Smile Politely

In defense of the sandwich

For years we have lived in a fascist oligarchy of sandwich oppression.  Blimpie, Subway, Quizno’s and even the fast-talking-guerrilla-branded-man-child-of-an-upstart Jimmy John’s have sought to pejorate the sandwich eating public’s expectations to a level of cheap, unimpassioned tolerance.  The sandwich, which could be (and can be) so much more than what we’ve been taught to think it is, has been summarily reduced to a cool arrangement of spongy cold cuts, heaps of mayonnaise and dried out lettuce shreds that seem always to flood the ever more ragged upholstery of my Prius.

A soggy little lunchtime phallus that serves as a cheap and unfulfilling intermediary between our cornflake breakfasts and our deep-fried dinners, the mass marketed sub-sandwich is ever so often reduced to a series of cold hard digits.  As in, I’ll take a number two, or would you like a six-inch an eight-inch or a twelve-inch sub? which is not to mention five, five doll… — oh sweet Jesus, we’ll just stop that before it goes any further.

But as I was saying, it seems the only thing that we’re supposed to remember after having consumed one of these dull-vegetabled stomach fillers is the advertisement that attracted us in the first place. Yes my fellow Americans, the state of our sandwich is weak, but like a demographically diverse group of hungry (and musically uninhibited) construction workers, I still find myself returning to the vaguely appealing and ever efficient mass marketed sandwich from time to time.  Alas, if only there were some better way to satisfy my deep, deep sandwich hunger!

And of course, there is, although its important to point out what better doesn’t mean.  For example: faster?  Not necessarily.  Fresher?  Most definitely! Served by someone who’s smiling? Probably not.  Served by someone who is inclined to turn their music up just loud enough to drown out the conversation you’re trying to have? Probably.  Made with bread cooked in shop that morning?  Actually, not always.  At least made with bread cooked at a very reputable local bakery? Yes!  Cheaper? No.  Deliciouser? Yes!

You get the point here, right?  A good sandwich is not always the cheapest nor is it necessarily the most convenient.  And, although this may fly in the face of many of the many sandwich lovers who are in a hurry and on a budget, that’s probably a good thing. One ought to pay for what one loves.  And pay I did this Friday at Café Paradiso, $6.45 to be exact, though, paradoxically, I could have paid $5.25 for a half.

Now could I have gone next-door and spent a little less for a sandwich (named after a number!) that I would have gotten a lot quicker?  Of course I could have, but screw that.  My sandwich was big and delicious and when I ordered it, a vast network of fresh faced college students did not spring into action to produce it in three seconds flat like Henry Ford’s most unimaginable wet dream.

The  woman who made my sandwich was the woman I ordered it from.  She was also the person who delivered it to me.   And I repeat, it was delicious.  The way the fresh veggies rallied in support of the cheese (pepperjack) which adhered lightly to the meat (roast beef).  The way the mayonnaise provided just the right amount of viscosity so that, as the multigrain bread subsided to my persistent gnashing, I was not left with a greasy taste in my mouth nor was I parched in the least.  Actually, it was so good that after eating it, I decided that I would, on behalf of nobody in particular, unanimously name Café Paradiso Best Sandwich Place in Urbana!! a title for which (in the wake of the departed Strawberry Fields Café) there are  sadly no real contenders.  Sure, you’ve always got Pekara and even Café Kopi in Champaign, although it is my belief that when a sandwich has reached perfection, it need not be grilled nor baked nor bestowed with bacon as they so often are at these locations, but sometimes that’s nice too. Part of the joy in getting a sandwich at Paradiso is knowing that what you are getting is just a normal sandwich made really really well.  Another part is knowing what you could have gotten, but chose not to.  For me, hummus is always a favorite.  I’ll have to get that next time. 

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