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Sometimes, when the demands of the world leave you feeling pressed and wafer thin, packed between obligations and carelessly speared by some pick with a garish plastic frill, you might reach for consolation in a comforting bowl of hot soup. Soup certainly takes in the tears, but how do we gather the courage to face the world again? Like a motivating coach calling us back to the hustle of the game, Soup's good friend Sandwich understands the many layers of a situation, reminding us that what we need is to just get a handle on what waits before us and take a bite.
Even the most basic handheld sustenance can provide comfort, but a fancy sandwich? Now we're talking. There's certainly no shortage of upscale sandwiches here in Rochester -- try the paninis at CiBon, the focaccia at Edibles, or the gyros at Astoria for some good variations. But how about a great sandwich that's fancy, unusual, and even enlightening? I set out to find such a thing, a quest that has taken me around Rochester and led me to an important discovery: a sandwich is even good for dessert. Try the transcendent lemon crème sandwich cookies at Enjoy in HoneoyeFalls. While not all the fancy sandwiches I tried cut the Dijon, there were definite highlights:
If there's any place in town to grab a fancy sandwich, it's Park Avenue. Still, deciding among the many cafes with appetizing offerings and cute sidewalk seating can be disorienting, making the menu at Magnolia's (366 Park Ave, 271-7380, magnoliascafe.com) helpful. Named for nearby neighborhood streets, the sandwiches make for a sort of map, with the "Alexander" ($8.25) at the top. Fancy but not shmancy, the Alexander is a somewhat modest sandwich of solid white albacore tuna, bacon, red onions, and raspberry vinaigrette on a grilled Baker Street Bakery deli roll.
Magnolia's has perfected the tuna-mayo-celery ratio, making for a slopless scoop that's not too dry, with fine bits of celery that aren't too distracting. The onions are thinly sliced, adding crisp but unobtrusive pluck, and the bacon is well done. Raspberry vinaigrette brings it all together, both in tangy sweetness and in color, seeping pink through the bacon's burgundy and onions' magenta into the tuna and bread, creating a mild magnolia effect within sight of the real deal lining nearby Oxford Street. Hey, it's true. And if that's not fancy enough, customers can choose from a list of breads and posh ingredients to customize their own Park Ave sandwich. Served with chips and a pickle.
Why waste time by using an entire hand going from sandwich to fries, fries to sandwich, when you can just have it all at once? And what's that coleslaw doing on your plate instead of inside the bread? So it goes in Pittsburgh, and now here it is in Rochester, where Sticky Lips (625 Culver Rd, 288-1910, stickylipsbbq.com) puts its own spin on tradition with its "Pittsburgh Style Sandwiches" ($7.49).
You can choose one of eight meat or vegetarian options (including portabella mushroom), which is combined with seasoned fries, tomato, and mustard coleslaw, all piled between two slices of jalapeno cornbread and then grilled. While the expected kick of the bread may be a bit muted by the breadth of flavors within, it's still a yummy, messy treat. When ordered as a dinner ($9.95), choose two of the many Southern-inspired sides (such as the indulgent, gooey chorizo cheddar grits) and stave off the urge to stuff them, too, into the sandwich.
If you've been looking for an excuse to just grab the steak off your plate and eat it like a caveman, Pomodoro (1290 University Ave, 271-5000, thepomodorogrill.com) offers elegant means. The "Grilled Beef Tenderloin" lunch sandwich, with caramelized onions and gorgonzola ($10), is both adult and animalistic. The meat is not ground, sliced, or otherwise marred; it's a full-on 4 oz.-5 oz. steak, prepared to order and tastefully -- temptingly -- presented. This sandwich is served open, on simple French bread from Baker Street Bakery, releasing the aroma of what seems like a solid mass of French onion soup. The gorgonzola sits atop, melting just a little, while the upper half of the sandwich sits smartly alongside, preserving the cool of lettuce and tomato until you're ready to bring it all together. The remaining third of the plate is a nice portion of the house pasta salad, rounding it all off as a complete meal. The way this sandwich eats may be immodest to describe...I've already said too much.
Our gentle vegan brethren might like a sandwich too, which makes Java's Café (16 Gibbs St, 232-4820, javascafe.com) a nice place to lunch. The "Organic Tofu Lin" ($6.50) is light and tasty, served with tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, onion, greens, alfalfa sprouts, and your choice of about 10 homemade dressings. The mango curry vinaigrette offers a nice tang to the fresh veggies that top the thin, flavorful strips of marinated tofu. Served on fresh ciabatta, this sandwich comes with no sides, making a light but satisfying mid-day repast, paired nicely with a specialty beverage for sitting outside, soaking in the sunshine, and catching the occasional glimpses -- and glances, perhaps -- of interesting passersby. Served for lunch only.
The interior of Open Face Sandwich Eatery (651 South Ave, 232-3050, openfacesandwicheatery.com) is as interesting as the South Wedge neighborhood in which it's located. You might hardly notice any view at all, however, other than the plate in front of you when presented with the unusual, original sandwiches for which Open Face is known. Take the vegetarian "Corn Mash" ($7.95). A study in color, texture, and flavor, the Corn Mash is what chef and co-owner Jared Valentine describes as "gourmet comfort food."
The mash itself, a warm and mushy concoction of roasted corn, seasonings, and bits of red bell pepper, basks on a bread of choice (rye is nice), topped with strips of cheddar (or without, for a vegan meal), mixed greens, a sweet drizzle of apricot barbeque glaze, and a generous sprinkling of those delightful French-fried onions, all served up toasted and, well, open-faced. When ordered with the ginger carrots (there are other side options, but the carrots offer a refreshing pucker), the effect is somehow both soothing and stimulating. With that light ping of red bell pepper in the mix, the flavor builds upon each bite, leaving a pleasing warm spiciness to savor long after its sunset colors vanish from view.
Each component of the "Turkey and Brie in a Baguette" ($7.95) served at the George Eastman House Café (900 East Ave, 271-3361 ext. 223, eastmanhouse.org) is essential, including the heat that toasts it. A hot, crusty shell encases a hearty, stylish interior of sliced roasted turkey, softened brie, and the one ingredient that remains ever-changing: the dressing.
Chef and café manager ToniLynnPalozzi keeps an interesting rotation going, with the popular cranberry relish always on hand. Still, she likes to mix things up and try out other flavors, sometimes offering a cilantro-orange marmalade, sometimes a basil pesto to make the zesty "Alberto." But it doesn't even matter; it's always good, and it's most enjoyable after a day at the museum, or for a break between strolls through the gardens, or as a prelude to a film screening at the Dryden. Served with a pickle and a choice of side.
After a regular customer orders the same sandwich repeatedly, they typically refer to it as "the usual." After one regular customer at Peppers (101 East Lake Rd, Canandaigua, 394-0780) ordered the "Italian Delight" more than 400 times since the restaurant opened in 2004, owner Tim Gray decided to just go for it and rename the sandwich "David's Delight" ($6.79).
This sandwich goes for it: cappicola, salami, and pepperoni grilled with fresh mozzarella and basil, grilled tomatoes, and Italian dressing on a grilled ciabatta bun. Did you get all that? That's a lot that's grilled, and it is just about an entire day's allotment of flavor, packing the antipasti plate into one hot sandwich. The fresh mozzarella is a superb touch, melting and binding the salty spice of the meats, the liquid respite of the tomato, and the perfect amount of fresh basil that takes it just to the top. Served with a choice of homemade sides.
Did we miss your favorite local fancy sandwich? Tell us about it by commenting on this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.