The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sandwich as ...
Just kidding. Everybody knows what a sandwich is. Since we were old enough to grip a greasy grilled cheese, we've been shoving the blessed things in our mouths and smiling about it. Sandwiches are the ultimate convenience food, requiring zero silverware and sometimes not even both hands to devour.
For such a straightforward food item — it is just two pieces of bread separated by a filling — there is remarkable diversity on the sandwich landscape. We decided to dig a little deeper into the local sandwich environment to explore some of our favorites.
Philly Cheesesteak from Original Steaks & Hoagies (10735 Ravenna Rd., Twinsburg, steaksandhoagies.com)
In Philadelphia, "steak shops" are as common as Flyers fans, where on practically every corner shaved ribeye is cooked up on a coal-black griddle and piled into foot-long hoagie buns with — or wit-out — sauteed onions and Cheez Whiz. Provolone also is acceptable. The best versions, like those served at Original Steaks & Hoagies, are built upon soft but sturdy buns from Philly-based Amoroso Bakery, and the beef is chopped into bits on the griddle, leaving the meat surprisingly light and airy. Options are slim when it comes to real-deal cheesesteaks around here, but we also like Eddies Famous Cheesesteaks in Akron (eddiescheesesteaks.com).
Chicago-Style Italian Beef at Local West (7400 Detroit Ave., localwestcleveland.com)
If you order your Italian beef "hot and wet" in Chi-town, you'll be treated to a flavorful onslaught of buttery, thin-sliced roast beef, sweet peppers, spicy pickled vegetables and enough pan juices to ruin a good pair of loafers. For some, the attraction lies in the heap of tender beef, which languishes in a warm bath of pan drippings. For others, it's the spicy giardiniera, which provides the only texture in an otherwise squidgy sandwich. Here in Cleveland, the options are slim, but Local West's version comes pretty close. We also like the ones served at D'Italia (websiteditaliafoods.com).
French Dip at Rosewood Grill (Multiple locations, rosewoodgrill.com)
The kissing cousin to the Italian beef, the French Dip is ideal for diners who like to control the level of sogginess — and saltiness — of their shaved-beef sandwich. Instead of being dunked in au jus, or being on the receiving end of a ladleful, this sandwich gets a sidecar of sauce. Dip, dab or dunk, the results all are delicious. The addition of cheese, mustard, horseradish or grilled onions, while not typical, also are not not delicious. We still haven't found a better dip in town than the ones served up at Rosewood Grill, but give the ones at Parkview Nite Club (parkviewniteclub.com) and Flat Iron Cafe (flatironcafe.com) a spin and you won't be disappointed.
Italian Sub at Cleveland Pickle (850 Euclid Ave., clevelandpickle.com)
If you grab slices of damn near everything in the deli case of your local Italian market, pile them into a sub bun, and douse the whole affair with vinaigrette, you end up with one of America's best lunches. Since opening its doors downtown, Cleveland Pickle has been knocking this sando out of the park, a two-fisted pipe of prosciutto, capicola, sopressata, provolone and spicy pickle relish, which gives it a modern kick. We're fans, too, of the versions sold at Angelo's Pizza (angelosonline.com), Dave's Cosmic Subs (davescosmicsubs.com) and the Hot Italian at Melt Bar & Grilled (meltbarandgrilled.com).
Roast Pork at Bogtrotters Doorstep (1848 West 25th St.)
That "other" famous sandwich from Philly, the roast pork actually is preferred by many locals because of its multi-dimensionality. Whereas the cheesesteak is basically meat and cheese on a bun, the roast pork benefits from the addition of bitter broccoli rabe, sharp provolone, and plenty of juicy porky drippings in place of run-of-the-mill griddle grease. Cleveland's best version goes by the name of Porkopolis, and it's sold from a make-shift cafe carved out of the Old Angle Tavern. The newly opened Herb'n Twine (herbntwine.com) has a model built with juicy, savory porchetta.
Lobster Roll at Alley Cat Oyster Bar (1056 Old River Rd., alleycatoysterbar.com)
When your principal ingredient is lobster, the main job of the cook is simply not to screw things up. If you start — and practically stop — with succulent chunks of sweet Maine lobster meat, the sandwich will take care of itself. If you gently poach that lobster meat in butter, as Alley Cat does, all the better. Here, the customary mayo is swapped for light and creamy Green Goddess dressing, a nice twist, and slaw adds a pleasant crunch. All that jazz is spooned into a toasted split-top bun and served with fries. Nauti Mermaid (thenautimermaid.com) serves up a great one, as does Jammy Buggars (jammybuggars.com), which folds in some sweet shrimp.
Fried Perch at Lobster Brothers (26055 Detroit Rd., Westlake, lobsterbrothers.com)
Lobster might not be a local product, but lake perch and walleye most certainly are. In fact, some could argue that the fish fry is our official sandwich. Everybody from the corner pub to the local church professes to make and serve the best around, but we know better because we've suffered through countless versions made with the opposite of fresh fish. The best around is fried to order at Lobster Brothers, a fresh fish and seafood market that only does carry-out. The thin flanks of fish are flash fried and tucked into a burger bun with lettuce and mayo for a crunchy, creamy taste of summer. Out west, in Port Clinton, hit up Jolly Rogers Seafood. Out east, visit Hil-Mak Seafood in Ashtabula. Here in town, we love the fried walleye sando at Fish Shack & Grill in Clark-Fulton.
Fried Oyster Po' Boy at Bourbon Street Barrel Room (2393 Professor Ave., bourbonstreetbarrelroom.com)
You can scoop almost anything out of the sea, deep fry it, pile it into a baguette with crunchy veggies and creamy remoulade and it will be delicious. But we prefer oysters, shrimp or soft-shell crab. Both shrimp- and oyster-based versions are available at Bourbon Street Barrel Room, with the latter edging out the former in terms of flavor and texture. They're paired with shredded lettuce and chopped tomato and drizzled with a creamy mayo-based "bistro sauce." On the east side of town, Tavern Company (thetaverncompany.com) in Cleveland Heights concocts a near-perfect soft-shell crab version while the Ragin' Cajun at Nola's Po' Boy Shop (nolaspoboyshop.com) in Strongsville is a crispy bundle of Creole lovin'.
Bravocado Sandwich at Beet Jar (1432 West 29th St., beetjar.com)
You don't have to be a practicing vegan or vegetarian to opt for a meat-free lunch. Heck, you might even feel better afterwards. The good news is that Cleveland is chock-full of delicious sandwiches that shun the beef, options which are available both at conventional eateries and those well-known for catering to vegetarians. Since opening, the Beet Jar has been adored for its take on the popular avocado toast concept. Though it starts with avocado and toast, it expands to include toasty coconut, red onion, greens and creamy cashew spread, which all combine to form a meat-free fiesta. When it comes to other vegetarian-friendly sandwiches, we also love the Grilled Eggplant with bocconcini and pesto mayo at La Bodega (labodega-tremont.com) in Tremont, the On the Road at Root Cafe (theroot-cafe.com) in Lakewood, made with beets, goat cheese, caramelized onions and spinach, and Market at the Fig's (theflyingfig.com) Mediterranean-inspired Vegan, ciabatta bread loaded with grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, hummus and pickled vedge.
Fried Chicken at Greenhouse Tavern (2038 East Fourth St., thegreenhousetavern.com)
That's right, we gave fried chicken sandwiches their own damn category. Not only are they the best way to eat fried chicken short of a picnic in a park, but they are the hottest thing going on the sando circuit. Greenhouse knocks them out of the park for a number of reasons, but mainly because they're made using boneless thighs; also because they are hot as Hades and crisp as a chip. No surprise that Southern-themed take-out shop Chow Chow Kitchen in Lakewood serves up its own killer version, this one a Nashville Hot-style with crispy breast meat, creamy coleslaw and refreshing pickle chips. Also on the must-sample list: the Epic Fried Chicken Sandwich at Southside (southsidecleveland.com) with chow chow relish and chili aioli, and Market Garden Brewery's (marketgardenbrewery.com) Fried Chicken Sandwich that's topped with buttermilk coleslaw, cucumber pickles and spicy mayo.