Austin culture writer Michael Corcoran once joked that the city’s four food groups were “Tex-Mex, BBQ, Thundercloud and other.” Over the past several years, a number of local eateries and chefs have helped Austin raise its sandwich game considerably. The tricks of the trade aren’t complex — brined meats, homemade garnishes and fresh bread are among them — but employing some of them makes a huge difference in the quality of these offerings.
Below you’ll find a half-dozen excellent sandwich creations that are worth ordering this month.
Swift’s Attic’s “Porkstrami” ($11)
A highlight of the Swift's lunch menu, this monstrous sandwich swaps beef with pork as the protein in the brined, smoky pastrami. The sandwich is served on wide, thin slices of toasted sourdough, which add flavor but don't get in the way of the meat. A jalapeno sauerkraut, fontina cheese and a moderate dash of Russian dressing finish off the heavy but delicious dish. While the sandwich is excellent, it may be too much of a good thing as a lunch portion. But you can order a half portion with a salad, cup of soup, or fries during lunch service for only $8, a true steal for a nice lunch downtown. If you're up for the challenge, the kitchen recommends adding a farm egg (a $2 upcharge) for maximum enjoyment.
Noble Sandwich Company’s “TNP Italian Sausage” ($7)
While Noble’s Knuckle Sandwich (roast beef) and Beef Tongue are deservedly acclaimed, Chef John Bates says that many regulars point to the Italian Sausage as a menu favorite. “For me, it’s an amped up meatball sandwich. The original version used link sausage, but we switched to sautéed ground sausage to improve it,” Bates said. The meat is combined with red onions, tomatoes, and provolone and then thrown in the oven to heat and mesh the flavors. “The trick to this one is making it a one pan [dish],” says Bates. “We use a good white bread or French loaf and a healthy smear of pesto aioli to finish it.”
Drink.well.’s “Spicy Kimchi Reuben” ($10)
Since drink.well. co-owners Michael and Jessica Sanders moved to Austin from New York, it’s not surprising that they are fans of corned beef on rye. The twist here is the kimchi. The spicy and pickled sour flavors provide great crunch and contrast in the sandwich, and also make beer and cocktail pairing that much more interesting. The finishing touch is excellent marbled rye bread, and a crisp, fresh salad side that assuages a bit of your gluttony guilt.
Fricano’s Deli’s “Italian Club” ($8.25)
There are some great Italian sandwiches in Austin. Little Deli does a great one, as does Tucci’s in Oak Hill. But the student-friendly UT location of Fricano’s makes it the most accessible of the bunch. "The Italian club is definitely one of our best sellers," says Paul Fricano. "We have our bread baked fresh daily by Mi Tradicion in North Austin — the sourdough is a perfect match for this sandwich." We agree. The sourdough bread imparts more flavor than a standard French loaf. The sandwich also comes with a generous portion of olives and fresh tomato, which lighten the meatiness of the Genoa salami, pastrami and pepperoni and bring more balance to the finished product. Service here is casual but quite friendly, and while the restaurant is anything but fancy, the kitchen knows how to make diners happy.
The Blackbird and Henry’s “Crispy Oyster Po’Boy” ($10)
The new kid among an established group in this roundup, Mark's Schmidt's UT-adjacent gastropub keeps hitting all the right notes. The relatively new brunch is worthy of repeat visits, as is the new lunch service. One highlight at lunch (served Tuesday-Saturday) is the Crispy Oyster Po'Boy, which wins points for technique, balance and flavor. The sandwich is garnished with a light helping of shaved lettuce, pickles, chopped cherry tomatoes and a side of cocktail sauce. It's served on a huge toasted French roll with a side of fries. The true star of the dish is the rather generous portion of fried oysters, with substantive but not overbearing breading that doesn't mask the oyster flavor.
FoodHeads Café’s “Chicken and Eggplant” ($8.95)
Like Noble Sandwich, FoodHeads has developed a loyal following by elevating the humble sandwich with good ingredients and thoughtful flavor combinations. The FoodHeads menu offers a lighter take on the sandwich than Noble, and honors the roots of its old-guard neighborhood near campus and Hyde Park. While a chicken and eggplant sandwich sounds simple, the resulting dish is a surprisingly thoughtful and flavorful lunch. The core ingredients are accented with goat cheese, basil pesto, spinach and a blackberry balsamic vinaigrette that offer bitter, sweet and herbal notes that work in harmony. We’re also fans of the Apple Pork and Squash & Mozzarella sandwiches here.