The sandwiches at Sessions West Coast Deli aren't just sandwiches. They're the kind on which the kitchen slather aioli, not mayo, and the thousand island is called a million island because, you know, it's better. Of course, these not-just-sandwiches are also made with bread from Dean Kim's OC Baking Co., arguably the contract baker of choice for when a new premium sandwich shop such as Sessions wants to stick out amongst the recent crop of premium sandwich shops. These days, this league has a lot of players, including the Trough, Bronx Sandwich and Mendocino Farms—places where the ingredients are pedigreed and a sandwich can cost up to and including $12.
Sessions West Coast Deli's first location opened in spring 2014; it was in a concrete building that resembles a World War II bunker, situated a few blocks from Newport Pier, with surfer bros behind the counter. It immediately became beloved for sandwiches such as the Meddock Melee, a shot put-shaped squaw loaf crammed with layers of turkey, jalapeño jack and sprouts. Since it's taller than it is wide, the sandwich could dislocate your jaw if you tried to fit the entire thing in your mouth. And when you press it down to manage its height, you inadvertently squeeze the homemade guacamole out the sides. The few cherry peppers, onions and tomato lubed with the house-made adobo buttermilk dressing also slip out. Pretty soon, you're picking up what the sandwich jettisoned with your guac-and-sauce-covered fingers.
But that's okay. You knew it was going to be this kind of sandwich. Sessions' creations aren't meant to be eaten at your desk with a bag of Lays. When you're at the Newport Beach branch or the Sessions that just opened in a prime PCH spot with a view of the Huntington Beach pier, you're in shorts and about to do something sun-, surf- or sand-related. These are sandwiches best eaten when you have an afternoon to commit to their digestion.
You especially want Sessions' version of a Cubano, a wall of meat so brick-dense and thick it nearly justifies its $12 cost. ?It's pressed properly, with the carnitas-style pulled pork compacted so tightly inside the ciabatta roll that its molecules seem to fuse with the smoked ham. And since the sandwich is as big as Shaquille O'Neal's shoe, it's enough for two people—easily twice the size of a typical Cubano. Atypical for the sandwich is the Southern chow-chow, a relish subbing in for yellow mustard that, together with the pickled cherry peppers and house-made pickles, builds to a combined tanginess that answers to the richness and quantity of pork.
A few of Sessions' sandwiches are just as tangy, but some are excessive. The ?bánh mì-like Gangnam Style—a Korean-?inspired meatball with an acidic tomato-?based “Korean marinara”—is packed to ?the edges of its French loaf with pickled ?carrots, pickled jalapeños and soy-sesame slaw, all of the sourness building to more sourness. The better meatball sandwich is the Italian version, which has the same pork-and-beef mix, but it's simmered in a pinkish sweet pepper marinara, gilded with smoked provolone and tucked into a ciabatta with wild baby arugula. It may be the first time you've had an Italian meatball sub with any sort of greenery involved, but it works remarkably well against the sweetness of the sauce.
The cheapest sandwiches on the menu exist on the breakfast (served all day!) side. And the best of those might be the Wake & Bake, which is somewhere between an Egg McMuffin and a Breakfast Jack, with either bacon or sausage. It uses a fried-egg template nearly identical to the one at McDonald's and a brioche that ends up tasting not unlike a burger bun. Do the add-ons of jalapeño jack, jalapeños and guacamole make it worth the $6.25 sticker price? That depends on whether you think the grilled cheese made with Muenster, shaved Parmesan, and a spinach-and-artichoke spread that dribbles out the side is worth $6.75. And that's not counting the bowl of made-on-site tomato soup you have to order separately, without which the grilled cheese isn't complete.
You also need to go with something fancier than ordinary chips as a side. A good choice is the Shaka Spuds, upgraded chips served on a baking sheet, consisting ?of both kettle-style and waffle-cut, everything sprinkled with fried herbs and shaved Parmesan. There is a slew of salads offered, including an obligatory Chinese chicken that's reportedly the most popular with a chile-inflected vinaigrette and shredded chicken. But of the few people ambling into the Surf City branch who didn't ignore the “Restroom for Customers Only” sign, no one ordered the salad. As it is, the Huntington Beach branch is almost always dead despite the constant foot traffic. Do the tourist hordes know aioli from mayo?
Sessions West Coast Deli, 414 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 594-3899; sessionssandwiches.com. Open daily, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sandwiches, $5-$12.