Friday, November 16, 2012
Restaurant review: Don’t call it a sandwich shop, East Hampton Sandwich Co. resides in a class of its own
Each sandwich is a super-stacked rainbow of in-house goodness.
UNIVERSITY PARK It would be easy and all-encompassing to describe Hunter Pond’s perspective on the sandwich as different. Truthful, maybe, but the word lacks the specificity that Pond’s perspective merits. Different implies a few tricks here and a gimmick there just to stand out. By turning the traditional sandwich-shop operation on its head and creating a restaurant designed to invite the customer rather than just seat them, Pond ensured that East Hampton Sandwich Company would be different. But different is easy. What Pond has created is a little beyond different.
He’s created something unique.
After opening in September to no little acclaim, East Hampton Sandwich Company is quickly settling into its role in Snider Plaza as a gourmet sandwich shop with personality, charm and – most importantly – thoughtful and substantial sandwiches that take the words ‘hand-made’ to heart.
“The main formula for large-scale sandwich shops is to bake the bread in-house and then outsource their meats – gelatinized meats, meats with preservatives; meats that have been mass produced. Not only that, but they’ll outsource the condiments – mayonnaise, mustard, that sort of thing.” says Pond. “We do the exact opposite of what most of the other places do: we outsource our bread to Empire Bakery, and then we make all our meats and sauces in-house.”
It wasn’t long after it opened that the positive press began streaming about East Hampton, but the initial shock for Pond wasn’t the reviews they were getting, it was specifically what they were for. He claims his favorite sandwiches as Fried Chicken & Jack and the Cuban, but it was the lobster roll, loaded with a split tail and claw and knuckle meat, that received the lion’s share of the raves. Not that he’s complaining.
“It was a great feeling, but I had no idea that was going to be the most talked-about sandwich. I put the lobster rolls on the menu primarily because I love lobster rolls, but I also figured that people would want to have the option. Plus, it contributes to the vibe of what East Hampton is really about,” he says. “I thought our Turkey, Bacon, and Avocado was going to be what we were known for – and that’s still our best seller, but I thought at first we were just going to be known for having the most kick-ass Bacon, Turkey and Avocado around.”
Pond’s assumptions weren’t unmerited, as a quick glance at any of East Hampton’s sandwiches will indicate. These are not assemblages intended for the faint of heart – Empire’s bread (usually either ciabatta or a signature bun for East Hampton) contains loads of fresh vegetables and meats that have clearly been tended with care, whether it’s the towering Fried Chicken & Jack or the vibrant Bacon, Turkey and Avocado.
“The fact that we brine all of our poultry really adds to the juiciness of the chicken – it’s a night-and day difference – you can really taste the bay leaves and the seasonings we include with it. And it’s the same with our roast beef – really, there’s a huge difference in the texture and the flavor when you prepare all your meats properly in house,” he says. “But one of our main goals is also to have a beautiful presentation; we’ve got great ingredients, but we don’t just want to slop them on there. Just by looking at them, you can see that each sandwich is built so that there’s a distinct layer of color that pops out. Whenever we’re building a recipe, we always take into account not just how it will taste, but how we can best present it through its colors, height, and texture.”
Even the chips are made in-house at East Hampton, and they’re no afterthought, either. Light and crispy, they were enough to inspire at least one notable food critic.
But even if the sandwiches alone or the draw of the chips weren’t enough of a draw, perhaps Pond’s most significant addition to his shop was the addition of beer and wine. Six beer taps line the back of the serving counter, while select bottles of wine display the options at the front. They’re not Mouton Rothschild, by any means, but rather selections that reflect the fare and atmosphere of East Hampton.
“I took the approach to East Hampton as more of a sandwich restaurant rather than a sandwich shop, and I wanted to incorporate the nighttime element without getting into the bar business, so I just decided that we’d do beer and wine,” Pond says. “Now we showcase wines that you can’t really find at grocery stores, and not at some sort of massive price increase. We know wine isn’t going to drive our concept – sandwiches are. So instead of building the most prestigious wine selection, we’d have a good one that is moderately priced, where people can come in and get a bottle for thirty bucks, rather than come in and be intimidated by our selection.”
It is indeed a different perspective for any restaurant, but that’s what Pond seems to be all about – after all, East Hampton would be a different – even unique – sort of sandwich shop, if indeed it were a sandwich shop at all. But it’s not.
It’s a sandwich restaurant.
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