Parisian Street Sandwich (Aurora Provisions)

Today’s sandwich brought me back to Aurora Provisions, for their “Parisian Street Sandwich.” It combines thinly-sliced ham, slices of brie, mixed greens, spicy dijon mustard, and cornichons on a baguette.

Location: 64 Pine Street
Price: $6.95
Notes: This is an exceptional sandwich. The tart, cool, crisp snap of the cornichons provide an amazing contrast to the salty ham and surprisingly lively dijon mustard. A well thought-out sandwich that I will return for frequently.

Today’s Sandwich: Roast Beef & Cheddar (Whole Foods)

Location: 2 Somerset Street
Price: $7.95
Notes: There’s no other way to put it. Today’s sandwich was a complete and utter disappointment. We had been excited about trying the fresh sandwich options at Whole Foods, but probably won’t return. After trying to direct me to one of their pre-made sandwiches, and not being able to tell me about what kind of bread they had, I ended up with an utterly anemic roast beef and cheddar on a whole wheat roll. I tried to jazz it up by adding their habanero mayonnaise, but what I ended up with was a lifeless, flavorless mess. I would have been thrilled with this sandwich at half the price; but at around eight bucks, this one simply wasn’t worth it.

Leonardo’s Pizza: Yeah, I Mean, I Guess.

When trying a new pizza place for the first time, I tend to start as simply as I can. Either plain cheese, or if they have it, a Margarita slice tells you about all you need to know about the kinds of pies a place is slinging. Being free of the distractions of toppings gives you a much clearer picture of the entire restaurant, and the attitude they are taking with regard to their product. You can judge the quality of the crust, the amount and spice of the sauce, the kinds of tomatoes that were used, and whether or not the restaurant is paying the extra dollar per pound for decent mozzarella. Indeed, the plain cheese slice is something you could make your life’s study, as a pizza man, so subtle are the interplay of ingredients and so important is component to the whole.

Why, then, do Portland area pizza places seem to have such an absurdly high amount of what I would consider California Pizza Kitchen-style “novelty” pizzas? Why all the goat cheese, the arugula, and the barbecued chicken? Why the leeks, the Gerneral Tso’s sauce, and the philly cheese steak? And why is it that, so far, the more complex the offerings of a particular establishment, the less-competent that place seems to be with the humble cheese slice? Look, if I am looking at a pizza menu, and I see that you are putting buffalo wing sauce on there instead of tomato sauce, and then you are piling on mozzarella, breaded chicken chunks, and gobs of blue cheese, my reaction isn’t “Ooh, how innovative,” instead it’s, “You, sir, do not like pizza.” I’m as excited as you are that you thought to put mashed potatoes and pesto onto a pizza, but unless you have absolutely, unequivocally NAILED the plain cheese slice, I am not going to be impressed by whatever else you’ve decided to pile on there.

Like many other area pizza places, Leonardo’s Pizza has some complicated offerings. In fact, that’s putting mildly. Leonardo’s will put any godamned thing you can think of on a pizza, with four different types of crust, five different kinds of sauce, and then a veritable shopping list of 26 types of additional toppings. I navigated my way past the “Asian Thai Chicken,” with chicken, Thai peanut sauce, mushrooms, red onions, green bell peppers, and broccoli. I didn’t order the “Sausage Alfredo Supreme,” with its Alfredo sauce in place of tomato sauce, chopped garlic, spinach, mushrooms, plum tomatoes, hot Italian sausage, and Gorgonzola. I didn’t want a crust-dumpster, I wanted a pizza. I ordered a plain cheese, medium, regular crust, at $9.95 for a medium.

The results weren’t bad. The crust was fluffy and airy, chewy, with a nice slope down from a thick rolled crust, to a thin crust at the point of the slice. The sauce was nicely spiced and not too sweet, but cooked a little too long. I prefer a brighter tomato sauce. The cheese was of a decent quality, with low grease and nice pull. I was also happy to see that the Leonardo’s style involves a tiny bit more cooking time than we have seen previously. While it certainly wasn’t the charred perfection of a Pepe’s or a Modern, you could see some definite darkening of the mozzarella. After the wet, wiggly slices we have been eating lately, this was a nice surprise.

Ultimately, though, this pizza didn’t make much of an impression. It wasn’t bad, by any means…I just don’t see why you would order this pizza over any of the national chains, and who wants one of those? If anything, my strongest impression of this pizza was that it would be what the jaded teenagers who worked at a Domino’s would cook up after hours, after the doors had been closed for the night. If you took the standard, plain ingredients offered by a chain restaurant, and then ever-so-slightly tweaked the technique and went off-instructional poster (that is, used a tiny extra dough, a little more sauce, and cooked it a little bit longer, and didn’t count how many handfuls of cheese you put on) this is what you’d get. A perfectly serviceable pizza, but certainly nothing special, and nothing I would go out of my way for. If I lived nearby, I could see popping in every now and again, but their own apparent lack of interest in their cheese pies won’t convince me to return to branch out into any of their “gourmet” options.

Moxie Cocktails: The Dark ‘n’ Stinky

Last night, along with my Chimay Blue, I decided to play a joke on my mouth, and bought a 20-ounce bottle of Moxie. For the uninitiated, Moxie is officially, as of 2005, the state soft drink of Maine. It began as a patent medicine in the late 1800s, a tonic sharply flavored with the strong, sharp flavor gentian root, and used to treat everything from “nervousness” to “brain softening.” Eventually, soda water was added, and Moxie was transformed into a curiously bitter soda. While it has fallen out of favor nationally, Moxie continues to be sold in the Northeast.

I hadn’t had one in about 20 years, and in my memory, it stood out as one of the worst things I had ever tasted. When I ran across a bottle last night, I was happy to see that the packaging had barely changed. While the iconic orange can was gone, I now had an extra eight ounces to pour down the sink. I braced myself, and had a sip.

I was stunned by what I tasted. The taste is, at best, unusual for a soda. It tastes Earthy and like a root; a bizarre combination of bitter and sweet that is sure to get in your head. I realized that, of course when I tasted it as a child, it seemed awful; I thought everything that wasn’t a hamburger tasted awful. As an adult, though, I’ve tasted things far more awful than Moxie, usually in alcoholic form. In fact, that’s what Moxie immediately reminded me of: Jagermeister without the annoying maniacal buzz. I set out to correct this oversight immediately with the creation of a Moxie cocktail. A Moxtail, if you would. I wouldn’t.

The obvious choice, with their shared medicinal flavors, is to add Jagermeister to Moxie, over ice. My problems with that, however, are that I am not in a dorm room, I am not actively engaged in a fistfight, and I am not a total lunatic, three traits that prevent me from drinking Jagermeister. A quick search revealed something called a “North Easter,” a repugnant combination of Moxie, gin, and Worcestershire sauce, of all things. My interest in crafting a Moxie cocktail was to make something delicious, so the North Easter was out.

After trying a few different options, I finally fell in love with the following, a drink I am calling a “Dark ‘n’ Stinky.”

Dark ‘n’ Stinky

  • 2 ounces Sailor Jerry’s rum
  • 4 ounces Moxie brand soda

Combine ingredients in an old fashioned glass over cracked ice. Serve.

I’m not normally a fan of spiced rum, but the extra aromatics, backed by the extra alcohol content in Sailor Jerry’s, makes for a potent cocktail. It’s completely changed my thinking about Moxie as a mixer, and is my favorite drink right now. At least, until I figure out what to do with Allen’s Coffee Brandy.

Photo: jntolva

Today’s Sandwich: Italian Cold Cut (West End Deli)

Location: 133 Spring Street
Price: $7.25 (small)
Notes: The West End Deli specializes in all things delightful: a respectable selection of wines, Belgian-style high test beer, and an array of specialty vegetarian sandwiches. Nestled in the menu also lurks the “Italian Cold Cut” specialty sandwich, which shouldn’t be confused with the typical definition of “Italian” here in Maine. The West End Deli’s version packs ham, salami, provolone, tomatoes, red onions, garlic aioli, and hot pepper relish onto a crusty baguette, to my complete and utter delight. This one is definitely going into regular rotation.

Updated 4/27/17: The West End Deli is now closed.