It's hard to really screw up a sandwich, since it requires just enough skill to slap a couple of slices of meat and maybe a little cheese between two pieces of bread.
But by the same token, it's also hard to elevate the sandwich into something truly extraordinary. There are a few spots in Denver that manage, though, turning out masterful creations that put those mediocre ham-and-cheese-on-white-bread creations to shame.
Here are the five best.
5. Masterpiece Delicatessen When Masterpiece sprouted on the edge of Highland under the command of Justin Brunson and Steve Allee -- who'd both cheffed elsewhere before turning their attention to bread and meat -- it immediately netted a loyal following that continues to pack the patio and handful of indoor tables three years later. And for good reason: each sandwich, from the Reuben to the roast beef, really is a masterpiece, executed with an exacting touch and served on a bagel or bread. We're especially in love with the Taylor Pork Roll breakfast sandwich, which pits a thick slice of spicy, finely ground sausage with a gelatinous egg and slab of melted cheddar on an onion bagel. That sammie helped land Masterpiece the Best Breakfast Sandwich award in the Best of Denver 2011.
4. Spinelli's Market During peak hours, the line at the deli case at Spinelli's is nearly as formidable as the long list of sandwiches, a board that covers everything from the classic Reuben to the classic Italian to the California Classic, which layers turkey, bacon, avocado and other accoutrements on a spongey onion roll. Know what you want when you reach the front, because you're expected to order quickly at this Park Hill institution. But no matter what you order, it's bound to be stellar -- which is why Spinelli's was named Best Sandwich Shop in this year's Best of Denver.
3. Vert Kitchen Noah Stephens went to culinary school in Paris, and he takes a chef-like approach to the sandwiches served in the tiny Wash Park operation. Stephens fancied up the BLT with thick bacon, Bibb lettuce and a little fresh mozzarella. He combines turkey, figs and chevre on a crusty baguette. And he's created an excellent pulled pork sandwich, sweet with paprika and textured with a cabbage topping. The board is limited -- and seasonal -- but each offering proves that even a sandwich can be haute cuisine. 2. Buchi Cafe Cubano We've seen plenty of ham, pork and Swiss cheese sandwiches posing as Cubans, but the real deal is a rarity in this town. But Buchi Cafe Cubano, a sweet spot on West 38th, is absolutely authentic, right down to the Cuban bread:a slightly sweet, crusty white loaf similar to -- but not the same as -- French bread. At Buchi, this bread gets stacked with slices of ham, succulent roast pork, layers of Swiss and pickles, then pressed in the panini until the cheese is gooey. A smear of hot mustard perfcts the mix.
1. Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli Nick and Rosa Lonardo have owned this sliver of kitsch on 38th Avenue for the last 37 years. It's an Italian institution that's held on even as the northwest Denver neighborhood has turned over. The front room of the part-market, part-sandwich shop is always packed with patrons willing to brave a long line for a sub and a chat with Rosa, who serves a side of personal philosophy with every paper-wrapped package. The sandwiches are close to perfect: imported cold cuts are sliced thin but stacked thickly on French baguettes; housemade herb-infused meatballs or fennel-specked sausages are pooled with marinara and wedged into the same soft bread. Carbone's, which I review this week, won the award for Best Sandwiches in the Best of Denver 2011.
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