The Wiching Hour
OCNs only outpost of the Which Wich chain should have Subway and Quiznos quaking in their toasters
My first summer job as a teen was at an ice-cream-and-sandwich shop in Fullerton. They didnNt let me handle the deep fryer or the burger grill. And, apparently, my arms were too scrawny to scoop ice cream. I was, instead, put in charge of the sandwich station, which, in retrospect, was probably the most important job there.
Think about it: The burger guy made only one type of sandwich. But me? I was responsible for more than half the menu. Different breads, plus meats from three distinct species of animal—not counting tuna and egg salad.
I had in my repertoire at least four kinds of cheese; vegetables; sauces; a toaster; a microwave; and a big, honking, serrated knife to cut my finished masterpieces in half before serving.
Though seemingly simple, INd argue that proper sandwich assembly is a craft. ItNs perhaps not as difficult as smithing, but the results are usually more delicious.
And INm not the only one who thinks so. Alton Brown once said, “To some, itNs a couple of pieces of bread with something shoved between. To others, a sandwich is a sublime balance of flavor and texture born as much of technique as ingredient.”
If there were a prize for the craft of sandwich assembly, I would bequeath it to whoever made my sandwich at Which Wich in Santa Ana, the only branch in Orange County of a nationwide chain that looks poised to take a piece of the loaf away from Subway and Quiznos.
In my opinion, and judging by the sandwich I had, Subway and Quiznos had better watch their backs.
My sandwich, called “The Wicked,” was perfectly put together from good-quality components and—this part is most important—encased in a hollowed-out, crunchy French loaf with a crust that crackled like the best Little Saigon bánh mì baguette.
WhatNs more, the Wicked also contained five meats. Count Nem: FIVE.
With turkey, ham, roast beef, pepperoni and bacon, itNs like a club sandwich with a few extra members. And three of them are from that most wonderful, magical animal: the pig.
Which Wich has an efficient, ingenious ordering system and a list of 50 sandwiches. Some of the notables include a Cuban, a Monte Cristo, and even an “Elvis Wich” (with peanut butter, honey and banana). The SPAM sandwich was exactly that, consisting of a few thin slabs of the mystery meat beloved by Hawaiians, with all of its salty, canned-meat charms and peculiarities. Whichever you choose, opt for the baguette-style white bread instead of the softer wheat, unless you have dentures or are averse to a crispy crust.
When you decide what type you want, you are instructed to take a brown paper bag from a receptacle labeled with the kind of sandwich you chose. Then you mark off on that bag your bread, cheese, veggie, sauce and spicing preferences with a red Sharpie. Finally, you scribble your name and pay. (Most sandwiches cost $5.25, but the Wicked is priced at $1 more.)
With the Wicked, youNre entitled to three cheeses. From a list of seven, I opted for Swiss, provolone and pepper jack. As I filled in my choices, I thought, “What the hell am I doing? I already have five kinds of meat. Do I really need three kinds of cheese?”
I decided that yes, yes, I did.
Next were my mustard and mayo options. I got culinarily wise and chose the Dijon mustard and the horseradish mayonnaise to cut through the layers of protein and cheese. I couldNve opted to do the fat-free mayo, but hypocrisy does not belong in a sandwich.
A few minutes after I handed my order to the cashier, the finished product was bagged in the same sack I marked up. See, didnNt I say the ordering system was genius?
But the real achievement is the sandwich itself. Like an architect conceptualizing the rambling requests of a madman, the sandwich maker constructed from my scribbles a sandwich worthy of I.M. Pei or his sandwich-making equivalent.
The veggies were strategically centered in the middle so as not to dampen the precious crispness of the bread, which is further protected by layered rings of meat and cheese. In every bite, the sauces intermingled, asserting themselves through the sweet, porky clout.
This was a better class of sandwich made by a better class of sandwich maker than I ever was or could be.
Which Wich, 1945 E. 17th St., Ste. 106, Santa Ana, (714) 953-9900; www.whichwich.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Most sandwiches, $5.25.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.