Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travels with Frenchie

French Sandwiches

Posted on Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge TWF core team members Carlos Montoya and Fabian Jacob with March guest critic Gerry Goldstein.
  • TWF core team members Carlos Montoya and Fabian Jacob with March guest critic Gerry Goldstein.
Release Date: 2009-03-25

We all thought last month was the end of the line for TWF. Our finality had been programmed from the beginning, but a funny thing happened on our way to the potter’s field — we crossed paths with legendary local defense attorney Gerry Goldstein. If Goldstein was good enough to defend gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, then how about three gonzo food journalists from San Antonio sitting on “death row?”  We appealed for clemency, and with the addition of positive testimony from the public, we were granted a reprieve.

So, to the surprise of us all, welcome to another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explore our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As before, the team consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker), and this month only, Gerry Goldstein (Esquire extraordinaire).

I assumed Fabien was aware of everything “French” in San Antonio — it’s a short list. But somehow a small out-of-the-way shop on the Northwest side called French Sandwiches had so far eluded his attention. It’s located at 8448 Fredericksburg Road, at Wurzbach, next door to India Palace (the Indian buffet we alluded to in TWF: Vol. 5).

I’m not sure who invented the sandwich, but the French must be given their proper due, for whatever land they brutally colonized, a trail of quality bread is left behind. Had it not been for a power vaccuum in the U.S. in the 1860s, the French might not have briefly taken control of Mexico and left us with the torta (a litmus test for a quality taco truck.)

Similarly, if the French hadn’t gone wild in Southeast Asia, we would be without bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that also incorporates a variety of French baguette.  This knowledge became useful when we walked into French Sandwiches, for though I tantalized myself with the thought of entering a lost boulangerie, French Sandwiches is in fact a mom and pop Vietnamese-owned shop.

As we settled into our seats, Gerry told us fascinating and hilarious stories about his friendship with Thompson, e.g. Gerry complimenting hotel staff for the beautiful flowers in every room, unaware that Hunter had paid for them all with Gerry’s credit card. (It should be noted that the Current did not play the same prank on Goldstein for lunch.)

While other stories unfolded, we dug in to our meal. The French onion soup was a house favorite, and we all had slightly different opinions about it. Carlos loved it until he realized it contains cheese. Fabien and Gerry appreciated the taste but thought it could be improved if the onions were more caramelized. I found the taste to be slightly thin, but a good enough beginning.

Next, Carlos opted for the combo sandwich with stir-fried turkey and ham, as well as cucumbers and a few other vegetables. He was quite impressed, and ordered three. “I really like the hot and cold combination,” he said. “One was good and the second was just right, but I knew there would be a bicycle ride that night so a to-go third would provide some nice fuel for later.”

I ordered the Chef’s Continental, which is French Sandwiches’ version of the classic French-Vietnamese sandwich. Fabien ordered the pâté sandwich, which shared a few similarities with bánh mì. In his words: “I was surprised by the texture of the ‘pâté.’ In France we use a lot more pork fat in pate and the consistency becomes almost like a spread with little chunks of meat inside. But the flavor was great. I was able to taste the chicken liver and the herbs without it being overpowering.”

Gerry likes his food clean and healthy, so he went with the white-meat chicken salad. He liked the overall quality and was happy they used good-sized chunks of chicken; it wasn’t the unrecognizable mess that chicken salad can become.

If you go to French Sandwiches expecting French cuisine, you will be disappointed. But as a lunchtime shop, it succeeds brilliantly. Given that their competitors are Subway and Quiznos, French Sandwiches creates a tasty niche with an affordable artisanal approach. Pâté? Bánh mì? Tofu sandwiches? All under the same roof.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gerry: It was just what I wanted that day — clean and healthy. I’m glad we went here and not out for puffy tacos.

Fabien: Overall, the food was fresh and very good for the price. The pâté was different, but healthier.

Mark: Casually exotic. They’ve been open since 1990 and yet so few people know about it.

Carlos: I felt like I was getting something of substance without having to feel it later.

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