Sandwich of the Week is For The Win’s celebration of sandwiches. If you have a sandwich you’d like to recommend, please direct it to the author’s Facebook page.
Maybe I’m doing a better job scouting sandwiches or maybe it’s just a run of good luck, but I’m on one hell of a hot streak lately. I suspect that my ongoing fitness kick is, perhaps ironically, driving me to find better sandwiches and enjoy them more: I’m trying to make every sandwich count, and since the sandwiches now normally follow some form of workout, I’m usually eating them while very hungry.
The P.H.O. 2017 from Sunny and Annie’s Deli on the corner of 6th St. and Avenue B in Manhattan.
There was no way I was going to remember everything on here, so I took a photo of the menu.
(USA TODAY Sports)
Up until the point I ordered, I planned to get it with pork, but the guy asked, “chicken cutlet or beef?” After a moment of sheer panic, I elected not to follow up about the availability of pork and just stammer out, “beef!” Maybe they were out of pork, maybe no one ever orders pork, or maybe the guy mistook me for a man who does not want pork. It all worked out.
Important background information
Like Sal, Kris and Charlie’s before it, Sunny and Annie’s is a place that has long been on my radar that I have entirely missed until now. But to be fair, I suspect there are people who live within a couple of the blocks of the place, love great sandwiches, and also miss out entirely just for not being vigilant in their online sandwich searching. Sunny and Annie’s looks like every other corner grocery in New York City, and it sells beer and canned food and blunts and sketchy libido pills just like all those places do. But unlike most of those places, this one apparently employs a sandwich mastermind — maybe several sandwich masterminds.
I happened to choose the P.H.O. 2017 for my first foray at Sunny and Annie’s, but the deli case is covered with handwritten signs advertising a vast array of wildly conceived sandwiches with such a massive variety of ingredients that it’s almost impossible to believe they really have all that stuff back there. There’s also a framed, fading photo of Seth Rogen, in sunglasses, posing with three store employees.
What it looks like
(USA TODAY Sports)
How it tastes
Holy [expletive]. [Expletive] [expletive]! For [expletive’s] [expletive], [expletive].
This sandwich tastes like no sandwich I’ve ever had before, but also, somehow, like every great sandwich I’ve ever had. It’s spicy, sweet, salty, juicy, pungent, earthy, meaty, toasty, crunchy, crispy, creamy, chewy, and a bunch of other descriptors I can’t remember now. It is all of the flavors and all of the textures, all at once, in glorious, mind-blowing harmony. It tastes like someone summoned all the angels from heaven and crammed them into sub roll with some hoisin sauce.
On other sandwiches with this many ingredients, they might all blend together to form one unified flavor — and that’s not a bad thing. But this sandwich presents more of a “Yanny/Laurel” effect, wherein a discerning eater might recognize the taste of any individual ingredient he is thinking about at the time of the bite.
Can I taste the cilantro? Oh, yeah, now that I think of it, this thing has a strong hint of cilantro’s unmistakable bite.
OK, but what about the jalapenos? Yes, some of that heat and some of that crunch is coming from the jalapenos, for sure.
But surely the mozzarella cheese gets lost in here! No, wait — I taste that too, the milky flavor, the delicate creaminess.
It’s all there. All of it. It literally took one bite of this sandwich before I was considering whether it was the best I have ever eaten in New York City. Do you know how many sandwiches I’ve eaten in New York City? Are you kidding? I’m reluctant to crown this the best sandwich in this borough based on only one experience, but I’m confident it’s right there near the top. It’s just so freaking good.
Also, it turns out cantaloupe is a fully inspired and genuinely excellent topping. Again, I’ve eaten so many damn sandwiches, and I’ve never before had a sandwich with cantaloupe on it. Heck, I don’t even really like cantaloupe on its own. But the cantaloupe here is just a touch underripe, which both prevents it from being so sweet and so juicy as to overpower the sandwich and adds a hint of texture and tartness to the thing. The cantaloupe, here, is fulfilling the role normally assigned to — but rarely fulfilled by — sliced tomato inside a sandwich. It’s sweet, it’s moist, it offers a subtle hint of pleasant fruity flavor, but it’s not gooey or mealy like too many lousy, out-of-season tomatoes foisted upon my lunches.
The roll is fresh and good, but no match whatsoever for everything stuffed inside it. This sandwich is a mess, but absolutely worth the extra laundry burden it necessitates. Also, they provide a bunch of napkins in the bag, which might be useful if you’re willing to take time away from the sandwich to wipe your hands.
The limiting factor here, for some, might be that it’s extremely spicy. I like spicy foods and often wind up adding hot sauce to foods advertised for their spiciness, but this was around the upper limits of the spice level I can bear before it transitions from pleasant to painful.
What it costs
$10.99, but it’s a big sandwich. I finished the first half knowing it was plenty for a meal and that I should probably save the second half for later. Then I decided I needed to make sure the sandwich was really as good as I thought it was and should take at least a bite or two from the second half, and then, next thing I knew, the second half was gone.
Hall of Fame?
Inner circle. Inner-inner circle, even. The sample size here is one, but it was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had in my entire life.