A few weeks back, I set out in search of Tampa Bay's best sandwich.
I identified a front-runner early on, and online readers supported the choice: the cornmeal crusted scallop po' boy with smoky bacon aioli, tomatoes and romaine lettuce at Pane Rustica. The aioli could have used a bit more bite, but the scallops were outrageously fresh, the bread had a most satisfying crunch and the whole package was just pretty damn good.
From there, the sandwich suggestions came from all around. (Commenters' I.D.'s listed in parentheses.)
"The grouper sandwich at any of the four Frenchy's Clearwater Beach locations." (JCarlisle)
"I love Broadway Deli & Café in downtown Dunedin and have had their chicken breast sandwich, Southern fried w/honey mayo. So yummy. Also love Thirsty Marlin's in downtown Palm Harbor for their prime rib sammie." (kfay68)
"Beef Martini sammy at Wright's (with some Zapp's)." (rcbeck77)
"I have a lot of favorites. Pane Rustica's Po-Boy is atop the list. They also do a griddled pastrami that is unreal... Wright's cuban (although not entirely authentic) is my vote for the best in the bay. The Banh Mi at Saigon Deli is in my top 10, primarily because it's $2.99, although I did have a Banh Mi at the new BT the other day (at 4 times that price) that was pretty stellar. There's a fun sandwich at Mi Pueblo called the 'Jibarito' where they use a garlic aji sauce on steak and instead of bread they smash & fry plantains and make a top/bottom for the sandwich. Also I love the Mi Cubano at Cafe Hey, because it blends a cuban sandwich and a Banh Mi, two of my favorites. The last sandwich to really floor me though, was the Torta at Taqueria Monterrey. I mean WOW. You can choose your filling, I've tried puerco, tripa, pulpo, carnitas, and carne asada, and would have a tough time picking a favorite." (TampaFoodie)
"Columbia Cuban... crisp & perfect balance of pork, ham & salami; tripleta on medianoche at West Tampa Sandwich Shop... ham, pork, turkey, and mini fries plus other goodies; Pastrami at Datz; Bahama Baby at Wright's. Lots of roast pork, ham, thin slices of cucumber, crisp, lean bacon and jarlsberg cheese with mustard sauce on an onion roll." (foodie22)
"Have you had lunch at Pinky's Diner on Bay to Bay? They seem to be very famous for their breakfast, but their lunches are phenomenal. They make THE BEST sandwiches, salads and soups." (ilovefood)
"Another vote for Beef Martini @ Wright's Gourmet; the Cuban @ Castellano & Pizzo is my favorite in the area; blackened grouper sandwich @ Frenchy's; Ty's Two Fister @ Datz." (AMS)
"Always pleased with most offerings from Datz (Freeman's Feast is my current fav), Wright's (Paris), Pane Rustica (although the burger or the pizza is typically what I get)... The Bricks have a couple of good choices (Bird & The Pig), as does Tampa Bay Brewing Company (turkey reuben is simple but satisfying... they also have lots of specials that tend to be awesome)." (jj)
"I love the Prosciutto Delight at Castellano & Pizzo." (EricaM)
"I love the Pianta from Tre Amici and the Harvest Turkey from Cafe Hey. YUM!" (lorinda)
"Beef martini from Wright's is great. The turkey version is actually my personal favorite though. Get it pressed! It's makes it so much better — I add jarlsberg too. I know indulgent on top of indulgent but it's great. Roberts has good sandwiches though they can be a little hit or miss — red snapper is good as are all their more meaty choices (all smoked in house). Ahhh, love Cafe Hey — Rebel Rebel, Mi Cubano, and the harvest turkey. Datz has several fantastic sandwiches-yo vinny=delish. For an authentic reuben try Schiller's German deli on West El Prado. The nuthatch at Loon Lake on W. Kennedy is unique and oh so good (I add avocados but I like to go big or go home-though I'm a little girl)... can't wait to try a torta at Taq. Mont, Tampafoodie, and that scallop po boy, namnam!" (Fooddoctor)
"I love the Golden Gate at Wright's, pressed! It's pork, bacon, jarlsberg, chutney, mustard and lettuce." (igougo)
"The oh-so-epic 'Musician' at Cafe Bohemia: the ultimate grilled cheese featuring five cheeses (including gorgonzola) and thick tomato slices on toasted, crusty bread. It can't be beat!" (OceanOwl)
"This is going to sound weird but there's a gas station called Rainbow Food Mart on East Busch that is Indian-owned. They have some of the best sandwiches I've EVER had and they're super cheap ($3-$5 at the most). AND they can make them with a particular Indian spice that's incredible, but you have to have an Indian friend who can go with you and tell them in Hindi." (Adam the intern)
So what's the verdict?
Well, I'm still partial to that scallop po' boy at Pane Rustica. But that beef martini sandwich at Wright's proved to be a worthy rival, a nice balance of mushy (butter-crust white bread), crunchy (crisp bacon) and savory (roast beef and mushrooms marinated in white wine.) Then I tried the roast pork sandwich at the new Pipo's on Central, and oh, my — that's a roast pork sandwich! I tried Matt's Wild West at Datz: a massive sandwich whose melt-in-your-mouth brisket almost made up for the massive $14 price. And I love the The Independent's indie grilled cheese, with its uncommonly delicious addition of cinnamon-dusted pear slices. As an expatriate New Englander, I had to try the knuckle sandwich at Sunday's Fine Dining — lobster knuckles, that is — and found it a sophisticated twist on the old-fashioned lobstah roll. I love everything I've tried at Reservations Gourmet-to-Go in Seminole Heights, I'm a fan of Sono Cafe's paninis, I'm still devoted to Cafe Hey's Mi Cubano — and, as many readers point out, and as Julie Garisto confirms in her story, there's no sandwich anywhere more satisfying, more surprising or more inexpensive than Saigon Deli's banh mi.
Bottom line, there is no such thing as one perfect sandwich. There are lots of them out there — which gives me the perfect excuse to keep on searching.
See you at lunch!
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saigon deli is the best one!
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