The Sandwich Of A Lifetime?
Four writers have declared that Connecticut's best sandwichery is in New Haven's Ninth Square, and now city officials and restauranteurs are celebrating with smoked seaweed pesto, onion frizzle, and cauliflower steaks aplenty.
That was the scene Wednesday afternoon at Meat & Co. on Crown Street, as two grill masters served up over 53 sandwiches to fête the shop. On Monday evening, Meat & Co. was listed as home of the state’s “Best Sandwich” in Connecticut Magazine’s annual “Best Of Connecticut 2017,” prompting much fanfare from City Hall and New Haven Town Green Special Services District.
The listicle was compiled by authors Erik Ofgang, Michael Lee-Murphy, Mike Wollschlager, and Albie Yuravich. With 213 winners in all, it chronicles everything from Best Bakery (Mothership Bakery & Cafe) to Best Sporting Goods store ( Farr’s Sporting Goods). Reached by phone Wednesday, Lee-Murphy said that the team chose Meat & Co. based on a mixture of reader input, word of mouth, and “extensive research done by me,” with help from his taste buds.
This is the first “Best Of” award to go to Meat & Co., which opened in 2013. In all, the city scored 12 mentions, including best burger (Louis' Lunch and Prime 16), best wine shop (The Wine Thief), best local music venue (Cafe Nine), and best rooftop bar (Elm City Social).
On Crown Street Wednesday, delight at the award flitted through the air. Owners John and Danielle Ginnetti and Bruce Ditman emceed the event, bobbing around a cheese- and pork-scented crowd with huge grins on their faces. The Ginnettis’ son Jack provided entertainment, blowing small bubbles with a large white gob of non-bubblegum gum.
“I’m excited because creativity is not often rewarded in something like the genre of sandwiches,” said John Ginnetti. “Usually it’s more like — they have the best ‘X’ that I’ve had 100 other places. We don’t have X. We have Y and Z, and it’s only ours, and it’s great that people recognize that. Anybody can make a sandwich. Not everybody can make a drink, not everybody can make a pizza, but everybody can and has made a sandwich.”
“We’re super excited about this,” said Ditman. “This is a New Haven raised, born and bred operation.”
Around noon, lunchtime faithfuls filled the small storefront, sidling up to the counter for samples of the Cypress Hill (smoked chicken thighs, native corn and Napa cabbage salad), Steak & Cheese (ribeye, American cheese, onion frizzle, and malt vinegar), The Bluto (spicy fried chicken and honey mustard on a house-made buttermilk biscuit) and others.
Bouncing between the grill and sliding window, sandwichista Robert Savran (pictured above) declared the “Best Of” distinction “the best thing ever."
That was the consensus on the other side of the shop, as attendees snatched up more hot sandwiches.
“I’m not typically a steak and cheese fan or person, but they have just the right mix of ingredients,” said New Havener Amy Caplan.
“It’s the frizzle!” cut in Sylvia Lavietes, who had made the journey from New York for the event.
Another to weigh in was New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. As “more of a hamburger person,” — her favorite is at neither Louis’ Lunch nor Prime 16, but Trinity Bar on Orange Street — she had never been to Meat & Co., and approached it with cautious optimism Wednesday, “proud of” the recognition it and other city institutions had gotten in the magazine’s glossy pages.
“I think that it [the distinction] really speaks to the high quality of the cuisine here in New Haven,” she said. “Not only do we have great culture, but we have the best food ... we are absolutely spoiled by the quality of food.”
Accompanied by Assistant Andrea Scott, African-American Mayors Association (AAMC, of which Harp is president) Operations Associate Demarius Love, and her son Matthew, Harp sat on Meat & Co.’s tiny makeshift patio, where Town Green has set up orange and purple tables and chairs. The shop’s signature perfume of brown butter, oozy sharp cheese, freshly cut tomatoes and frying meat spilled out onto the sidewalk.
As Danielle Ginnetti brought four waters and paper cups of dill pickles, Harp and Scott pored over the menu, debating the merits of each sandwich. Noting that some had “a lot of meat,” both ordered the Atlantic Grilled Cheese, a seaweed-and-basil-kissed spin on the classic sandwich.
Love opted for the D. Wayne Johnson (house smoked thin sliced turkey breast, starlight farm organic tomato, walden hill bacon, organic baby lettuces, salad cream) while Matthew Harp tested out a special with pork belly.
“It’s really yummy,” said Harp as she took her first few bites. She later declared it “the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had.”
“I was thinking: do I really want to come to a place like this and order something like a boring grilled cheese?” chimed in Scott. “This is not a boring grilled cheese.”
That’s because Atlantic Grilled Cheese is a testament to careful sandwichery, said John Ginnetti after Harp’s meal. Two grilled, buttered slices of Batard bread are smothered in melty, sharp American cheese, Kalamata olives, and smoked seaweed pesto. The whole thing sits on an open grill for a few minutes, taking on a golden hue with char marks before it is finished.
At a nearby table, regular Mickey Dobbs said that one of the sandwichery’s selling points is its consistency. Personal anecdote suggests otherwise: Recently this reporter received a Garden Rustler (barbecue squash, onion frizzle, house-made barbecue sauce, carolina slaw) missing all of the ingredients except for barbecue sauce and bread. That experience was only bested by a previous one, in which a piece of bread came with a spray of mayonnaise and hunk of refrigerated smoked whitefish. But I too was swayed by the end of the celebration, when a warm flatbread smothered with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and brick oven-roasted spicy cauliflower made its way onto the counter.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, mayoral hopeful and self-described cheese lover (“I keep munster in my refrigerator at all times,” he noted) Marcus Paca also extended his congratulations to Meat & Co. While Paca said his favorite sandwich — chicken salad with bacon and a rotating cast of munster, provolone and peppercorn cheese — comes from his wife Mendi, he has been to Meat & Co. “on dozens of occasions,” and is particularly fond of its Steak & Cheese sandwich.
“I hope they continue on a path of high quality food and service, and I wish them all the success and best in the world,” he said.