If, as some food industry analysts say, Americans are eating more sandwiches for dinner than ever (these include burgers), then Wichit is sitting pretty, even without burgers. The sandwich shop, opened nine months ago in a light and appealing downstairs spot on Newbury Street, offers all the meats and vegetables you might imagine putting between two slices of bread.
A Cubano ($7.99) contains pulled pork, ham, and Swiss cheese on a pressed baguette; stonemill ($7.99) is layered with New York strip sirloin, portobellos, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli before being pressed on rustic bread; Goudapest ($7.99) has its namesake cheese, chicken breast, caramelized onions, and pesto, also pressed on a rustic loaf; Carnegie ($7.99) on marbled rye is filled and pressed with pastrami, Gruyere, and sauerkraut; and chicken katsu ($7.99) has a plump tempura-fried breast with sweet potatoes and carrots on a soft roll.
Pressed sandwiches are enormously satisfying. When the cheese melts into the meat or vegetables, and the bread turns golden, you get lots of irresistible tastes and textures at once: smoky, salty, spicy, sour, creamy, and crusty are some. They’re a fine, filling lunch or supper.
At Wichit, breakfast egg sandwiches are served all day (though on one visit, only one of two is available), and nothing is more pleasing on a tired night than breakfast for dinner. Bread winner ($4.99) contains a fried egg, along with ham, turkey, or bacon, on one of eight Pain D’Avignon breads, including rustic, multigrain, baguette, gluten-free, or bagel.
Before Wichit on Newbury Street, owners Chris Young, 38, and his aunt Rose Young, 53, had a breakfast and lunch spot called Mill City Gourmet, located in a historic mill in Lawrence. They also had a catering arm, and cast their net beyond the city, sending food to presidential candidates speaking nearby and to other events. They launched Wichit in Lawrence in 2009 and brought it to Back Bay three years later.
The two were raised in Boston. As Chris explains it, they were immigrants from Hong Kong (he was born here, she there). The families lived in JP, and while all the parents were working, Rose took care of her nephew. “She taught me how to cook,” he says. They decided that hot sandwiches offer a lot to the after-work crowd on their way somewhere, to students on low budgets, and to neighbors who don’t want to venture far.
Here you can make up your own sandwich, or even order an old-fashioned grilled cheese. A nice vegetarian option is orchardhill ($7.99) with grilled pear, dried cranberries, and arugula, pressed on multigrain. An arugula salad with chevre and toasted walnuts ($6.99) is generous with very fresh greens.
Sweet potato fries ($3.99) are terrific twice (get siracha ketchup and wasabi aioli to dip), and al dente another time. Regular fries aren’t crisp on any visit.
And therein lies the problem with this venture. You can taste the high-quality meats (roasted on the premises), the good bread, and the zippy sauces, but the success of the finished sandwiches depends on who is behind the counter that day. One night someone takes such care with a mojito, pressing fresh lime juice to order, that I am fascinated watching her. Another night, an affable young man leaves all the sauces on the counter beside my bag and walks off with a friendly good-bye. And many sandwiches aren’t pressed till the cheese has melted, nor do they have enough of the garlic aioli, mustard, or sauce that’s promised.
I admire the attention to quality here, the fact that they squeeze lemons and limes for lemonade and limeade, use all fresh herbs, and offer a sandwich that’s never on the menu: the “rude boy” ($8.99), with pastrami, fried egg, torched cheddar, pickled onions, avocado, and aioli on a soft roll.
Even the cookies ($2.50), in American classics such as oatmeal or chippers, are sandwiches, spread with buttercream icing.
I’m cheering the Youngs on. Just leave my sandwich in the press a little longer.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.