Yes, Virginia Ham, D.C. Is a Sandwich Town
The meaty, magnificent prosciutto sandwich at Seventh Hill
A lot has happened in the two years since I conducted a dragnet to find a decent sandwich beyond the jaw-taxing hoagies found at some of our finer Italian cold-out outlets. For starters, those two boys from Philly have launched a campaign to spread brotherly love (and roast pork) in D.C.
Others have made less splashy entrances, however, and a number of these places are putting together wickedly delicious sandwiches, hand-made with local breads or even pizza-dough baked in a wood-burning oven. The one constant to all of these under-the-radar spots is this: Sandwiches are not their primary reason for being.
One is a cheese shop. Another a wine shop. The third a pizzeria. Take a look at some of these beauties:
D's Cubano, prepared with pork shoulder slow cooked in duck fat, is available at the AM Wine Shoppe in Adams Morgan. The only thing missing from this nasal-clearing, mustard-laced sandwich (served on a sesame-studded roll from Lyon Bakery) is a good dill pickle stacker. That, and maybe a little more fatty pork to help balance the pungency. For a truly spectacular sandwich here, indulge in the sweet heat of the Admorghese with its hit of fennel salami.
I need to monitor my breathing when discussing the Sweet & Spicy at the Cowgirl Creamery, a sandwich prepared with Fra'Mani sopressata, Meadow Creek's Grayson cheese, Virginia plum chutney, and field greens. I tend to hyperventilate when talking about this beauty. Let's start at the base: The sandwich is served on striatta, a yogurt bread similar to ciabatta, which Cowgirl buys from Baguette Republic. The flavors inside the bread — sweet, spicy, creamy, bitter — could wrestle a steer to the ground, but they are in perfect balance. I mean perfect. The only downside is that Cowgirl may be bumping this sandwich as it rolls out a new spring menu.
The chicken sandwich at Seventh Hill is served on an elongated oval of pizza dough, which is dimpled, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with Parmesan and herbs before hitting the wood-burning oven. The pizza bread is thinner than a more traditional loaf, which means it doesn't swallow up the interior ingredients. It's exactly the right kind of host for chef Anthony Pilla's slightly under-seasoned chicken sandwich, whose flavors are quiet and actually benefit from the umami-megaphone of his Parm-pizza bread. Those looking for bigger flavors should check out Pilla's prosciutto sandwich (pictured at top), whose salty ham is paired with a healthy serving of roasted red peppers, which provide this sweet vegetal note. I mean that in the best way possible.
You will not miss the meat in Cowgirl Creamery's Rock Creek, the cheese shop's take on a vegetarian sandwich. This hand-held bite is loaded down with roasted red peppers, herb fromage blanc, olive tapenade, and field greens. To my great surprise, the tapenade (mercifully applied with a cautious hand) does not dominate like some controlling spouse but rather complements the other ingredients in a sandwich that's practically freshness incarnate.