The best sandwiches are those hardest to consume... with any amount of composure
A handful of years ago, back when Write Club SF was still kicking it at The Make-Out Room in the Mission, I won a roomful of people over by confessing that I cannot, for the life of me, eat a sandwich properly.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a comedian. I’m not even that good at telling stories under the pressure of a 7-minute time constraint. But perhaps being confronted with the image of having the entire food pyramid plummet out of my mouth during various mealtime scenarios made a kind of relatable sense to the audience.
After all, whom among us has not endured such embarrassment while simply seeking nourishment and a nosh?
Fast-forward to late July 2022. I’m sitting on a bench in Alamo Square with Matt Charnock (aka Underscore_SF’s fearless editor-in-chief). It’s bright and sunny and maybe a hair too warm for San Francisco’s summer weather. We’ve just come from Lucinda’s Deli, one of the best sandwich shops in the city, and I’m precariously balancing one of their monsters on a flimsy wrapper on my lap. I am not being hyperbolic — these sandwiches are gargantuan. We’re talking pornographic levels of girth.
Matt thinks I’m just yammering on, letting him in on some local hot goss, but little does he know I’m actually buying time, trying to figure out how I’m going to fit my lunch in my mouth without things resulting in the culinary equivalent of a massive car pile-up. Meat and lettuce and Dutch crunch crumbs everywhere! All that gluten-filled debris! I know what’s about to happen, and it’s not gonna be pretty.
When it comes to the delicacy that is the stuffed sandwich, there are two things working against me: 1) my hands are small as shit (genetics!), so my grip game is not that solid, and 2) my mouth is not as cavernous as some (also genetics!), so it’s hard to shove a multi-layered meal in there. I’m no pelican. I can’t just gulp and go.
Despite these minor setbacks, I love a good sandwich. Who doesn’t? They’re fucking delicious, and also a gateway to my childhood and nostalgia. Ye olde PB&J, for sure, but also corned beef and Swiss, pastrami piled high, baloney with ketchup (don’t judge me, I was a child), tuna fish on toasted white bread, Chicago Italian beef! (Yes, yes, I, too, can relate to The Bear in more ways than one.) And even if something you’d get at your local deli isn’t for you, have you ever eaten bánh mì? A torta? A super burrito? Sandwiches, in all their various forms, are forever. A quintessential food.
Anyway, back to Alamo Square: the culinary car crash does happen. Prosciutto and arugula and globs of pepper relish wind up inches away from massacring my jeans. Things get…well, messy, and I run through half a stack of napkins in less than 10 minutes. “Look away!” I want to yell. “Shield your eyes from this abject horror!”
Instead, Matt just laughs at my unfortunate state, and we decided I should write about this totally ridiculous phenomenon.
For this inaugural column, I’m bringing you my first will-it-fall-out-of-my-mouth / won’t-it-fall-out-of-my-mouth assessment based on a few sandwiches from Turner’s Kitchen, a small outpost in the Mission. Located at 17th Street and Guerrero, some of you may know it as the former Clare’s Deli, but it transitioned to Turner’s Kitchen after Ken Turner, a Zuni Café alum, purchased the space in 2015.
If you’ve ever visited the shop, or even peeped their incredible, hunger-inducing Instagram, you know what’s up: there are sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches. Sandwiches for days. Piled high with meats, cheeses, veggies, slaws, aiolis, and an admirable amount of creativity when it comes to fresh, seasonal ingredients. With a daily changing menu and a cheeky tagline (#freegluten), how can you really go wrong? You can also get Frito Pie, housemade chili, soups, pasta and potato salad, stuffed grape leaves, and even chips and caviar—which are all very good!—but the stuffed sandwiches are the main draw.
If you read no further, I just want to emphasize that you should 100% plan a trip to Turner’s Kitchen, pick up some sammies, chips, and maybe a few Mexican Cokes, and then head to Dolores Park and have yourself a nice lil’ picnic. Or head to a rooftop, like I did, to take in the last of this summer weather before Karl the Fog comes back in full autumnal force. Either way, you won’t regret it. (Just a note: it’s takeaway-only, but if you want to skip the line, their online ordering system allows you to purchase ahead.)
Okay, but let’s be real, this is what you really came here for: did the ingredients in these sandwiches tumble out of my mouth, full-on avalanche-style? Or did I manage to hold it together for once in my damn life?
Let’s look at the completely subjective, non-scientific data and find out!
Ingredients: Roast turkey, avocado, arugula, fresh sweet corn, cotija cheese, roasted poblano peppers, lime, fresh Mexican sour cream, tajin, ciabatta roll
Girth: 11 inches (yes, of course I measured)
Could I fit the whole front end in my mouth? I could not! Definitely had to come at this one with numerous chomps. 11 whole inches of sandwich circumference is profound!
Did shit fall out of my mouth?: Unfortunately, not even this tightly-packed sandwich could escape fate. But! It was very close. During the first bite, everything looked steady, but the second bite saw an ejection of arugula, corn, and avocado, and towards the end, an entire slice of avocado fell cleanly out. I obviously ate it—only a fool would ever waste avocado—and overall, there wasn’t much spillage. Also, the sandwich itself was delectable. A solid ratio of ingredients to bread, stuffed but not overstuffed, and definitely reminiscent of its Mexican street food namesake. If this one’s on the menu, I’d highly recommend ordering it!
Ingredients: Applewood smoked bacon, melted brie, arugula, tomato, roasted garlic mayo, fresh black pepper, ciabatta roll
Girth: 9 3/4 inches
Could I fit the whole front end in my mouth? I could not! Just too wide to get it all in there in one go.
Did shit fall out of my mouth?: Traditionally, I don’t have a good track record with BLTs. It’s possible it’s because, in San Francisco, the bread of choice seems to be sliced sourdough, which isn’t always the best vehicle for beautiful but juicy ingredients like fresh tomatoes or holding a high spread of aioli. Sourdough, while absolutely delicious, often has holes and can get soppy, and soppiness leads to uneven weight distribution, which invariably means ingredients will fall out or leak through. (Look, I’m not a physicist or a food scientist, this is just how it seems to work!) None of this has stopped me in the past, however; BLTs are a top-tier sandwich, in my book. I’m just very picky about who I choose to eat them in front of because that person will definitely be witnessing a chaotic ingredient landslide!
Anyway, I am happy to report that if we’re strangers, I’d probably be okay with eating Turner’s version of a BLT in front of you. While there was some precariousness with the arugula, and leakage from the tomatoes (that’s how you know they’re fresh!), the sandwich — for the most part — held together. I’m attributing this to more tight packing, but also tucking the bacon slices inside the sandwich (I love bacon but BLTs are notorious for slices of bacon poking out at all angles, like a bunch of crispy, heavenly barbs), the use of melted brie (a sumptuous wild card ingredient and one which probably helped keep everything in place), and the decision to use ciabatta, which, as a thicker bread, seems to be a better vehicle for tomato juice.
Clare’s French Dip (the one and only!)
Ingredients: Roast beef with melted fontina on a toasted ciabatta roll, served with horseradish sauce and rosemary au jus on the side
Girth: 9 inches
Could I fit the whole front end in my mouth? I think if I’d made more of an effort, I could have, but I wound up dipping the corner front end of the sandwich in the au jus and kind of came at everything from an angle. Basically: I did not fulfill the brief! I’m sorry, I will do better next time!
Did shit fall out of my mouth?: By and large, everything pretty much stayed in place! If I had to guess, this was mostly because of the au jus, which softened the bread and the other ingredients and made everything less pliable. If anything, I guess wet bread could have fallen out of my mouth — but it did not! This was a rock star sandwich, the rosemary au jus being the true hero. It was very delicate, in flavor and substance: not too thin, but not too thick—the Goldilocks in me was like: “Hmmm, yes, wow, this is just right.” And something else I truly loved? They did not skimp on the meat! I did not ask for extra, it just came with a good amount. I love it when a sandwich shop just knows—how they anticipate the desire for more meat than is required, not just because you want it, but because you deserve it.
So…what’s the final verdict?
All in all, Turner’s Kitchen’s sandwiches do not fuck around. Top marks in all categories, including valiant efforts (whether purposeful or not) to ensure they mostly do not fall apart once you bite into them. And look, even if they had and I’d basically had bread salad, it would have been damn good bread salad. Maybe some of the best in San Francisco! A victory for this sandwich shop and for tiny-mouthed humans everywhere.
// Turner’s Kitchen, 3505 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, Monday – Friday 10:30 am – 3 pm, order online or call 415.621.3505