WHEN THE PEOPLE'S SANDWICH of Portland opened almost exactly one year ago, I was facing serious sandwich fatigue. The city's sandwich revolution had seemingly peaked, and I'd spent months chewing through so many hand-meals, I felt like if I even looked at another sandwich I'd completely lose my mind. Call it a professional hazard.
In the intervening year, the People's Sandwich has built a loyal following among downtown denizens. For the last 12 months, I've received numerous emails and recommendations... the shop became a veritable hoagie albatross hanging around my neck.
When I finally wound up at NW 1st and Couch, surrounded by agitprop and mild gloom, I felt a sense of relief. Not simply because I was finally putting the finishing touches on the sandwich struggle of 2009, but because when I tilted my head back to look at the oversized menu board, I was actually hankering for meat, bread, and all the fixin's.
It's a good thing I had an appetite, too. The People's Sandwich takes a decidedly East Coast stance on their specialty: Their constructions are big, served hot, and stuffed to the French-roll seams with good stuff. They'd better be, for $8 a pop.
On the whole, they're worth it. Consider that every sandwich comes with a brown paper bag of "dicTater chips." I'll forgive People's their groaner of a pun (after all, they really are owning that revolutionary/socialist schtick) if only because these chips are outstanding. They are well seasoned, crunch crisply between the teeth, and are far better than the majority of burnt, chewy excuses for potato chips commonly dredged from the city's fry-o-lators on a daily basis. While the consistency of batches can waver ever so slightly, they ride the line between thick-cut kettle and utra-thin grease bomb. Delicious.
This is only one example of People's potato mastery. Also of note are their curly fries. Three bucks nets you a stupid amount of starch, cut from a single potato and served in a stainless steel bowl. These curly fries are a friendship opportunity, offering an excuse to develop greasy fingers with like-minded comrades. Plus, they arrive with homemade catsup unlike anything you're used to—tart, with a bit of numbing clove, and a touch of vinegar.
In terms of sandwiches we should start with the Portland Cheese Steak. The "Portland" indicates it should not be confused with its Philly friend. This version has huge onion and bell pepper tones over the thin-sliced, highly black-peppered, and juicy beef. The cheese is in there, but it's in the background, adding a soft creamy flavor with a very slight tanginess.
Hanging in the general vicinity of the Cheese Steak is the Portlandia Uber Alles. It has the four big components of its steaky pal—namely the American and provolone cheeses, onions, and bell peppers—but replaces the remainder of the protein with more vegetables. With a slight tamari hue, big florets of cauliflower and broccoli are cooked just to the point of tenderness, but keep their crunch. Packed into a heavily seeded Dave's Killer hoagie roll with its inherent sweetness, the flavors come off as complex and balanced. It's a substantial sammy.
The Argento Arrabiata is a pleasing take on a spicy Italian grinder, but was heavy with bacon flavors on my visit, drowning out the other cuts of cured meat tucked into the French roll. What makes this one sing are the peperoncinis and the homemade mayo, which is much creamier and richer than store-bought versions.
The People Sandwich is startling in its use of large slabs of tofu, but stays well away from tofu blandness by baking it in a bright pesto and pairing it with slightly spicy and tangy peppadew peppers and filbert nuts. Would I order another? Yes.
The "hot tuna" version of the Something Fishy sounds unappetizing for some reason, but is very much a pleasant blend of all the good things about tuna salad, leaning heavily on the awesomeness of the mayo and amping it up with lovely pepper.
The only option that really didn't hit me in my happy spot was the one I most looked forward to: The Hammer and Pickle, a cubana-style monster, let me down with some underwhelming bland pork and an unpleasant bitterness, which I suspect was the product of a bad batch of homemade mustard.
But if that's all the complaints you get with a socialist sandwich shop, you're doing pretty damn well. If we were to replace the atrociously named "sandwich artists" at chains across the US with the People's Sandwich production line, that'd be one sandwich revolution for which I would happily wave a flag.