One of the more eccentric options at the new inner-Southeast sandwich shop Meat Cheese Bread is the ham and cheese ($4.95). A sandwich in looks only (stuff stuffed in bread), the ham and cheese is a delicious breakfast texture freakout that turns the whole sandwich experience inside out. The crux of this substantial offering is not the filling—mixed greens, vinaigrette, and fried egg—but the abutting slices of savory bread pudding. I've never eaten sliced bread pudding (perhaps I'm sheltered), but here it is, two slabs, golden brown, slightly cheesy, and generously studded with ham. The ingredients work incredibly well with each other, but the texture is strange; on the tongue, the bread pudding has a creamy expanding quality while the egg saturates the stiff greens, creating a wonderland of consistencies between the teeth.
Great flavor and complicated texture speak to the innovative strand on which the menu items at Meat Cheese Bread line up like pearls. That's as it should be. The sandwich has always lent itself to tinkering and creativity. Beginning with John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich, and spanning continents and eras, the sandwich has taken a mind-boggling number of forms. And in the bright, humble shop on a desolate stretch of SE Stark, the inventiveness of Meat Cheese Bread has led to wonderful new creations like the B.L.B (beet, lettuce, bacon).
The B.L.B. ($8.95), unlike the ham and cheese, is all about the filling: thick slices of roasted heirloom beets give up a terrestrial sweetness, while a slab of bacon provides a porky foundation of toothsome smoke. This sandwich has become my mascot for winter lunching; it's like a post wood-chopping snack dreamed up by an eccentric wilderness-bound recluse.
There is a miss or two on the menu. The turkey melt ($6.50), despite the mild heat and charming char of a roasted green chili salsa, was disappointing due to bland and abundant sliced turkey. Also, a cheddar and potato soup ($3.50) suffered from thin, grainy texture. Nevertheless, the flavor was cheese-and-starch comfort with a motherly cheek pinch of spiciness. And any mother would surely point out that both of these options are far from lost causes, and could easily be brought up to the standards of the rest of menu with a few tweaks.
Said standards are particularly high when you consider the Park Kitchen sandwich ($7.95). Based on a salad enjoyed by Meat Cheese Bread owner John Stewart when he worked as a line cook at the pearl district eatery Park Kitchen, this sandwich combines beautifully tender slices of flank steak with blue cheese mayonnaise, pickled onions, lettuce, and vinaigrette. It's an exceptionally easy sandwich to eat, especially paired with a lively potato salad ($2) that adeptly blends tones of fennel, tarragon, and basil.
For breakfast and lunch, Meat Cheese Bread is a welcome option in inner Southeast, where the options can be a tad limited, especially if you're in a hurry. But more than that, the menu changes on the chef's whim, so it will never get boring. I'm told that Sloppy Joes are in the near future.
Could the sandwich innovation at Meat Cheese Bread bring a new standard of excellence into the local sandwich lexicon? I'll wait and see. The ham and cheese may never catch on, but if they keep doing what they're doing, sandwich fame is a distinct possibility.