Photo by David Reamer

A MAN STUMBLES through the front door of Kenny and Zuke's SandwichWorks looking slightly dazed. He holds his hands out, palms up, fingers splayed. His face and shirt are spotted with red. He glances around the restaurant, his gaze shifting from his messy hands to various employees. They are calm. They've seen this kind of thing before.

"Do you need napkins?" one asks. The man nods gratefully, accepts a pile of paper napkins, and wipes marinara from his hands and face. Who would have thought the meatball hero would be so villainous?

It became obvious after several trips to SandwichWorks that owners Nick "Zuke" Zukin and Ken "Kenny" Gordon have something against casual business wear. Why else would they pack their menu with such deliciously messy sandwiches?

What makes their assault on office attire so diabolical and effective are their irresistible sandwiches. Consider that meatball hero. Packed into a hoagie that handles the sauce but is soft enough between the teeth, this creation combines bold oregano-heavy marinara and flavorful, substantial meatballs with perfect texture—not too coarse, not too smooth. It's a crave-worthy clothes killer.

A full hero could easily satisfy two, but that's to be expected from Kenny and Zuke, who serve a Reuben at their downtown deli "as big as your head."

At SandwichWorks the Reuben is served in smaller "slider" form (slider in this case meaning "reasonable portion"). It's comparable to their deli version, with delicate balance maintained between all constituents—not overly smoky, or overly dressed—while remaining adequately sloppy.

The bulk of the SandwichWorks menu is similar: balanced and sloppy. A chunky ratatouille sandwich is excellent with intriguing texture from eggplant and mixed veggies, and surprising depth of flavor reminiscent of bouillabaisse. A grinder is authentic meaty grub classed up by a zippy balsamic. The Super Torta Puebla is a coup, with low heat from chipotle and chorizo blending with broad roasted pork tones, black beans, cheese, and a cool, creamy texture added from avocado.

The New York dog, loaded with the works, is eminently devourable, though I wish I'd eaten more of it quickly before the remains of the dog fell through the crease in the bun (damn you, sauerkraut juice).

Chicago, as represented by the Italian beef sandwich, bests New York's menu entry (they'll take it where they can get it). The classic is spot on, piled high with tender beef and topped with a bright, spicy giardiniera (pickled veggies). This sandwich was the final proof of the K&Z war on textiles. Watching an employee build my sandwich, my jaw dropped as they dipped the entire thing, bun and all, into a steaming pot of gravy.

Disappointments are few. Waits can be long (a testament to popularity), on one visit a Reuben slider came off the grill burnt enough to skew the flavor, and the egg salad sandwich is lacking. Although I appreciated the integrity of large pieces of chopped egg, I found the flavor to be both over-salted and bland. But I think most egg salad lovers fall into two camps: "with pickles" and "without pickles." I'm a with pickles type of guy, preferring my egg salad more tangy and deviled than plain and salty.

But in the end, SandwichWorks proves itself one of the top sandwich joints in a town obsessed by the sandwich. More than that, it's a vibrant neighborhood joint, even if much of the color and exuberance winds up on your favorite blouse.

OTHER NOTABLE WESTSIDE SANDWICHES

The Redonkadonk

This amazing creation from downtown cart Brunch Box (SW 5th and Stark) combines egg, ham, Spam, bacon, and American cheese (the constituents of the $6 OMG! Burger) and cradles the whole mess between two buns made from Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwiches. Get your recommended daily caloric intake in one single sitting.

The Döner Kebab

The döner kebab sandwich is a marvel. Tomatoes and shredded lettuce, turkey and spicy yogurt sauce slowly flavor fresh-made pocket bread with a rich and lightly spicy sop. It's dynamic, flavor-packed German fast food from a shop that calls itself, simply, Döner Kebab and German Cuisine (515 SW 4th).

The Ice Cream Waffle Sandwich

Cool Moon Ice Cream (1105 NW Johnson) offers the amazing sensation of biting through a warm, crisp cultured waffle into cold, softening ice cream. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; the sheer variety of Cool Moon's delicious ice cream selections mean that this sandwich will never, ever get old.