By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
4:00 AM AKDT, August 20, 2012
Brown Bag Sandwich Co.
$4-$9 per plate
400 D St.
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends
While I’ve tried to mix some Downtown locations into my dining repertoire for Lunchbox, as of late I’ve been visiting establishments closer to the station. When I got word of a new deli near the Sunshine Building with an eclectic menu, though, I took the trip to give it a try.
The Brown Bag Sandwich Co. is situated in a brownstone office building near the corner of 4th Avenue and D Street, just south of the Kobuk Coffee Co. gift shop. It’s readily accessible from nearby landmarks like the 5th Avenue Mall and the Egan Center, and I didn’t have much trouble finding nearby on-street parking on a typical Thursday. A few tables and chairs outside the door give it a sidewalk-café look, although there’s plenty of space inside.
I walked in with my mother, who works a block from the restaurant, to discover a relatively small but open dining area. Dozens of seats at counters along the edges of the room surrounded a few traditional tables at its center, with an industrial bare-metal look giving way to a more conventional tan-and-green motif near the ordering counter. Brown Bag’s website bills the place as a “sandwich pub,” with several beers on tap and some customers staying up front during our visit to enjoy sports on a nearby TV, but most people ordered and paid at the counter then took a seat to await their food.
Although you can order your own custom sandwich the same way most pizza places let you build a pie, the core of Brown Bag’s menu is its list of 10 specific sandwiches -- five hot and five cold -- ranging from traditional deli items to ambitious combinations sporting multiple types of hot sauce. All of the menu sandwiches cost $9 and come with chips and a pickle. After scanning the menu, I asked for a turkey pesto sandwich as well as a side Caesar salad ($5), while Mom went for a roast beef and a cup of minestrone soup ($4). Service was fairly fast for the lunch rush, and we received our meals about 15 minutes after we sat down.
My turkey pesto, one of the hot sandwiches, arrived with its rosemary bread freshly creased from a panini press. A layer of melted provolone cheese within it bound together a generous portion of hot turkey with the dish’s basil pesto, as well as red onions and roasted red peppers; it’s a simple combination but one that works well, with the saltiness of the pesto highlighting both the savory elements of the meat and cheese and the vegetables’ richer flavors. I plowed through the first half in just a few minutes but took my time with the second, sitting back to properly enjoy the menu item’s interplay of ingredients.
Mom’s roast beef sandwich, a cold menu item, was put together much as she’d have made it at home, albeit with materials a cut above what most of us keep in our kitchens -- London broil roast beef, horseradish cheddar and marble rye bread all feature prominently alongside the more conventional lettuce, tomato, red onion, spicy Dijon mustard and mayo in its menu description. When I asked her what she thought of it between mouthfuls, she had high praise for the cheese despite not usually being a horseradish fan, and also said the meat was a cut above. After a moment longer she simply said, “This is a good sandwich,” then picked up the remaining half with gusto.
We both liked the homemade chips, surprisingly rich and flavorful compared to their equivalents, as well as the deli pickles that came with our sandwiches, although the other sides were uneven. The minestrone soup was the better of the two, obviously made with the same care as the sandwiches and chips with a variety of veggies emerging from a light yet filling broth; I’d meant to only sample the soup, but ended up putting down my sandwich and asking for a second spoonful. My salad came premade in a lidded plastic bowl containing some Romaine lettuce, croutons and grated Parmesan along with a tub of uninspired Caesar dressing -- it was lighter than some sides on the menu, but didn’t really feel worth the money.
As one of the newest entries to the Downtown dining scene, Brown Bag is still finding its place, but my first visit was quite promising on several fronts. The location’s inviting and well-chosen, the service is fast and the sandwiches are right up there with the ones we tried at Alaska’s Gourmet Subs. While I’ve had a few colleagues in the newsroom say the menu looks pricey, I didn’t think the prices were too bad by Downtown standards. With just a little work on the menu items that are merely average and some word of mouth, it won’t be long before the cat’s out of the bag on this shop.
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