Dining

An Ode to the Sandwich

The gastronomic creation that best balances deliciousness and convenience

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Thursday, August 14, 2014
Daniel Pastan Photo

Who doesn’t love sandwiches? Pastrami, PB&J, apple and Brie, open-face grilled cheddar, croque monsieur: put it between two slices of bread and I’m already enthused. The textural possibilities are endless, the flavor profiles as varied as the farmer’s market will allow. Delicate or crispy, with or without crust, gluten-focused or gluten-free, there’s a sandwich out there to suit your individual needs. Forget astrology—what’s your spiritwich? Mine’s a bacon, caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, spinach, avocado and jalapeño jack on toasted multigrain (with a dab of sriracha).

When you think about it, the sandwich probably revolutionized casual eating in the same way that the cell phone revolutionized casual communication. If a hands-free device for sandwiches were ever invented, I’d replace my passenger seat with a panini press immediately. The sandwich—be it cheeseburger or quesadilla—fuels the contemporary world. Tell me that Steve Jobs didn’t eat little fingerling tea sandwiches while he was envisioning the iPod and I’ll laugh in your face.

Although the on-the-go sandwich remains a lunchbox staple, a new era is dawning—the artisan ‘wich is making its comeback. High-quality ingredients, hand-baked breads, and something called aioli are changing the sandwichscape for good. Call it a natural progression, call it trickle-down postmodernism; what’s clear is that an invisible force urges sandwich lovers around the world to slow down, to consider their crust, and to take things one bite at a time. Today’s sandwich refuses the one-night stand of on-the-road consumption. Today’s sandwich is a liberated sandwich.

Fellow sandwich eaters: I fear that the New Sandwich Movement is unsustainable. Much as I appreciate a fantasy on rye, I don’t always have the time or money for these chichi museum pieces. If only I could find a versatile sandwich: affordable, fresh, fast but not too fast. If only there were a place that took the sandwich and its consumer seriously…

If only I lived in Springfield. You can’t talk about the Pioneer Valley sandwich scene without talking about Frigo’s Gourmet Foods. Located a literal stone’s throw off I-91 (take exit 1) in the South End, this unassuming, mom-and-poppy corner store and deli is well worth a visit or four. Frigo’s has been serving gourmet Italian products since 1950.

The store’s interior is surprisingly large and beautiful, filled to the brim with deli meats, fine wines and imported cheeses, olives and olive oils and vinaigrettes. It simultaneously manages to be neat and well lit like a supermarket, and cozily familiar like a neighborhood grocer. The folks who run the place are just as chatty and friendly as you’d hope they would be, but not overly so. There are a couple of cute umbrella tables on the sidewalk out front that would be lovely on a summer afternoon. The spread of prepared foods and salads would make excellent picnic fare.

Frigo’s real strength, however, lies between pieces of its freshly baked bread. Upon entering, the first thing you’ll notice is the giant overhead chalkboard featuring the array of sandwich options. Frigo’s is primarily a gourmet store, so their emphasis is on high-quality foods, meats and vegetables alike. But they’re also a deli, which nicely counterbalances their fanciness with an affordability and practicality that I love. From their most vegetarian ‘wiches to their meatiest, whatever you order will manifest the ideal balance of deliciousness and convenience.

At a time when it seems that very high-end and very low-end food are overrepresented in the market, it’s refreshing to discover a place that’s able to slice right through the middle, just like the sandwich you’ve always wanted.•

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