Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Couldn’t Decide…

whether to title this blog “It’s in the Bag” or “A Quickie for Lunch.” I’ll let you decide which you like better.

We were headed to the northern part of Tucson with a couple of short stops to make first and decided that we wouldn’t make specific plans for lunch. We would just find something on the way. Sometimes this works well. Sometimes it doesn’t.

As we were leaving Walgreens, I spied a Falafel King across the street, but as much as I like falafel, I knew that this was a national chain. But then I noticed that a couple of store fronts down was a Baggin’s Gourmet Sandwiches. Baggin’s is a local sandwich shop with eight locations in the Tucson area. “These popular gourmet sandwich shops have won local ‘Best Sandwich’ awards for the past several years. The combination of great homemade food and a fun Southwestern atmosphere makes Baggin's a hot spot for the lunch crowd” (tucsonguidemagazine.com).

I don’t know whose “best of” awards they have won since Baggin’s is a constant runner-up to Beyond Bread in tucsonweekly.com’s “Best Sandwich” competition. But I know that Baggin’s is reputed to serve good food fast, and since time was at a premium, this seemed to be a good option.
We bypassed all of the more elaborate sandwich options and headed to the menu section entitled “Baggin’s Quickies” where there was a list of seven sandwiches that could be ordered on twelve grain, sourdough, marbled rye, and Italian white breads or on an eight-inch sub roll. As condiments you can add sprouts, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, onion, and cucumber.
We placed our order at the counter and took a seat to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, someone came to our table to check on what we ordered. That person left. We waited. And waited. So much for a quickie.

Finally, lunch arrived. And here the name “Baggin’s” became clear. Whether you dine in or take out, your sandwich comes in a paper bag that, for those dining in, can then be used as a placemat.

Chuck’s choice was the oven roasted turkey breast “quickie” with mayo and sprouts on marble rye. Yes, you read that right. Sprouts!
My sandwich was the grilled pastrami on marble rye with mustard. The pastrami was aromatic and juicy, but the sandwich was ruined by way too much, too strong mustard.
But as compensation for our extended wait we did get a freebie—in fact six freebies in the form of six cookies that we took home for later that evening.

Maybe if we’d had the time to order one of Baggin’s Specialty sandwiches I might consider them to be a worthy runner-up to Beyond Bread, but really can’t award more than 3.0 Addies.

**********

When most people think of Chicago food, they think of steak, hot dogs, and deep-dish pizza. But there is another Chicago favorite that, while perhaps not as well known, is equally beloved by those who grew up in the Chicago area. And that is the Italian hot roast beef sandwich.

“Origins of the sandwich are disputed, but one early vendor, Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, opened its first stand in 1938. One story has it that the Italian Beef sandwich was started by Italian immigrants who worked for the old Union Stock Yards. They often would bring home some of the tougher, less desirable cuts of beef sold by the company. To make the meat more palatable, it was slow-roasted to make it more tender, then slow-simmered in a spicy broth for flavor. Both the roasting and the broth used Italian-style spices and herbs. The meat was then thinly sliced across the grain and stuffed into fresh Italian bread.

“According to Scala's Original Beef and Sausage Company…this meal was originally introduced at weddings and banquets where the meat was sliced thinly so there would be enough to feed all the guests. It rapidly grew in popularity and eventually became one of Chicago's most famous ethnic foods: the original Italian beef sandwich” (wikipedia.org).

And Tucson is home to an emporium that serves out these Chicago specialties—Luke’s Sandwiches.
But they don’t stop there and offer a Chicago Dog (pure beef kosher hot dog served on a poppy seed roll and topped with mustard, relish, onions, pickle, tomatoes and sport peppers), an Italian Sausage Sandwich (Italian sausage made with lean pork shoulder served on a hard French roll and dipped in au jus), and a combination Italian sausage and hot roast beef sandwich called The Del.
But we played it straight and each ordered the Italian Roast beef with a cup of hot peppers on the side for me.
(I have learned that there are significant different levels of heat in what a menu calls “hot peppers,” so am unwilling to make a total commitment before a pre-taste.)
Luke’s makes the sandwich in true Chicago style—the roll is dipped in the au jus before the thin sliced and seasoned meat is piled into it. And here is where the roll may be the most important element to the sandwich. You need something that has a soft interior but with a crust that is sufficiently substantial so as to not disintegrate when dipped in the jus. Luke’s met the test with flying colors.
This was by no means the best meal we have eaten in Tucson, but sometimes you just want a straight-forward sandwich and Luke’s does just that. As a result, it earns 4.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.