PDX Sandwich Throwdown

When you talk about finding a good sandwich in Portland with foodies the conversation will inevitably turn the Big Three: Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen, Bunk Sandwiches, and Meat Cheese Bread.

All three of these places use premium ingredients and are slightly different - and there is much debate on the blogs and messageboards about which one is the best. Only one way to decide, right? Yep, Wifey and I got a taste of all three (though not on the same day).

Meat Cheese Bread: We went here for the Park Kitchen, a flank steak and bleu cheese mayo sandwich. The owner used to work at Park Kitchen, a Portland restaurant, and this meal was an afterhours staple for kitchen workers (so the story I've heard goes). When cooks eat something, it's usually good stuff. And this was good stuff. Well done, despite being so simple - but with a name like Meat Cheese Bread you have to expect simplicity. That's good when done well, and this place does it well. Our sample size is admittedly small, but we'll definitely go back and try some of the other items on the menu. No sides with the sandwiches included. Oh, and check out some of the pieces from Xocalatl de David - fantastic chocolates. With bacon. Yes, it's that good.

Bunk Sandwiches: The Bunk menu is long, but the online version of it is only a guide - you have to go into the shop to see what they have on a given day. And get there early, because you will be standing in line. Sandwiches start being served at 11. We actually went there twice. The first time we got there too late and the line was about 30 long - we didn't feel like waiting. The second time we got there at 11 and there were only four people in front of us. What we went there for - the pork belly with sauerkraut, Russing dressing, and gruyere - wasn't on the day's menu, so we went with another pork belly Cubano sandwich (which is not online and this was two weeks ago and I have a bad memory and I should really write things down). So good! The sandwich came with chips too. The menu is chock full of things I don't normally associate with sandwich food, but given the first experience - admittedly limited - and how much people love them, I'm going back. I'm intrigued by the tongue - but I'm nowhere near ready to attempt tripe. Maybe someday. All in all, I'd stand in line for them again - maybe even at 20 deep, which isn't unusual for them at all.

Kenny and Zuke's: At the other two places we ordered one sandwich each to go, but here we actually sat down and had lunch. Known for their pastrami (this is a Jewish delicatessen, rare on the West Coast), Wifey ordered the specialty of the house - a classic pastrami Rueben. Me, apparently with eyes bigger than stomach (no jokes, please) ordered a meshugaletta. And what, you may ask, is that? It's a double-decker sandwich with pastrami, salami, roast beef, and turkey. Both came with pickles and a side - Wifey got potato salad and I got the cole slaw (which was really good and not mayo-based). Word to the wise: that sandwich was a monster. As in huge. As in I wish had brought my camera to memorialize it. If you click on the Menu page on their website, the picture opposite the different menus is of the meshugaletta - and that's how I felt too. But you know what? Both sandwiches were amazingly good. Awesome good. And three meals each. How's that for good?! We also orderd an Egg Cream, billed as a NY Chocolate Soda (no actual egg involved). That was - um - not something that met our tastebuds happily. Not yummy - but apparently New York "real." (If you want to see some thoughts and pictures from someone who knows about these things, click here.)

Perhaps as much fun as the sandwiches is the deli portion. We've been back a couple times and ordered various things, from rugelach (a sweet filled pastry), salt bagels (soft and yummy), New York cheesecake (literally the best we've ever had), to an onion bialy (very good). Everything has been wonderfully good.

Kenny and Zuke's actually has too locations, with a smaller SandwichWorks shop deeper in NW (the main place is just off Burnside downtown). The day before we went to Crater Lake we were in the area so decided to get sandwiches from here to eat at the lake. Wifey ordered the Italian Grinder and I went with the Hood River (intriguing mix of apples, cheese, and ham). Both came with chips and pickles, which was nice. And both were, again, awesome. We ate them not too far from the visitor's center at a point where we could look almost straight down the rim to the clear blue water. Good times.

Also, one of the owners, Nick Zukin, runs a very good blog about Portland food along with a fantastic message board community. He will routinely chime in there on just about any topic.


So is there a winner here? I mean, after all of this I should pick one, right? That's the whole point of having a "throwdown" isn't it?

Well, I can't. See, in my view all three of these places - while all serving sandwiches - fill a different niche, a different craving.

Meat Cheese Bread is perfect in its simplicity, the place you go when you don't want something out of the norm but still want it to be good.

Bunk fills the need to challenge your taste buds, to present you with the chance to try something you never thought you would eat, or maybe just never thought of putting on a sandwich.

Kenny and Zuke's is the place to go for variety, the place that harkens back to what many people think a sandwich shop should be (and after experiencing it, not having been to one in New York, it's hard to disagree).

All three of these places also serve various breakfast foods which I have not tried, but plan to at some point.

In all honesty, it just depends on your mood and what sounds good - all three are excellent and will make your stomach happy.

Gun to my head? Okay, I suppose I can choose one then, if it's really got to be that serious. I'd take Kenny and Zuke's, for the old style feel and flavors as well as the huge variety both on the menu and in the deli case.

Still, I plan on doing plenty more research...

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