during prime time, about quarter to 7 PM on a Tuesday night. And what, by Zeus, are the odds of another couple sitting at the end of the same table, ordering exactly the same order? Who gets gravy fries with a Reuben?

    I manage to flag down our server, and ask her to check on our order. She is completely confused as to why I would ask. She looks like I just asked her to split an atom. I point to the end of the table and indicate that I think it might be that our order was served to them.

    She walks back to the open kitchen to ask the Expo (expediter, who assembles orders and ensures they are complete and timed properly before being served). Expo points to dupes hanging (the carbon copy duplicates) and the server leafs through her wallet – then turns to look at our table with horror on her face and her hand over her mouth. (Here’s a tip Sweetie – don’t sign up for the world poker tour.)

    She comes back to our table with a green salad. “Here’s your salad to start.” Only we didn’t order a salad. The guy eating my husband’s meatloaf sandwich says “Oh, that’s ours, I think.” The girl eating my Reuben tries hard not to look our way, but is clearly enjoying her/my sandwich.

    Inexplicably, the server takes the salad back to the kitchen. More rifling through the hanging dupes and her checks. The couple looks at us in surprise. I explain, he looks chagrined. I tell them not to worry; it’s not their fault, after all. She brings their salad back to them and tells us our order will be out shortly.

    My “bottomless” glass is empty (okay not so unusual for me.) I ask the busboy for more iced tea. He goes to the server, takes her behind the wall of the open kitchen so I can’t see them. I wonder to myself why I didn’t try out my bad Spanish thé con hielo, por favor? She comes over to ask what we need. I’m wondering when she’s going to say the magic word, or bring us something to nosh on. I ask for some slaw or fries or …slaw arrives.

    The food arrives
    The fries are thin and crispy with just a bit of skin. Really perfect, not a smidge of grease. The mark of a sure hand at the fryer and good oil. The gravy looks a little pale, but tastes fine.

    My/her Reuben is pretty good, grilled (which I’ll roll with) but it was a little heavy on the grill lubricant, which I’d swear was butter. The "pickles" are a sweet and crunchy relish which includes onion and carrots. The Russian dressing was good and oozed out as I bit into the crunchy salty delight.

    Napkins? At just under 5 inches square they were as inadequate as Oakland or Green Bay’s offensive lines last night. For non-fans, that means completely, wholly inadequate.

    And now we turn to the meatloaf sandwich. We are not chili wimps, no strangers to heat. And we’ve been to “Hell Night” at Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill, so maybe we should have read more carefully the meatloaf description: “atomic” “meltdown” and “Inner Beauty Hot Sauce” were three clues. This hot sauce incorporates both Scotch Bonnet and Habanera peppers. Top of the Scoville scale.

    But when the sweat pops so fast under your eyes that your makeup runs and your scalp instantly tingles and dampens, it’s kind of hard to pay attention to what you’re eating. We scraped the meatloaf and traded halves. The meatloaf was good and had great grill flavor, after stripping it of some chilis.

    The Verdict
    I celebrate the return of the sandwich to its proper place of honor. I will always forgive service issues in opening weeks, in the case of inexperienced servers if the attitude and attentiveness is there, and/or if mistakes are properly handled. We’ve kind of got 2.5 out of three. Our server was nice, but clearly over her head and too slow to realize how in the weeds she was. She did finally acknowledge that things had gone a little south and said an adjustment would be made. She also brought out some Oreos (one of the desserts on the menu) with the check.

    Larger napkins are a must. Even though we were given a stack, I don’t want to have to go through five per bite just to keep my lap, mouth and hands somewhat clean.

    I’d like a little more info on the origins of the sandwiches that have region of origin designations. It’s interesting and clearly part of the reason for the restaurant’s theme. It could have been something to read while we waited.

    The service issues are a bit surprising since there were at least three or four experienced staff I recognized from East Coast Grill. The purpose of opening a new place with your trusted staff is to ensure they will anticipate, catch, and smooth over the rough spots. It becomes more imperative with an open kitchen where one can see one’s server rifling through dupes and observe the orders as they’re readied for the serving, to one or another diner.

    As the menu states, “A Good Sandwich is like an Old Friend.” There is immense joy and comfort in old friends, even with flaws; worth sticking by, through thick and thin. It will be interesting to see when it occurs to me to revisit the All Star Sandwich Bar.

    That will be the true measure: old friend or just passing acquaintance?

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    Blogger Michael said...

    Great article! Checking out the link for weck, I came across a reference to a "garbage plate" meal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garbage_plate It looks completely disgusting, yet I am fascinated by it. Anyone tried one of these? And does Nick Tahou have any cultural significance beyond being the founder of the restaurant? To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, they should serve this with a free angioplasty.

    10:32 AM  
    Anonymous Bankruptcy said...

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    2:06 AM  
    Blogger JacquelineC said...

    Thanks to both of you for checking in. I apologize for late responses here. Just discovered a huge backlog of responses waiting for me...oops.


    2:18 AM  
    Blogger Marc said...

    I went to the All Star Sandwich Bar last night. Excellent food, though the ripper turned out to be a basic hot dog, in my opinion. The corned beef and pastrami were amazing, though!

    3:24 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Slathered mayonnaise on thin sliced
    bread, turkey, stuffing, and relish.

    If you order the Gobbler sandwich at the
    All Star Sandwich Bar you might not want
    mayonnaise slathered on the thin sliced
    brioche bread in the sandwich as they do
    with the delicious turkey, stuffing and
    relish. You might want the brioche bread
    sliced thinker.

    The Gobbler sandwich at the All Star
    Sandwich Bar
    House Roasted Turkey, Apple-Sausage
    Stuffing and Orange-Cranberry Relish on
    Brioche 7.75

    All Star Sandwich Bar home of the
    sandwich hall of fame

    5:54 AM  

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