Baoguette/Pho Sure

April 30, 2010

Banh mi are the latest sandwich fad to sweep Manhattan, tasty little Vietnamese sandwiches made with exotic ingredients and multiple sauces. I grew up on tuna fish from a can, Boar’s head, and PB&Js, so the ingredients (pork terrine, spicy curry beef, cat fish, etc.), are extremely exotic to me.

Although my first experience at Pho Sure didn’t go so well (I ordered incorrectly and didn’t like my sandwich), a friend insisted I try again. He came with me and helped me make my order. Because of him, I am now hooked on the Spicy Baoguette (aka the Classic). Consisting of porkterrine, pate, pulled pork, and fresh herbs, with cilantro and jalapenos thrown in to make the sandwich spicy.

When combined with the bread, a mixture of wheat and rice flour, the overall taste is better than the average white bread hero. This bread is hard and crusty on the outside, but allows the full flavor of the interior ingredients to be tasted with each bite. This combination makes for the kind of sandwich that will fill you up but, at the same time, leave you wanting another one as soon as possible.

The sandwiches come in three spices; Mild, Medium, and Spicy. If you’re like me, the spicy classic is the way to go. Loaded with jalapenos and cilantro, you’ll be gulping down glass after glass of water during and after eating this sandwich. This is actually a good thing. But be careful. These are full slices of jalapeno that we’re talking about, and you can eat an entire slice in one bite and not know it. Be prepared for the volcanic heat that will be emanating from your mouth.

One of the few drawbacks is the quality of the sandwich depends on the sandwich maker. For example, one would think all “spicy” sandwiches came with the same number of jalapenos but I have found this not to be the case. Regardless of the sandwich maker, this is a well-constructed sandwich, one that won’t have misc. ingredients all over your plate after each bite.

Another drawback is the side dishes. They’re not worth the cost (they’re about the same price as a sandwich) and they don’t taste anywhere near as good. Two weeks ago I accidentally ordered the vegetarian roll and it tasted like absolute cardboard. Dipping it in the provided sauce did not enhance the flavor whatsoever. The Fried Shrimp Summer roll, although tasty, isn’t worth the $6 because, after a quick review and dissection, you’re only getting 2 pieces of shrimp (1/2 a piece per role) and these are usually eaten in the first bite. Your second bite is all vermicelli and bean sprouts.

My biggest pet peeve is the fact that they’ve gotten my order wrong on numerous occasions. I blame the indifference of the people working behind the register. They act like they want to be somewhere else and your presence is a nuisance to them. However, even when the sandwich maker isn’t busy, he or she clearly hears your order yet makes the wrong sandwich anyway. It leads to a major case of disappointment when you get back to your office and take your first bite.

The wait is never an issue. If you have to wait more than 5 minutes it just means you’re there during peak lunch hour. The back restaurant rarely fills up which allows the sandwich maker and cashier to focus on walk-ins.

Although I will admit to not trying everything on the menu, eg, the cat fish, I’ve found that this is the kind of sandwich shop that once you find the sandwich that’s made for you, you will stick with that sandwich until you get tired of it. After 8 months, I’m not tired of the spicy classic baoguette.

With high quality sandwiches at affordably prices ($6 + tax for the majority of sandwiches [or, to put it in perspective, a dollar more than Subway]) and with multiple locations across Manhattan it’s easy to understand why these sandwiches have become the next big thing. Once you have one, you’ll be addicted to it (most people liken it to crack) and you’ll be going once a week. Trust me.

Baoguette/Pho Sure is located at 120 Christopher St.

Defonte’s of Brooklyn

April 23, 2010

Defonte’s of Brooklyn, a long-standing sandwich institution hailing from Red Hook, has finally branched out to Manhattan, specifically Gramercy. After eating two sandwiches, I’ve found that it was not worth the wait.

Shortly after the Grand Opening, the first sandwich I tried was the Joey Bishop. (Some sandwiches are named after the Italian members of the Rat Pack). I knew I was in the trouble shortly after ordering as my sandwich maker had no idea what sandwich I wanted. After ordering by number (27), he seemed to have a better idea of what sandwich he was just asked to make. I thought I was in good hands, until I saw him consult a piece of paper taped to the wall. It was the ingredients list. I understand there are a lot of sandwich combinations to memorize. However, the Bishop was one of the basics (ham, provolone, roasted peppers, balsamic, and extra virgin olive oil). I could barely taste the balsamic or the EVO and the roasted peppers slowly slid out of my sandwich making a nice pile on my plate. I wanted the peppers on my sandwich, not my plate. Thus, my sandwich quickly became ham and provolone, something I could have made on my own. And made better.

Being a glutton for punishment, I went back a few weeks later for a second sandwich. This time I decided on a plain old chicken parm hero (a.ka. # 32). This sandwich maker knew what I wanted without having to tell her the number. Good sign. But then, to my horror, she took each chicken cutlet and dipped in marinara sauce that was currently marinating the meatballs. Three times she did this. Three times I gave her a “What are you doing?” look. Is it that hard to have the marinara sauce sitting in a pan by itself? She then sprinkled on some parmesan and took the sandwich to the back, where mozzarella was added and baked on.

The chicken was over cooked. After the first bite it was obvious that the chicken had been sitting out all day, slowly turning into coasters. The sauce was non-existent. The mozzarella seemed to disappear after one bite. By the time I was done, there was two large, meatless butts of bread on my plate. I felt like asking “Where’s the Beef?” I’m sticking with the local pizzerias for chicken parm sandwiches from here on out.

Defontes also offers a host of sides that seem more suitable for a family gathering than lunch for one. The potato salad should be called onion and mayonaisse salad because, after two bites, you’re all out of potato and onion and mayo are all you have left. The others sides are your standard barbeque sides all of which look like they have mayo as the main ingredient.

A quick scan of their menu revealed that fried eggplant is one of their favorite ingredients (it’s featured on 7 out of 20 sandwiches). I’ve never put this on a sandwich, nor do I know anyone that has. I didn’t try to order off menu, so I don’t know if they’ll create sandwiches on demand. However, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The space itself is ridiculously tight. If you’re there during peak hours, it will get a little confusing as to who is ordering what to which sandwich maker. There’s no room to eat in store, unless you want a stranger standing over you as you eat.

Due to the lack of quality sandwich shops in the Gramercy area, a new sandwich shop was much needed and was welcomed with open arms. (It also helps that the store is located right around the corner from my apartment). However, after trying two sandwiches and being unhappy with both a third visit is out of the question. Perhaps I was asking for too much going to a shop with over 87 years of sandwich making experience.

An edited version of this “review” appeared on http://openpalatenyc.wordpress.com/ in June of 2009.

Defnote’s of Brooklyn is located at 261 3rd Ave (on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 21st St.)