It seems like a fairly simple concept, The Sandwich, but it's one that many places seem to fumble. And perhaps it's because of its very basic definition that The Sandwich is so easily mucked up — two slices of bread, a little meat, a little cheese, a little veggies, what could be easier than that, right?
Wrong. The Sandwich demands creativity. Take, for example, a whopper I once wolfed down in Oxford, Miss., dubbed the White Supremacy by a friend (though not by the restaurant): a country fried chicken breast, lettuce, mayonnaise, lima beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, all on a white roll. THAT, my friends, is what I am talking about.
That sort of inventiveness may not be to your taste. But the White Supremacy's uniqueness was what elevated it beyond the perfunctory ham-mayo-cheese combo. The Sandwich can have artisan bread, rye, wheat, or white. It can have ham, roast beef, pastrami or beef lips. It can have mustard, Dijon mayonnaise or cranberry sauce. But it MUST have verve.
EJ's Eats and Drinks downtown is not bulging at the seams with sandwich swagger — its options are fairly conventional and served in a basic style. But choice is plentiful, which should keep lunchgoers coming back. More important, the ingredients are fresh and well-prepared. EJ's may not cause your jaw to drop, but it's a fine place for a quick lunch.
I got the Cubano on ciabatta, EJ's specialty bread. (Patrons can also choose from white, wheat and marble rye.) It had a nice combination of pork loin, ham, spicy mustard, Swiss and pickles, in layers not too thick and not too thin. Our companions were equally satisfied with their sandwich picks. One opted for the “build your own” choice and got the tuna salad on wheat. The proportions were well-balanced, and the bread was soft and fresh. Another raved about her BLT — unlike most restaurant BLTs, she said, this one did not have hard or congealed bacon. The bread was toasted just enough to be warm and the tomato was surprisingly edible for this time of year.
Our orders were rather arbitrary: We probably would have been pleased with any of the 20 other sandwich offerings on the menu, and we poked through the menu for a while trying to settle on something. Don't come here on a day when you feel the onset of an anxiety attack or the inability to cope with life.
There are plenty of choices beyond deli sandwiches, too, including salads, soups and burgers. A third companion lauded the spicy chicken fingers — crispy and tender, with a flavorful hot sauce.
Every order comes with a helping of homemade potato chips, an EJ's specialty. One diner thought the chips were a bit soggy and stale, but others rebutted that any homemade chip is going to have a certain level of oiliness. (And some were perfectly crispy.) You can order the chips in regular, ranch or barbecue; we recommend getting them plain, as the other options add nothing more than a heap of flavoring salt.
All this eating goes down at a fine location on Sixth and Center. The ceilings are high, the big windows let in plenty of light, and the place is buzzing at lunch but not too crowded. The circular tables are a plus for larger parties.
If we have one complaint, it's that the sandwiches are a tad pricy — the bill will come out to just under $10 a person with a drink. The restaurant isn't open on the weekends, probably because of the apocalyptic vibes that rule downtown on Saturday and Sunday. Outside of these issues, though, EJ's is a solid lunch option that should keep us coming back.
EJ's Eats and Drinks
523 Center St.
Plenty of sandwiches, but other options abound. The homemade chips are excellent, and the tea is real. For those who like that sort of thing, there are three TVs mounted on the walls.
10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday.
Full bar starts around 2 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Takeout and delivery available.