Turkey, ham or roast beef? Swiss, cheddar or American? Toasted? Going through the line at these generic sandwich eateries has become a chore. We refuel like cars at the pump — guzzling enough to get us through long days and moving on.
Where is it written that lunchtime must be the same — day after day? Monotony should never be on the menu. To switch things up, A&E has ventured to St. Paul to sample the best sandwiches in town.
Trung Nam French Bakery
739 W. University Ave., St. Paul
Signature sammie: The banh mi is a French-Vietnamese fusion food. Traditional Vietnamese vegetables, cilantro and meat (usually pork) fill the light French baguette for an international sandwich experience of intricate flavor contrasts and textural nirvana. The bread at Trung Nam insures the hard snap of a freshly prepared crust, while the various salty cold cuts slip against the fresh or pickled vegetables.
Most likely to: Inspire early-risers. The baked goods and sandwich bread here are baked fresh daily and have a tendency to sell out earlier in the day. Closing at 1 p.m. may seem peculiar, but catching an early bus over to Midway is a small sacrifice for the treats that await.
Beyond the bread: The croissants at Trung Nam are famous around the Twin Cities for their crisp and light, honey-coated exteriors and moist, buttery, dough-like centers. With a variety of flavored fillings including chocolate, apricot and almond, these heavenly morsels of flaky pastry provide a sample of the flavors of France via Vietnam.
Swede Hollow Cafe
725 E. Seventh St., St. Paul
Signature sammie: Swede Hollow offers a daily sandwich lunch special. Fresh ingredients and handcrafted breads make for a simple and delicious combo. We sampled the four-cheese grilled cheese. It was smoky and gooey in the center and crunchily grilled with a few slices of sweet tomato. Yum.
Most likely to: Convert the city slicker to a homebody. The cozy atmosphere at Swede Hollow, accented by large, folksy oil paintings and families with little kids, makes this a true neighborhood spot — something we don’t have many of in Minneapolis. Posting up for an entire afternoon with some study materials is a delightful way to get a feel for the homey atmosphere.
Beyond the bread: If you prefer breakfast fare to lunchtime sandwiches, this place has got you more than covered. A full-length glass case bursting with sweet rolls and pastries sits temptingly next to the ordering counter. Quiches, baked French toast, hash browns and breakfast meats are also available for brunch fans.
St. Paul Cheese Shop
1573 Grand Avenue, St. Paul
Signature sammie: The “Cheesemonger“ would have to be the Cheese Shop’s signature sub. The combo of house-cured dry salami and provolone with a pepper-onion relish is wild and intense. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, have the folks at the Cheese Shop prepare the “Surprise?!” sandwich. With this culinary grab bag, you never know what you’re going to get.
Most likely to: induce delusions of grandeur. Some of the cheeses here have names longer than the title of Mary Poppins’s favorite tune and you may have to Google speck on your smartphone before ordering (it’s a smoked ham), but these quality sandwich fixin’s taste as good as they sound. Highbrow ingredients aside, prices here won’t break the bank.
Beyond the bread: At the deli-style ordering counter you can pick a block of cheese for a cheese and crackers tray or a wine and cheese combo for a cocktail party.
651 S. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul
Signature sammie: The Reubens here are the stuff of legend, and their imposing stature shows why. Buttered pumpernickel toast provides a platform for a heaping mound of corned beef, a sizable portion of sauerkraut, multiple slices of Swiss cheese and Cecils’ special sauce. The tang of this beast is offset by the creamy melted cheese and warm bread.
Most likely to: expand your waistline. The classic Jewish deli fare served at Cecils boomed back when when smoking was common practice for pregnant women. Health wasn’t the priority — pleasure was.
Beyond the bread: The menu here looks a bit like an encyclopedia. There are more than 30 specialty sandwiches, but if none of those fits your fancy, you can build your own. Cecils offers hotdogs, burgers, soups and salads. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, surely one of the cakes, cobblers, cookies, pies, sundaes, floats, shakes or malts will do. Whatever you order will leave your chin greasy and your belly full.
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