I don’t often get excited about sandwiches on road trips. That’s because they’re often, well, boring. But occasionally, some place bowls me over with a sandwich that’s incredibly fresh, creative and served, of course, between two pieces of great bread that definitely weren’t pulled from a bag. Here, then, are the top sandwiches I feasted on during a recent trip through the U.S. mountain states.
If you’re craving some excellence on a long road trip, please, please take a short detour off the dreary I-70 in southwest Colorado and navigate your way through Grand Junction to its historic downtown and 626 on Rood. Yes, it’s a more upscale place, where you’ll pay a pittance for street-front parking, get linen napkins and heavy utensils and have your water glass filled from a long-necked wine bottle. None of this matters, nor does the menu, frankly. Just order the smoked duck breast club sandwich, and you’ll never be able to look at an ordinary club the same way again. It’s that oh-my-God good. Besides the incredibly succulent and plentiful slices of apple-wood-smoked duck (adequate adjectives fail me) there’s pepper bacon, Napa cabbage and roasted garlic mayo, all squeezed between two delightful pieces of challah bread.
Oh, and get some fantastic sweet potato fries as your side, and start things off with a complimentary plate of French baguette slathered in house-made herbed butter. It might be the best $12 you’ll ever spend on lunch. The duck club isn’t listed on the dinner menu, but just ask and they will deliver: They promised me.
626 on Rood
626 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 4 pm-10 pm
I’m taking a two-hour detour for lunch, one that carries me steeply up through dense pine forests and around 15 mph-switchbacks en route to Silver City, in the southwest corner of New Mexico. The Curious Kumquat is just one of those nationally-recognized, destination restaurants you go out of your way for; they’re even sponsoring an NPR program I’m listening to on the tortuous approach.
What makes the Kumquat special? Consider that chef-owner Rob Connoley likes to forage for wild edibles—like cattails, forest moss and crawfish for today’s evening menu. For a relative bargain of about $40, I can enjoy a five-course tasting dinner featuring jerk rabbit, Catalan duck and smoked roots.
But I’m here for a real lunch deal ($7.50), a fantastic Oaxacan sandwich, with plentiful, moist pieces of shredded mole chicken, avocado, goat cheese and apple, served on lovely, seed-crusted ciabatta. The included side salad is no afterthought but a carefully constructed mix of quinoa, grape and sliced vegetables. The server brings around a couple of spectacular-looking desserts, but there’s no room, even for a jelly-filled sandwich cookie. It’s too bad I have to drive, otherwise I’d sample one of their 70 listed international beers.
111 East College Avenue, Silver City, New Mexico
Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 11 am-5 pm, dinner 5:30-8:30 pm (final seating)
“You been on Man Vs. Food?” a customer asks the server as he soldiers through his sandwich at Sedona Memories Bakery & Café, in Sedona, Arizona. “You serve halves?” I add, eying the monsters anchoring tables in the gusty winds. “No, just entire sandwiches,” she replies. “You’ve got to eat the whole thing. We tie you to the chair till you’re finished.”
Sedona Memories doesn’t seem much concerned about aesthetics. Faded red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths cover scuffed beige plastic tables, with chairs to match, and the patio area overlooks a dusty gravel parking lot. This means all the energy goes into producing wonderful, thick, thick sandwiches, all for a bargain $7.25 in tourist-choked Sedona. Eschewing standards like egg and tuna salad or roast beef, I opt for one piled with veggies, cream cheese, avocado and sunflower seeds. What brings it all together is the house-made bread, especially the moist, dense whole wheat or seven grain. Forget getting my mouth around it; I have to stretch my hand just to contain it.
Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe
321 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
Monday to Friday 10 am-2 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
“Many have eaten here… few have died,” declares a sign in Big D’s Downtown Dive, a colourful Roswell diner featuring a collage of New Mexico license plates and tables covered in laminated maps. The Dive is known for its hamburgers and my choice of a cheesesteak sandwich, which seems a bit steep at $8.99 till it lands with a shudder on the table. If they hadn’t cut it in half, it would have measured at least 16 inches of soft roll absolutely stuffed with grilled steak, onions, peppers, mushrooms, green chiles and melted Swiss (my only quibble is it’s a tad salty, for me). This quivering mass is still steaming as I struggle onto the second half, with enough spillage to soak three napkins. It’s a good thing I don’t opt for the double meat (an added $3). That may have been sufficient to trigger my premature demise. One nice detail here is the cucumber-flavoured tank of water.
Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street, Roswell, New Mexico
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm
It takes a while for my lunch-hour order to be taken at *Guava Tree Café in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I don’t mind. It lets me peer into the kitchen and watch the fastest-moving cook I’ve ever seen. She’s a literal whirling dervish, assembling Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring unleavened corn-meal bread. The guy behind the counter isn’t much slower—taking orders, delivering food and whipping up delicious fresh tropical juices. After agonizing deliberation (I really want to order an arepa pocket stuffed with shredded beef, plantains and black beans), I opt instead for a larger Pernil sandwich ($7.50). It’s a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, warm pressed on Cuban bread. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience. My only advice: Don’t be in a hurry. The staff’s got that covered for you.
Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Honourable Mentions for a couple of great places where I tried something other than their most famous sandwiches.
Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli (Salt Lake City, Utah) is one of America’s top delis and renowned for its Caputo sandwich, loaded with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and balsamic ($8.25 for a monster whole, $4.85 for a half).
Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill (Cottonwood, Arizona) makes grilled-steak tortas (big, $7 Mexican sandwiches) that are “three-quarters-of-a-pound of heaven in your mouth,” a server tells me. I do try the toasted telera, far superior to any of the round torta breads I’ve had elsewhere on this trip.