East meets po-boy: French Sandwiches delivers the goods

Are we killing the planet? How did life first form on Earth? Where did Prince go? At some point, we all ask ourselves these questions. Here’s one you’ve probably asked yourself: Can a French-Vietnamese restaurant in San Antonio possibly be any good?

OK, maybe you’ve never asked yourself that. But if you did and haven’t found the answer yet, I’m here with a full report.

French Sandwiches channels Vietnam in a strip center that already contains Thai and Indian establishments. The restaurant’s interior is smallish, and so is the menu, featuring 16 sandwiches, a couple of soups, and a handful of salads. The breakfast menu offers only three choices. Either French Sandwiches is too lazy to branch out, or so humbly confident in their sandwiches that they don’t need more offerings.

If it’s the latter, they have reason to be. French Vietnamese sandwiches are a unique blend of texture and flavor, the crunch of carrots with the creaminess of mayo, the brightness of cilantro with the earthiness of pate. It sounds weird to combine these two genres of food together, like a fusion experiment gone awry. But when it’s good, the extreme flavors mellow each other out and create a kind of food alchemy, where conflicting tastes become delicious. Every sandwich I tried at French Sandwiches hit this mark.

All sandwiches are served on your choice of croissant or French bread, and the lunch price ($6-8) is right. The vegetable sandwich (stir-fried onion, mushrooms, bell peppers, and Swiss cheese) was saucy with veggie pan drippings and a tad messy, but not a problem provided you eat quickly. If you’re a lazy vegetarian who still craves the flavor of meat, the pan sauce on the vegetable sandwich will satisfy you.

The boulettes marseillaises (sliced French meatballs) come with a smattering of vegetables and a smear of mayo. The meatballs are juicy without being greasy — and yet the bread isn’t waterlogged. They slice the meatballs thin for easy bites. The chef’s continental sandwich also remains manageable, despite containing homemade pate, sausage, and chicken. It’s a little drier than most of the sandwiches because of the mayo-to-meat ratio, but still tasty. The pate flavor seems lost among the other meats, but overall it’s a strong offering that lives up to its French roots.

The trademark of all French Vietnamese food is the banh mi. French Sandwiches doesn’t offer banh mi on the menu, but two sandwiches come pretty close — the chef’s continental and the recently added grilled pork sandwich. The chef’s continental needs a sour note for it to be a real banh mi. But the grilled pork sandwich comes with pickled onions and carrots on the side, adding a tartness, and the thinly sliced pork remains tender.

All sandwiches are accompanied by soup, salad, or chips. There are two soups every day — a rotating special and French onion. The asparagus shrimp soup (Mondays and Tuesdays) is a thick, white seafood broth with chunks of soft, overcooked asparagus with shrimp floating in it. The French onion soup is better, although a little oily, with a good onion flavor and a hunk of bread floating on top. Sandwiches also come with a cream puff (which very well might be store-bought) serving as a sweet, unexpected end to the meal.

If you’re thinking of ordering the iced milk coffee, brace yourself. It’s intensely sweet and strong, served in an enormous Styrofoam cup (eco-insult Styrofoam, my only complaint). Just thinking about that coffee again makes me jittery, though — maybe I shouldn’t have quaffed the entire thing.

French Sandwiches is open for breakfast and lunch only, unless you eat an extraordinarily early dinner. The service felt a little slow for a place that caters to the business lunch crowd, but the food arrives fast. About half of the patrons come in for meals to go. For carry-out orders, sandwiches heavy on the sauce (like the vegetable sandwich) don’t make the trip very well. The French bread turned cold and became mushy from the sauce. But the continental stood up well to reheating, as did the grilled pork.

The food at French Sandwiches seems so humble and simple that it’s easy to dismiss. But French Sandwiches gets it right — which is why I’m craving another right now. •

French Sandwiches

8448 Fredericksburg

(210) 692-7019

THE SKINNY: French Vietnamese sandwiches with soups and salads

BEST BETS: Grilled pork sandwich, French onion soup

HOURS: 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

PRICES: $4-$8

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