What’s the fanciest under $5 lunch on West Lake Street? How about a sandwich from Lake Street Wine & Cheese? The shop started its sandwich program recently, both hot and cold sandwiches, and it’s some kind of wonderful.
Here’s how it works: You walk in, you behold the $4.50 sandwich menu. You can order off that, and get, say, Raisin River chicken andouille sausage on ciabatta with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and mustard. Or you can start designing your own sandwich, based on what’s on hand. So far, from their designed menu, I’ve had hot ham and cheese with jalapeño jelly, two kinds of cheddar (jalapeño and aged), with tomatoes on wheat (salty, spicy, a little rich, and pretty darn good); and turkey, brie, pears, and mustard on a thick white bread (good, in a creamy way.)
Off the menu, though, that’s where I’ve been happiest. For instance, I got Molinari Genoa salami, smoked provolone, and hot Dijon on a baguette for a hearty submarine worthy of sticking into a bike’s water-bottle holder and hauling up a mountain. And another time—oh joy, oh delight—I saw some fromager d’affinois, that gooey French triple-cream, that looked to be at the peak of perfection, oozing here and there. I asked if I could get some on a sandwich . . . Well, at nearly $20 a pound they said I could if I paid for it, which seemed fair to me. $1.96 on top of my $4.50 later, I had a truly swoon-worthy creation, with parma ham and pears too. I also noted to myself that if I was planning a picnic I could have added almonds, Spanish quicos (corn nuts), and a bottle of something cold from the beer coolers or wine coolers next door and headed right up Lake street to Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles for a very romantic, gourmet evening.
These wonderful new sandwiches also made me remember: Most of the great sandwiches of the Twin Cities are now from cheese shops. Such as:
Ever had the grilled Kasseri cheese one, with kalamata olives? Vibrant. The La Mancha Melt with Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, peppers, and paprika aioli? Powerful. Or the fresh mozzarella pesto one? If you’re a cheese-eating vegetarian, Surdyk’s is one of the best veggie lunches in town. And the meat ones, well, the Val d’Osta with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and rosemary jelly is a joy. If I could choose only one Twin Cities restaurant to eat every meal at for the rest of my life, it might be the Surdyk’s sandwich counter. Need I mention that you can get stuff to make a luxe backyard picnic next door? I’ve seen people hit the liquor store first, then actually hand their wine bottle over to the cheese-counter folks and ask them to make something complementary. That’s living.
Both France 44 in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Cheese Shop are owned by France 44, and they’re both extraordinary. St. Paul is the one that shoots for the moon: House-smoked tongue, duck confit with black tea preserves; braised beef short-ribs with carrot ginger pickles; grilled appenzeller cheese with ramps and honey; and more more more! It’s the gastronaut, locavore, you-ain’t-gonna-believe-it sandwich.
The Minneapolis/Edina border France 44 cheese shop also has sandwiches, less crazy-ambitious, but nonetheless great. Like fennel salami, cloth-bound cheddar, garlic confit, and olive oil, or grass-finished roast beef with horseradish and a garlic aioli. I think of the St. Paul Cheese Shop sandwiches as the test market, and France 44 as the place where the successful ones go to prosper. Needless to say, they have libations for killer picnics in the attached liquor store.
Last but never least, the Nelson Cheese Co., the St. Paul outpost of the famous cheese store in western Wisconsin’s fertile dairy lands. Me, I go for the “Town of Nelson,” overstuffed with turkey, ham, baby Swiss, Monterey Jack, and good old mayonnaise on rye—but I know that many people always get the $28, serves-10 party sub, and I respect that decision.
So put these in your picnic file, your poker file, your last-minute-dinner on the deck file, or wherever you keep info about the great sandwiches near you. Because as far as this critic is concerned, the new conventional wisdom for Twin Cities sandwich greatness is: Cherchez le fromage!