Sandwiches are one of the original comfort foods. It all started with John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich who sought out a way to gobble down lunch without leaving the gambling table. He ordered his servants to bring him a few slices of the day’s roast between two pieces of bread. And with that, the sandwich was born and a new lifestyle began.
As the chameleons of the food world, sandwiches tend to reflect trends by incorporating whatever is newest and hottest in the marketplace. These days that might mean sandwiches stuffed with house-made charcuterie, topped with house-made pickles, or spread with inventive condiments.
But, regardless of what’s on trend, every sandwich lover has her favorites. In fact, sandwich fanatics come in all stripes from grilled cheese lovers, to French dip freaks, to barbeque aficionados. And wildly varying opinions and preferences abound.
So, I decided to evaluate my own sandwich experiences here in the city.
What I found is that, while far too many Milwaukee restaurants offer the same old tired takes on familiar classics, there are a few who excel at taking the basics to a whole new level. And still others who use ingenuity to take a good sandwich and make it great.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order:
- The Buttafuoco. If you like your vegetarian sandwiches a little bit spicy and dripping with cheese, this sandwich is for you. The Comet Café classic includes a crisp baguette stuffed to the brim with tomatoes, onions, mozzarella, giardiniera peppers, and provolone, drizzled with olive oil and Italian seasonings, broiled to perfection and topped with mayo and shredded lettuce.
- Hinterland’s Brisket Burger. I debated whether to put a burger on this list, but after stopping by and sampling my third or fourth this past week, I couldn’t resist. This off-menu masterpiece includes a half pound of well-seasoned ground brisket grilled over hardwood and topped with house-made maple smoked bacon, Hook’s five-year cheddar, pimento cheese and arugula on a Breadsmith bun spread with Hinterland pale ale whole grain mustard. One of the things that sets this burger apart is the brisket which provides a deep meaty flavor with the perfect ratio of fat to lean beef.
- Jeppa Joe’s Banh Mi. Drooling fans gather in the summer months around the Jeppa Joes food cart to indulge in this action packed Asian specialty. You’ll get everything you’re looking for on this soft roll spread liberally with Sriracha mayo and piled high with Asian style caramelized pork, "house"-made pickled carrots and daikon, jalapenos, sliced cucumber and plenty of cilantro.
- The Seargent Pepper. Melthouse Bistro offers arguably the best selection of grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere in the city. But, if you’re looking for something differently delicious, try this loaded version, featuring Wisconsin pepper jack and cheddar cheeses, roasted cauliflower, red peppers, and tempura fried onions on sourdough bread.
- Le Reve’s Croque Monsieur. I promise you will not find a better Croque Monsieur in the city. This toasted French ham and cheese sandwich on country white bread loaded with gruyere béchamel sauce is a bit of a gut-bomb, but it’s worth every deliciously rich bite. Order the Croque Madame with basted egg for just $1 more.
- The Tinga. The Eatery on Farwell has a healthy menu of sandwiches, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the Tinga, an Eatery creation that gives a nod to the original chicken tinga created in Puebla, Mexico. The hearty sandwich piled high with house-made pulled chicken, chipotle barbeque sauce, shallots, cilantro, and provolone cheese on a ciabatta bun.
- The Prince. Ashley’s Que might be known for its succulently tender barbequed pork shoulder, but if you’re in a "hungry man" sorta mood and you want to try something deliciously different, you should lay it down for The Prince – a hoagie roll loaded up with steak, lamb, cucumber sauce, mixed peppers, mayonnaise, fried onions and shredded cheese. This sandwich might just be too much of a very good thing.
- Glorioso’s Meatball Sandwich. If you haven’t taken a trip over to Glorioso’s deli case, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. Tons of cheese. Every cured meat known to man. Olives of every shape and size. The choices are limitless. But, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you ordered their meatball sandwich. These smart Italians take a crusty roll, fill it with Provolone cheese, and then top the whole shebang with delicious red sauce and wonderfully seasoned Italian meatballs. The miracle of this sandwich is that the cheese protects the sandwich from getting soggy, which is a bonus, especially if your order is a bit too large for your stomach and you have to save half for later.
- Rocket Baby’s Brisket Panini. It shouldn’t be surprising that a bakery with some of the best bread in the city also makes one of my favorite sandwiches. This beauty is expertly prepared with slow roasted brisket, sweet onion compote, Bellavitano cheese and mustard served on house-made Polish rye bread. A tryst with the panini press gives the crust just the right amount of crunch and ensures your sandwich comes out fresh and hot.'
- No. 10 is up to you. What’s your favorite sandwich in Milwaukee? Add your suggestions in the Talkback feature below!
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.