I’m going to admit upfront that this review kind of stretches the definition of “sandwich.” Personally, I’ve refined my idea of what a sandwich is to be a food item/filling (normally meats, cheeses, or vegetables, or a combination of those) wrapped in bread, for ease of eating (in that you use your hands). This concept includes wraps, hot dogs, tacos, and the like, but not, for example, ravioli.

It also includes Tornados, a brand of taquito-type snack foods sold at finer convenience stores nationwide. Tornados consist of a fried corn crust wrapped around any number of fillings. The most common variants tend to include steak and chicken, Tornados have been filled with everything from sausage and eggs to apples and cinnamon to meatballs and marinara sauce. The key to these little products is that they can be cooked on the same rollers as hot dogs, allowing nearly anyone with a concession stand-style hot dog roller to sell them. It was this ingenuity which first drew me to them.

A Whirlwind of Flavor!! (to say the least)

Tornados are generally pretty good, as cheap, greasy snack food goes. I tend to like options with cheese over others, and the breakfast versions can be hit or miss. The key is that they’re only about a dollar apiece, and they’re a hot entree that’s not a hot dog you can buy from a gas station or convenience store. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to try one, but next time you’re at the gas station (or if, like me, you live a couple blocks away from a Circle K), pick one up. Trust me, there are worse ways to spend a dollar.

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Panera Bread is not a restaurant I review frequently, and not without reason.  While their sandwiches are generally delicious and their baked goods top-notch, Panera Bread usually skews a bit more expensive than I’d like, especially when eating at a chain restaurant.  However, I’d like to branch out a little bit, so I decided to swing by Panera last week and see what’s new.

Full disclosure: I have no idea if the Cuban Chicken Panini is new or not. It just looked good.

Reviewing the Cuban Chicken Panini requires a little bit of background.  A Cuban sandwich is a ham and cheese variant which includes sliced ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.  It’s sort of like a Reuben, in terms of flavors (the mustard and pickles give it a bite), but less kosher.  It’s a great lunch choice, and I recommend ordering one if you’re at a restaurant which offers it.

Here, Panera has chosen to trade out the roasted pork for roasted chicken.  It’s an interesting choice, and with the addition of chipotle mayo, it makes for a tasty sandwich.  It’s a little bit different than a usual Cuban, but still close enough that the name makes sense, unlike some other sandwiches (looking at you, T.N.T Reuben).  It’s about $8 for the sandwich and a drink, and well worth checking out, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the style.

Sandwich Link: JAPADOG

January 30, 2012

I recently found this website, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  It belongs to a Canadian hot dog stand chain called JAPADOG, whose stated mission is “making the world happy and alive through hot dogs!”  The chain boasts five locations in Vancouver and a new one in New York City.  JAPADOG prepares their hot dogs “Japanese-style,” which means that they include a number of traditional Japanese vegetables, sauces, and even meats in their recipes.

No JAPADOG, No Life!!

The thing I love most about JAPADOG is their boundless enthusiasm for hot dogs.  The owners are truly living their dreams, as evidenced by the comparatively detailed history section on the website.  Although the English isn’t always perfect, the website is fun and ambitious.  It’s not often I come across someone whose passion for sandwiches rivals my own, and it’s a nice feeling.

I have no idea what kind of hot dogs these are, but they look AWESOME.

The hot dogs at JAPADOG also look delicious.  I’ve always wanted to eat hot dogs with regional themese, and the use of Japanese ingredients lends it a somewhat classier look.  (These are the kinds of recipes I expected from the famed Yesterdog of Grand Rapids, by the way.  I got pickles and mustard with a side of condescension instead.)  A couple offerings which look particularly tasty are the terimayo, which includes teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed, the yakisoba, which is an arabiki sausage topped with noodles, and the ebichiki, which is a shrimp sausage topped with chili sauce and dried shrimp.  They also offer traditional undressed hot dogs, for the less adventurous visitors.

All in all, JAPADOG looks great.  I don’t anticipate being in Vancouver or NYC any time soon, but next time I am it’s definitely on my list.  Anyone who’s in the area, be sure to check them out and let me know what you think in the comments.  And on a related note, can any Japanese readers confirm that this is anything like how hot dogs are prepared in Japan?  I honestly have no idea.

You may recall my pleasant surprise at Steak ‘n’ Shake’s Carolina Slaw hot dog.  I was impressed by the quality of the frank itself, as well as by the clever use of ingredients.  I’ve been back a couple times to sample some more of the line, and it’s been up and down.  I haven’t tried all of them, but I did sample the Chicago Style and the Cheesy Cheddar.  Here’s what I thought.

Read the rest of this entry »

Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger is another mainstay of Ann Arbor’s local restaurant culture.  Established in 1953 and boasting the slogan “Cheaper than Food,” Blimpy Burger is known for their greasy, made to order cuisine, which includes burgers, french fries, and pretty much any other vegetable which can be dropped in a deep fat fryer.  Blimpy Burger has been featured on both Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Man vs. Food, with a spotlight on their quintuple patty burgers.  It’s sort of the opposite of Zingerman’s, in that it’s cheap, unhealthy, and down-to-earth.  It is also delicious.

They also make these fantastic polar bear snow sculptures out in front of the building every winter!!

Before I review the burgers themselves, I want to talk for a minute about the restaurant.  Blimpy Burger cooks prepare your burger to order in front of you, and they have a kind of specific method of ordering.  Like many local places including Grand Rapids’ Yesterdog, they have a monopoly on being them, so they sometimes treat their customers somewhat rudely.   The guys working when I visited were great, but I know my brothers have had issues with some of the employees in the past, so be mindful of this.  PRO TIP: if everyone (customers and employees) is patient with each other, we’ll all have a good time.

(As a side note, Yesterdog is terrible.  I’m not even going to dignify it with a proper review.  You can easily make the same food in your house for cheaper without a bunch of punks being jerks to you.)

DE. LICIOUS.

I ordered a triple (three patties) with Bleu cheese, bacon, and mayo, and as I said before, it was great.  The patties are kind of smashed together, which is fine by me.  The bacon is freshly fried on the grill with the hamburger, and it made up about half the sandwich.  It was both thick and crispy, and really made the burger.  The Bleu cheese wasn’t as prominent as in some other burgers, but it was a nice touch.  Next time I might add some grilled onions or mushrooms, but all in all it was a satisfying, filling burger.

Despite their slogan, it was a little pricier than I expected, since both the cheese and bacon cost extra.  All told, my burger came to about $4.50, which I was fine with.  My brother also got a basic double with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, ketchup and mustard for about $2, which is a great deal.  I’d definitely recommend Blimpy Burger for a quick, fun eat if you’re in downtown Ann Arbor.

This marks Sandwichtalk’s 100th post, so I wanted to review something special.  Zingerman’s is a collection of Ann Arbor-based restaurants and food retailers.  It began in 1982 with Zingerman’s Delicatessen and has since expanded and evolved into a brand which includes a bakery, creamery, coffeehouse, and catering.  Zingerman’s also created the charity Food Gatherers, a local hunger relief group I volunteered with a couple of times during high school.  It’s a very well-known name within the Ann Arbor community, and probably one of the most famous, well-regarded restaurants in town.

Zingerman's Deli. The building on the right is Zingerman's Next Door, a coffee shop with more seating.

To get a more complete Zingerman’s experience, I tried two sandwiches.  The first was a new sandwich, the TNT Cowboy Reuben.  It’s a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and provolone on a sandwich roll.  I’d hesitate to call it a reuben, but it was delicious nonetheless.  Coleslaw is always a nice break from the usual tomato and lettuce route, and the combination of slaw and the pulled pork gave it an interesting, enjoyable texture.  The provolone wasn’t as noticeable, but it didn’t hurt the sandwich at all.

Now that I think about it, there was nothing much "TNT" about it either. Hmmm.....

My other sandwich was the B.L.T., which I was a little less impressed with.  It was a perfectly fine B.L.T. on their Jewish Rye, and all the ingredients were high quality, but I don’t know if it was worth the price, which I’ll get to in a sec.

Again, I'd recommend it if you want a B.L.T., but you can make a B.L.T. at home pretty easily too.

Both sandwiches were good and deserve high marks, but I do have to mention one other fact about Zingerman’s.  It is insanely expensive.  The TNT Cowboy Reuben cost $10.99, and the B.L.T. cost $9.50.  $9.50 for a B.L.T.!!!  And I ordered the smaller sizes, the larger ones run for a couple of dollars more.  AND that’s just the sandwich and a pickle, no sides or drinks or special requests on the sandwiches (which will add 75 cents bare minimum, normally upwards of a dollar or two if you want special bread or something).  These are pretty typical prices for the menu.  You can get hot dogs for a dollar or two less, and the most expensive sandwich I saw was a smoked fish bagel which cost $20, but most sandwiches are $10 or a little bit more.  I’m hesitant to say that any sandwich is worth ten dollars, and I’m a guy whose hobby is writing a blog about sandwiches.  A lot of the cost is because almost all of Zingerman’s ingredients are either manufactured by them using super high quality items or imported directly from the source, as well as the whole “paying for the experience” concept (and I will admit that their corner location in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown neighborhood is pretty cool).  At the end of the day, though $10 for a sandwich is $10 for a sandwich, no matter how you sell it.

I’d still definitely recommend Zingerman’s.  The sandwiches I had were good, and with their dozens of menu items, I’m assuming they have a lot of other great sandwiches as well.  I won’t be going back anytime soon, not with my budget, but it’s a great option for a place to celebrate, a fancy lunch date, or a place to take out-of-towners.

P.S.  Thank you to everyone who’s supported Sandwichtalk so far!!  Be sure to let me know any questions, comments, or requests you guys have in the comments section, and here’s to the next hundred posts!!

In keeping with the theme of wretched excess, I decided to risk my life and try the “McGangBang“.  Don’t try to look for the McGangBang on McDonald’s website, you won’t find it.  This unofficial sandwich is a combination of a McDouble cheeseburger and a McChicken chicken sandwich.  It’s known by a number of questionable names, including the McGangBang, the McStroke, and the McMacro (a variant incorporating a side order of french fries and ketchup; I was not so adventurous).

A schematic diagram illustrating the concept.

Now, there’s a lot to discuss regarding this behemoth.  One is ordering it.  It’s possible the cashier at your local McDonald’s has heard of the McGangBang, and will whip one up for you.  It’s also possible that he or she reads Sandwichtalk, and will quickly add it to his or her repertoire.  It’s more likely, however, that your order will be met with a vacant stare, or worse, derision.  This is an easy issue to fix.  Both component sandwiches are on the dollar menu, so you can order them and assemble it yourself, like a puzzle.

The other thing about the McGangBang is that there’s not always a concensus on how it should look.  For example, a number of them look like this:

As you can see, it’s a pretty literal combination, with one sandwich sandwiched inside another.  It works, but I feel it lacks a certain amount of finesse.  I put a bit of a personal spin on it with mine:

Simple yet elegant.

Now before you all tell me I’m “doing it wrong”, remember that I transferred all the elements of the McChicken (chicken, lettuce, mayo) into the McDouble, I just didn’t use the bun because it seemed like overkill.  Also, it’s my blog and I’ll make disgusting sandwiches however I want.  Now, onto the review!!

The sandwich was actually much better than I expected.  It’s definitely over the top, but the grocery list of ingredients (two hamburger patties, chicken, ketchup, mustard, cheese, pickles, mayo, lettuce, and onions) come together in interesting ways throughout the sandwich.  One bite is a juxtaposition of chicken and beef, while the next combines the chicken, pickles, and mayo for a Chik Fil A style taste.  The flavors are continuously changing and recombining.  If I were to do it again, I might include the heel from the McChicken to break up the meat a little bit, but hindsight is 20/20.  It’s a unique sandwich experience, to say the least.

It’s also cheap.  As I discussed before, you can make it yourself for a mere $2, or try to bargain with your cashier.  I can only imagine the carbs, fat and sodium involved, so obviously I have reservations recommending it, but if you want an interesting, inexpensive sandwich and a story to tell your friends, the McGangBang is for you.

P.S.  Don’t worry, Sandwichtalk isn’t going to turn into some Man v. Food-esque show of me choking down ridiculous meals.  This was a suggestion from a friend, and the way current trends are going, I figured I should do it now before it ends up on the menu and becomes more expensive.