Beer and Sandwiches

I would never want to live in New York. But I would want these sandwich options in Lexington. The sandwich offers a bit of a paradox. It is simple to make at home (good bread, good something to put on bread, good some kind of mayo or sauce). And yet, if I see an awesome sandwich place or place that does an awesome sandwich, I won’t hesitate to eat there. My home sandwiches remain fairly typical: bread, cheese, mayo, some kind of roasted animal, egg. If I could find a lamb belly supplier, I could return to making lamb bacon and egg sandwiches. Unfortunately, the butcher who said he could provide belly and has provided heart, now says he can’t. He did, however, butcher some goat shoulder for me recently.

My favorite sandwiches in Lexington probably come from two places: El Gran Tako (yes, they use a K in their name), and the Habanero Loco food truck.  The torta is a Mexican sandwich, pressed bread typically with some kind of fried cutlet or meat inside, maybe some avocado and other veggies and a nice spicy sauce. I will choose an awesome torta over any other Mexican food any day of the week. The tortas at El Gran Tako are all named for Spanish telenovela stars. For some reason, I like that. Growing up in Miami in the ’70s and ’80s, I never watched Spanish soap operas. I watched Leave it to Beaver instead.

The recent goat browning moment did not turn into a sandwich. My initial thoughts were to slow cook the goat and then slice the result into sandwich meat, but I eventually turned the slow cooked meat into a dish with rice, a dish my wife insisted was “not stew.” The dish did contain, as this blog’s title reminds us, potatoes. Meat and potatoes, as far as I know, do constitute stew. Good thing I still have another couple pounds of goat shoulder to work with.

When your kids are out of school for a few weeks during December, and when your academic profession also lets you out of going to work for a few weeks, you basically have nothing to do but try to grow a beard and cook goat. You do, however, have two cooped up kids to deal with and, in our case, some meat in the freezer to cook. We’re the type of parents who, looking for some way to occupy our kids other than screening Mary Poppins for the 50th time, go to the brewery on firkin day.  Every thursday, West Sixth offers a firkin version of one of their beers. At some point this coming year, a place will open next door  to West Sixth that will serve fried fish sandwiches.  Finally, Lexington will be able to enjoy the merger of craft beer and a good sandwich. It is not much, but it is a start for a town of almost 300,000 that still does not understand the sandwich very well. I also have high hopes for the smokehouse opening across the street from the brewery.

The development occurring around West Sixth answers the question raised by local blog The Lexington Streetsweeper. Does craft inspire development? In West Sixth’s case: a coffee roaster, artist group, fish stand, smokehouse, and other items popping up in the brewery’s building or around it provides a definite yes. In its first year of operation, the brewery has inspired others to open up businesses in the neighborhood that houses mostly historic homes and run down homes side by side. To our dismay, no one has opened a solid hamburger place near the brewery. Hamburgers, too, are sandwiches (meat in bread). After our Thursday West Sixth visit, my wife wanted a hamburger. Where can you get a good hamburger in Lexington? Side Bar, but a dive bar is not the best place to take a five and two year old on a Thursday, even if it is the terribly late hour of ten minutes to five in the afternoon. We returned, instead, to Village Idiot, part of a mini-Lexington empire of beer. Village Idiot does make a solid hamburger even if they still don’t understand the request of “medium rare.” Murrays or the pool hall place on Broadway were our ideas of a go to hamburger place in Columbia, Missouri where we used to live, places where medium rare is not only a possibility, but it is an expectation.

All of this discussion might prompt the appropriate beer nerd or cultural lifestyle GQ/Esquire magazine question: what beer goes with a sandwich?  I’ve always wanted to visit Stuffed Sandwich, whose reputation is exactly this mix of proper pairing.  I don’t want to live in California, but I’m often tempted to visit for the beer (do we think of California and sandwiches as much beyond sprouts and tempeh?).  I’m tempted to say an IPA goes with a sandwich no matter what kind of sandwich is served because:

  • I like big hoppy West Coast IPAs.
  • I don’t really care about appropriate food pairings with beer

If I were to write a book about sandwiches and beer – and as an academic with tenure I may just do that one day – I would probably make it very clear that all of my pairings are based on nothing more than: hey, that looks like a good beer and some nicely roasted goat on a baguette with spicy mayo. Or I would likely say: that’s a solid IPA. And I will take a sandwich. When we were in Fort Collins a few months ago, I took my bro-venture pals to Choice City Butcher and Deli. Not only does this place make excellent sandwiches, but when you go to pay for your sandwich, they expect you to order a craft beer from one of their amazing twenty or so taps behind the register.  If I could, I would have payed Choice City an extraordinary amount of money to relocate in Lexington, Kentucky where their thinking could change everything about the lives of this city’s residents. We would never look back if we had a Choice City Butcher and Deli here. But I am an academic, after all, not a profession noted for buying out sandwich and beer places in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The same process of inspiration and development that surrounds a brewery such as West Sixth can be said for craft overall. With each brewery and local selection comes an entire industry of surrounding chatter: tastings at Whole Foods, Twitter handles with beer designations (as Twitter reminds me daily with its various suggestions of who I should follow), YouTube channels of beer reviews, paired dinners at local restaurants, products (high end growlers or growler holders, openers, devices to carry beer in when camping, t-shirts, posters, etc. see Beer West’s pages or Beer Advocate’s pages devoted to such items), festivals, local tourism, and so on.  Sometimes, even sandwiches and hamburgers are included in this type of development (though not yet in Lexington). Craft, in general, does not exist on its own. It generates. It creates. It provides surrounding industries and life styles that the mega breweries never created – unless you count the dive bars that mostly populate the area surrounding the Budweiser plant in St. Louis, for instance. A dive bar, though, is hardly development. And despite how an SNL skit might declare, it’s not a sandwich.