There was an episode of Chopped that featured sandwiches, and it brought up a lot of questions: What actually a sandwich? And do simplicity and traditional ingredients reign over complicated, out-of-the-box combinations? While searching for a sandwich for lunch one day in South County, I pondered these questions and one more: How much am I really willing to pay for a sandwich?
I didn't have too many options. I work in Rancho Santa Margarita, have a 1-hour lunch break (including drive time) and don't really want to stop by a grocery store deli or Panera. So, it boiled down to two choices, two places that have either been recommended to me or sparked curiosity among my co-workers and friends: Board and Brew, a SoCal chain with two (soon to be three) Orange County locations, and The Trough, the newly opened sister of South County darling The Blind Pig.
The Nitty Gritty To be clear, it takes about 45 minutes to drive from Costa Mesa (where I live) to RSM between 7 and 8 a.m. A majority of that time is spent off highway, on streets ridden with sensor-equipped traffic lights. Needless to say, once you're in RSM, you stay in RSM. And for commuting businessmen and women, RSM is one of those insular towns. It's got a bad rep for being too sterile, with too many chain restaurants and nearly identical houses. And then it borders Coto De Caza, which -- well, don't even get me started.
But every now and then you get a restaurant like The Blind Pig that tries to bring something trendy. And what they did was embraced enough that the owners decided to open another location, The Trough, though the new joint is more a spin-off rather than a carbon copy.
And then there's Board and Brew, which opened in RSM in spring 2013. Then, it was about the only dedicated sandwich restaurant in town (not counting grocery delis and fast sandwich places). It offered an extensive list of craft brews and became a local favorite.
Though the two places are different -- The Trough is hip, trendy and slightly upscale while Board and Brew is the place you stop by to grab a beer after work -- the comparisons started immediately. So, for lunch, who's better?
The Sandwich(es) Both Board and Brew and The Trough offer extensive lists of sandwiches, but their two styles are very different. Board and Brew offers more classic styles of sandwiches such as the chicken club or a pastrami sandwich while The Trough offers sandwiches with a twist such as the B.L.T.C. (bacon, lettuce, tomato and cucumber) and the Chicken Caprese (the dish by same name turned sandwich).
The only sandwich the two have in common was the turkey club -- traditionally toasted bread, sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise -- so that's what we'll compare.
Board and Brew's version stayed pretty true to tradition with all the basic turkey club fixings. Their turkey club consists of sliced turkey breast, Swiss cheese, mayo, tomato and lettuce on a French baguette. The sandwich was pretty standard: turkey wasn't too dry, bacon the right amount of crisp, not too much lettuce or mayo. It looked like a turkey club, smelled like a turkey club and tasted like a turkey club.
The only critiques have to do with the bread. The bread to filing ratio was way off in favor of the bread, and the sandwich could have benefitted from a toasty crust. The saving grace of the sandwich was the "special sauce." Board and Grill serves all of its sandwiches with a side sauce -- bright orange with an onion-mustard taste that adds just the right amount of kick to a pretty straightforward sandwich. Board and Grill's turkey club totaled out at $6.75 after taxes. Not great but not bad either considering the sandwich is rather large. And the service, while impersonal, was quick.
The Trough's turkey club, in contrast, consists of sliced turkey breast, bacon, tomato, shredded lettuce, avocado aioli on a multi-grain roll. The day I stopped by, The Trough was out of the multi-grain roll and served the club up on a French roll (I think it's worth mentioning at this point that every time I've been to The Trough, it seems the restaurant has always been out of something).
All in all, the sandwich was fairly lackluster and needed some major seasoning. Perhaps it was the substitution of the French roll, though I'm not entirely sure how much flavor is packed into the usual multi-grain roll. The saving graces: the French roll alone was a delicious French roll. The bacon was a nice thickness (albeit slightly too crisp verging on the edge of burnt) and the turkey wasn't too dry either. It's clear the sandwich has some quality ingredients, but the execution left a little to be desired.
The total came to $9.99. While the person who took my order wasn't the friendliest--spoke too fast, took her time punching in orders and just felt like she was rushing me out the door--the guys on the grill were super personable, which makes me really want to root for the restaurant though I just don't feel right recommending it, especially at its price point.
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The Verdict The Trough beats out Board in Brew in quality of ingredients. The Trough's bread and bacon were of a higher quality. But its avocado aioli fails in comparison to Board and Brew's special sauce, and The Trough's prices are just way too high.
Would you rather have high-quality ingredients poorly executed by a friendly staff or basic simple ingredients with an off ratio and a killer sauce? In this case, having high-quality ingredients just isn't enough. Board and Brew's version sneaks by for the win simply for being straight forward (and, well, cheaper by $3.24).
I wouldn't completely discount The Trough. Let's just hope they get it together.