Bread. It's the most important ingredient in any sandwich, separating an OK sandwich from an amazing one. I grew up in Fall River Massachusetts and there were tons of Portuguese bakeries feeding our appetites for good bread. For my school lunch, my mother would make bifanas or steak sandwiches for me on good Portuguese bread. I remember looking at my "American" friends and at first feeling insecure about my big rustic sandwich while they ate these picture perfect little peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwiches. Eventually, they ended up wanting to trade half a sandwich with me after seeing what I had. In the end, I felt bad for them for having to eat that stuff.
City Sandwich is an interesting story. Chef/owner Michael Guerrieri, being born in Naples, raised in New York and having lived in Lisbon, takes some Portuguese ingredients like paio (spicy pork sausage), alheira (smoky chicken/pork/grain sausage), morcela (smoked blood sausage) kale/collards, cod fish and bread, some Italiian ingredients like broccoli rabe, mozzarella and oregano and basil and then turns them into some really terrific tasting sandwiches. If you look through the menu, you'll notice there is a lot of play with the ingredients so that you get a nice yin-ynag dance - sweet with savory, acidic with richness, etc.
For almost three years, I kept a vegetarian's diet, and I would have loved to have been able to select form City Sandwich's list of vegetarian sandwiches back then. The t-shirts worn by the staff proclaim "No Mayo" and "No Fatty Sauces." It's true and the result is a fresh and vivid tasting alternative to all the other places near by offering ketchup and mayo sandwiches. At City Sandwich, the sandwiches have a mouth feel that tells you this is not that soft, gooey oozing stuff you get elsewhere. Like your mother made it for you.
I grew up without ever having heard of alheira and did not come across it until my semester at the University of Lisbon. It is a sausage whose appearance resembles Polish kielbasa. Originally, it was non-pork sausage said to have been created by Jews in Portugal. It included various meats, game and bread. Eventually, pork made it's way into alheira, the Christian version. The version I came to know in Portugal has a very smoky flavor and creamy consistency.
The Henrique is one of the more hearty and savory sandwiches with alheira and mozzarella topped with steamed collards and grilled onions. The alheira is creamy and super smoky in flavor, with a hint of the acidic vinegar breaking that up with each breath. The collards and onions gives add to the depth, but it's the bread - full of flavor and texture that makes this so good.
There are a number of sandwiches prepared with egg or egg whites as the main ingredient. The Maria is perhaps my favorite of these with Portuguese paio sausage, egg whites, broccoli rabe, mozzarella, tomato and sauteed onions. Again, it just tastes and feels like it was made at home. And you feel good afterward, too.
Octopus salad is great in the spring and summertime. The acid from the vinegar and onion are perfect with the rich and tender meat of the octopus. It ends ends feeling quite light. The fresh arugula adds slightly bitter and nutty layers of flavor, accented with the diced red and green bell pepper and some mustard seed.
As the name suggests, this one is a little more Italian than Portuguese inspiration, but equally good. The warm breaded chicken breast is accompanied really well with sweet sautéed onions and roasted red and yellow peppers. Balancing that sweetness is the arugula, lightly tossed with vinegar, which together, for me, adds a more adult and sophisticated angle to this sandwich.
649 9th Avenue (between 45 + 46)
Manhattan NY 10036