Saturday, November 3, is officially National Sandwich Day, but the made-up holiday is really just fodder for talking about portable, handheld meals between bread. Whether you like your sandwiches hot, cold, pressed, fluffy, full of meat, oozing cheese, covered in pickles, slathered with mayo or mustard, on a roll, or so messy you need to eat with a fork, there's something out there for everyone. That's why we tapped Denver's food and drink folk to find out where they get their sandwich fix — and the choices prove as diverse as the sandwich itself. Get ready to slap some bread together, or head to one of these fine places and celebrate any day you want.
Corey Baker, chef/owner of Sushi Ronin and Izakaya Ronin
You might be surprised that sushi master Corey Baker has a hankering not for yellowtail or caviar, but for a Philly cheesesteak — specifically, the one found at Denver Ted's, at 2020 Lawrence Street downtown. "It seems ludicrous that Denver hasn't had much in doing cheesesteaks right, but now I'm satisfied every time I eat there," says Baker. "The bread is the most important part of a sandwich to me — and, damn, that bread is good."
Order a classic cheesesteak, or go for one of the more creative creations such as the Helton, bulging with jalapeños, mushrooms and Cheez Whiz; or the vegetarian version, dubbed Hello Bello, with a portobello mushroom chopped and marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette along with green and sweet peppers. No matter what you get, it all comes on the same tender hoagie Baker dreams of.
Nadine Donovan, executive pastry chef for Secret Sauce Food & Beverage
When not creating decadent desserts for Secret Sauce's restaurants, Ace Eat Serve, Vesta and Steuben’s, pastry chef Nadine Donovan reaches for the decidedly not-sweet smashed chickpea sandwich at Leven Deli (123 West 12th Avenue) in the Golden Triangle. "This colorful Leven gem is the perfect light lunch to satiate the appetite without weighing me down," she says of her go-to sandwich.
It's easy to see how she became enamored; the sandwich comes stuffed with marinated, smashed chickpeas, tahini yogurt, avocado, sliced radishes and pickled onions, all folded in housemade sourdough flatbread, which adds a nice tang.
Tommy Lee, founder of Uncle and Hop Alley
What makes a good Italian sandwich? Chef/restaurateur Tommy Lee has some ideas. "There has to be the right balance between bread texture, meats, cheese and acidic components to get it just right," he explains. Lee holds Masterpiece Delicatessen's (1575 Central Street) Italian sandwich in deepest adoration. "Masterpiece loads theirs with awesome artisan charcuterie and meats that strike the right balance of porky-ness, aged funk and slight spice."
Lee also appreciates the loaf the shop uses, professing it has a nice crunch on the outside and fluffy crumb that helps soak up the peppery dressing. Add some arugula and red onion to help cut the richness of the meat and cheese, and you have one of the best Italian sandwiches around.
"I crave the Italian from Masterpiece whenever I want a sandwich, but limit it to days where I can take a nap afterward," says the chef. "It’s a beast!"
Mary Allison Wright, co-owner of RiNo Yacht Club
Although she may know everything about wine and booze (she's also co-owner of the Proper Pour liquor store and is wine consultant to the newly opened Morin), Mary Allison Wright also knows a proper sandwich when faced with one. Right now, her sandwich of choice is the turkey melt at Port Side (2500 Larimer Street).
"It isn't what you'd call a sandwich shop, but this puppy is perfection," says Wright. "Chris Bell is putting out an insanely delicious and perfectly curated menu from his tiny coffee shop, and each dish is so thoughtful on the small but mighty menu." The sandwich is made with turkey, aged cheddar, arugula pesto, pickled carrot and Dijon mustard, so it's easy to see how the bar maven got addicted.
Adam Branz, executive chef at Ultreia
Chef Adam Branz of Ultreia (1701 Wynkoop Street) in Union Station recently waxed poetic about his favorite sandwich, the barbecue brisket at Owlbear BBQ. While it's not the easiest sandwich to secure, as owner Karl Fallenius is in the process of opening a brick-and-mortar shop, there have been plenty of pop-ups all over the city. Branz's recent favorite pop-up for some Owlbear brisket was at TRVE Brewing (227 Broadway), which, says Branz, just adds to his enjoyment.
"I grew up on all things barbecue, but these memories don’t hold a candle to Karl’s meat-smoking sorcery," says the chef. "His brisket is the kind of brisket sandwich that makes you stop eating and forces you to start thinking about balance like smoke, beef, acid, fat, crunch," says Branz. "Paired with TRVE Brewing’s beers, vibe, people and space, it makes for one hell of an experience."
Expect to see the chef lining up when Fallenius opens up shop. Until then, Branz suggests following Owlbear on social media to find out where the brisket will strike next.
Carlin Karr, wine director for Tavernetta, Frasca and Pizzeria Locale
When Carlin Karr wants a sandwich, Hillstone's (303 Josephine Street) French dip is high on the list. "It’s the right amount of guilty, good but never sloppy," says Karr, who enjoys how the bread is soft but stays intact. "It's so consistent, and going to Hillstone always puts me in a great mood."
Karr also can't get enough of Moxie Bread Co.’s (641 Main Street, Louisville) spring chicken sandwich, both because of the wonderful ciabatta bread and the herby, crunchy filling chock-full of apple, heirloom tomatoes and almonds. "The chicken salad is divine," she says, adding that it's "perfect." All you have to do is make the short road trip to Louisville.
Bill Miner, owner of Il Porcellino Salumi
Given that Bill Miner owns the Berkeley meat shop Il Porcellino Salumi, it's surprising that he'd crave a sandwich when he's not on the clock (especially since he makes tasty ones of his own). But there's a little cafe not too far from his shop that occasionally draws him in. "My favorite sandwich shop is Buchi on West 38th Avenue, specifically their Cubano," says Miner, adding that it's the best Cubano he's had in Denver and he'll eat it anytime. "The mix of the pickles, mustard, Swiss cheese and obviously pork — it’s just the perfect sandwich for me." Find the charming Buchi Cafe Cubano at 2651 West 38th Avenue to indulge in a true Cuban sandwich.
Jeff Osaka, founder of Sushi-Rama, Osaka Ramen and 12@Madison
Ever since chef and restaurateur Jeff Osaka opened his first Denver restaurant, in the Ballpark neighborhood, he's been a sucker for Hi-Rise Bakery's (2162 Larimer Street) Italian sub sandwich. "It's not as easy as people think to make a sandwich," says Osaka. "Building the layers, bread-to-filling ratio, and condiments spread from end to end — Hi-Rise does it right."
The substantial sandwich comes with a variety of Boar's Head meats including salami, capicola and ham, along with provolone, giardiniera, garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onion and Italian dressing, all on a crusty baguette made at the bakery. Osaka says he would eat it all the time if his waistline allowed for it; instead, he limits this tasty lunch to about once a month.
Todd Leopold, co-founder of Leopold Brother's Distillery
It's fair to reason that a hearty sandwich can help counteract the effects of sampling and analyzing booze, and that's where Todd Leopold's favorite sandwich comes in. Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen (725 East 26th Avenue) is one of the distiller's most loved places, which he has frequented since it opened in 2014. "Lox and bagels are delicious," says Leopold. "They're a guilty pleasure." Though some might not consider the bagel sandwich a true sandwich, given the cream cheese and smoky lox found between the circle-shaped bread, in this context we think it counts.
Joshua Pollack, founder of Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Famous Original J’s Pizza
Bagel expert Josh Pollack has found chef Ian Wortham's panino at Tavernetta (1889 16th Street) to be the sandwich of his lunchtime dreams. The only problem is, he can only get it on Mondays when he's off work, but it's worth it to make a detour to Union Station. "At Tavernetta, the hoagie bread is baked with ricotta cheese, and the best part is how the ricotta has melted into the bread when you get to the bottom of it," says Pollack. "Also, I respect the use of shredded lettuce to pay homage to the chef’s New Jersey roots." The pressed sandwich is also filled with prosciutto cotto, salami napolitano, mortadella and provolone.
Chad Michael George, co-owner of The Way Back
Hops & Pie (3920 Tennyson Street) serves Chad Michael George's favorite sandwiches — not surprising to those who know to look beyond the bar's pizza menu. "The sandwiches are the hidden gem," says George, a partner at the Way Back just up the street. "The housemade bread is delicious, they give you the most generous portions of meat on any Italian sandwich in town, and the weekly special sandwich is always stellar." While there are a handful of tasty creations on the menu, the aforementioned Italian is addictive.
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The recipe for the tender, fresh-made bread includes IPA, just like the pizza dough owners Leah and Drew Watson use for the pies, and it's worth ordering all on its own. For the Italian, Hops & Pie piles the sandwich with salami, mortadella, prosciutto, provolone, lettuce, banana peppers, housemade sweet pickles, red wine vinegar, aioli and tomatoes. It's a perfect bite each time, and you can get it for lunch or dinner.
Chef Julian Kurz of Ad Hominem
Julian Kurz, the executive chef at Ad Hominem, heads to Sub-Culture (1300 Pennsylvania Street) when he's craving a hearty sandwich. And of the mind-blowing menu, the Uptown, with andouille sausage, provolone, grilled onions, mayo and giardiniera has a special place in his foodie heart. "The freshly baked bread and always-fresh ingredients never disappoint," says Kurz. "They have a consistently delicious product while offering a variety of options for food sensitivities and allergies." Given that his fiancée has celiac disease, this last point means a lot to both of them.