Discovering a good sandwich shop is a lot like finding a good friend. They are not easy to come upon, but once you do, you don’t want to give them up. Being a recent transplant from Chicago, and without a lot of coin to commit to eating, a sandwich can be a fulfilling and rewarding meal without going broke in the process.
I like to think of this edition as the Charlotte Sandwich Shootout, and it’s just the first of many food challenges in which I’ll be serving as judge, jury and eater extraordinaire. I know I’m a new guy and I’ll be stepping on the toes of all you people with very cemented opinions, but hey, that’s the point of the column.I searched high and low for contenders and came up with three popular spots Charlotteans seem to enjoy, then went to each at least twice to sample the fare and get an honest assessment.
The first stop on my venture was at The Sandwich Club in Uptown. Looking at the lines, I thought they were giving something away. It’s definitely popular with the lunchtime work crowd. There are 32 choices on the menu and a special of the day, plus the ability to build your own. They’re open from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and sandwiches will run you less than $10.
During my first venture, I had My Cousin Vinny. It came with grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, arugula and pesto mayo on a toasted ciabatta. The pesto mayo resonated more on my first bite than the chicken. The ciabatta was a good platform for the sandwich (remember that for later; bread is important). The sandwich was nicely packed and was a good value for $8, but didn’t excite my taste buds.
On my next visit I brought my wife. I went with the Urban Farmer with smoked turkey, goat cheese, avocado and sun-dried tomato aioli that appeared missing in action. It was served on multigrain bread. My wife went with the Black Forest sandwich, which included turkey, muenster and Thousand Island on pumpernickel. Her comment was, “I could make this at home.”
I thought my sandwich was boring, again only noticing some flavor in the first bite. I did try a sandwich that’s supposed to be very popular on a later visit called The Gobbler with turkey, whole cranberry sauce and stuffing on rye. The cranberry resonated on every bite, but the rest was blah. If I want cranberry sauce with my Thanksgiving turkey, I now know where to go.
I do have a suggestion of what to choose if you make the trip. Build your own with Cajun turkey, jalapeno jack, roasted red peppers, red onions and romaine with sriracha aioli on a baguette. It was delicious to the last bite and my wife agreed. I named it the Paradise Special. (Don’t ask why.) Order it if you go there and I guarantee you will be happy. If enough of you ask for it, maybe they’ll put it on the menu. Make sure you tell them the name after you check off the ingredients.
My next stop was the Noda Bodega. It’s a funky little shop in a small strip mall with no visible name on the building if you’re driving by, so follow your GPS. They do have a sign in the window if you look closely, along with a stand-up placard in front of the place that wasn’t there on my first visit. The choices aren’t as plentiful here, but the sandwiches are tastier. In addition, they have daily specials along with a few potluck choices on the weekend. They’re open until 8 p.m. during the week and 5 p.m. on the weekend. Everything is under 10 bucks, outside of the occasional special.
We ordered the Italian Stallion and the Caprese. The Stallion included prosciutto, finocchiona, capocollo, fresh mozzarella, basil and peppadew relish on a nicely toasted baguette. The peppadew popped with flavor. The Caprese started with fresh mozzarella, roasted tomato spread, tomatoes, basil, EVOO and balsamic on a baguette. There was a nice balance between the tomato and balsamic flavors. Bread is one of the key ingredients for a sandwich and this place gets it right.
Both sandwiches were good. My wife preferred the Stallion because she likes meat, while I was torn as they were both tasty. We went back the next day and ordered the bulgogi cheesesteak from the potluck selections. My wife liked it even better than the previous day’s sandwiches, while I would have preferred more spice — still tasty though.
The final stop on my quest was Common Market. My wife and I went to the South End location, before I later ventured on my own to Plaza Midwood for another bite. It seems everybody talks about this place and it’s a favorite around town. Hours vary per location so call ahead for sandwiches. The selections are plentiful just like they are at the Sandwich Club. You can make your own here, too. Most sandwiches will run you from around $6 to $8.
I chose the Turkey Capri on sourdough and my wife selected the Simple Simon on honey wheat. She chose her sandwich with ham as turkey or roast beef were also options. It came with red onion, tomato and lettuce. Simple, right? And boring, because according to her she said it didn’t have much flavor and said, “I will never get that again.” Her highlight was the potato chips.
My turkey sandwich was no better. It was equipped with sundried tomato and goat cheese spread, barely-there red onions, and baby spinach. My first thought was, not much excitement. I actually thought her boring sandwich was better than mine. If this sandwich was in my Spiderman lunch bucket when I was a kid, I would have traded with a friend.
On a second visit, I opted for the Spicy Turkey panini to see if a hot sandwich was better. It was, and the marble rye was crisp from toasting to help, but the most pronounced flavor came from the banana peppers and the spicy brown mustard. The turkey was bland. There was also a red bell pepper, pepper jack and red onion along for the ride, but it didn’t take it anywhere. It was better but nothing special, and they seriously can use some crusty bread as an option.
The Common Market seems like an interesting place with cool people hanging out and a great selection of beers to choose from, but you can find better sandwiches.
As for my winner, I’d have to go with Noda Bodega. I give the Sandwich Club second for my Paradise Special, (though it might have been the best sandwich), with the Common Market a distant third. I think the lesson here is more choices doesn’t necessarily add up to better sandwiches.
There was a late contender to the mix that I discovered where they make their own bread, so maybe I’ll write about it sometime in the future with your help. Tell me your go-to-spot and your favorite sandwich there. I’ll try to check them out and see how they stack up to my choice. We can call it the Charlotte Sandwich Shootout 2.
Everyone loves a good sequel, right?