The Panini

My younger sister is on break from school and decided to fly out for a visit.  Everyone thought it was kind of strange since she goes to school in Vancouver and could be taking in the festivities of the Winter Olympics.  Being a little selfish, I’ll admit I enjoy having the company and someone to watch sports with (I feel a little weird yelling at the TV when no one else is in the room… at least this way there are two of us yelling at the TV or more specifically, Ryan Miller for playing so damn well).  My sister and I share a mutual love of sandwiches.  What’s not to love?  Bread = good.  Meat = good.  Fresh Veggies = good.  Tasty spreads = good.  She began talking about some of the sandwiches she was making back at school (which made me salivate) and then requested that I take her to a few good sandwich shops here in Toronto.  This past weekend, we made our way to little Italy to try a panini shop called Negroni.

We arrived at the restaurant around 12:30 and only a few tables were occupied.   I sat against the wall in a church-bench like seat.  I admired the old movie posters on the wall along with the jarred food behind the bar.  The space is very open and with the sunlight shining in, it felt very warm and comforting.  To start, we ordered the selection of cured meats which included parma prosciutto, bresoala, pancetta, chorizo and a chicken pate.  It was served with a stack of panini pressed slices of baguette bread.  All the meats deli meats were delicious – fresh, salty, fatty and packed with flavor.  I’m really hit and miss with most pates.  More miss than hit actually.  This pate was a hit.  It wasn’t musky but smooth and flavorful.  My sister is more or less anti-pate but also liked it.  Spread on the grilled baguette slices, it was delightful.

My sister ordered the Milano salami, goat cheese and black olive tapenade panini.  My sister really enjoyed it.  She thought all the flavors, although strong, we were balanced.  She liked the use of goat cheese and said she might use it in her own future sandwiches.  I had a bite and found the olives to be a little overpowering but thought it was still a good sandwich.

I ordered the mortadella, soppressatta, provolone, arugula, spicy pickled peppers and mayo panini.  I thought it was excellent!  All the flavours were balanced nicely and the spicy peppers gave it some kick.  The cheese was smooth but only served the purpose of a mild background flavor and for texture while the meats and peppers took center stage.  There was a lot of meat and the ratios of bread, veggies and meat were well proportioned.  The bread in both sandwiches was the same and was panini pressed perfectly – crisp on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  The arugula and fennel salad that was served with the sandwiches and light and refreshing.  It was a nice cool break from the heat of the sandwich.

I had read a lot of good things about Negroni coming in and left feeling very impressed (and full… the portions are pretty big… great value).  I had a lot of trouble deciding which sandwich to get since all the combination, even the combinations without meat, all sounded amazing.  I guess I’ll just have to make my way over there more frequently and try them all out.

I figure since I’m writing about panini sandwiches I should include a blurb on the sandwiches I enjoy on a weekly basis at lunch.  I took my sister here on her last visit which may have sparked her love of sandwich (she probably won’t admit it but at the time she said she didn’t really care for bread…crazy talk!).  I was first introduced to the Sandwich Box by some former co-workers who dubbed it “fancy sandwich” and what a fancy sandwich it was.  There are several locations throughout the downtown core and I’ve also been to one up in the Yonge and Eglington area.  Location to location, the quality of the sandwich remains the same.  The assembly line runs as smoothly and efficiently as any other in the downtown food courts.  First, there is the choice of bread which ranges from Swiss triangles to baguettes to focaccias (rosemary, onion and potato) to paninis to olive boule to regular slice bread.  Next there is a selection of spreads to choose from: garlic Dijon mayo, avocado chipotle mayo, roasted garlic and cumin, roasted red pepper, curried apple, and basil pesto among others.  They have a range of meats including grilled chicken, smoked chicken, prosciutto, smoked salmon, roast beef, spicy salami, roasted turkey, tuna and several others.  Possible vegetable additions include roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, tomatoes, arugula, eggplant and many others which I have yet to try.  Then, there is the cheese: asiago, provolone, havarti (also the jalapeno variety), brie, gruyere, goat and several others.  Once everything is chosen, they sprinkle on some salt and pepper, douse it with a little bit of oil and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the inside before adding the top bun and throwing the whole thing on a panini press for grilling.  

The combination of fancy breads, spreads, meats and veggies is something that takes up a lot of my mental capacity when I decide that I’m going to have a sandwich for lunch (making a good sandwich is a very serious matter to me).  There are just so many possible combinations to choose from.  Do I be safe and go with something I’ve tried, or do I be bold and adventurous like try something like eggplant and brie (I wonder if that would be good).  Most days I take the safe bet or carefully choose combinations that I think would work well together instead of randomly choosing.  

My go to sandwich is probably the onion focaccia, curried apple or garlic mayo spread, grilled chicken, tomatoes and jalapeno harvati cheese.  It has a nice spice to it (not hot spice) and makes me feel like I’m eating healthy. 

Mmmmmmmm. Potatoe focaccia…

The roast beef here is really good too.  The meat is pink in the middle which makes it nice and juicy.  I personally like my beef on the rarer side but this beef isn’t so rare that there is blood shooting out the back (except on one or two occasions I’ve had a few drops fall out… those were some tasty sandwiches).  For beef, I usually go with panini or focaccia bread, garlic Dijon mayo, caramelized onions and asiago or provolone cheese.

Their deli meats like the prosciutto or spicy salami are also good.  They go a little light on the meat but they have such a strong flavour that it works (in terms of taste).  As far as sustenance goes, I find myself getting hungry in the afternoon after eating these since they aren’t as filling.  Maybe I should use it as an excuse to go down and get another one.  The sandwich below is spicy salami on a whole grain panini, avocado chipotle mayo, tomatoes and provolone cheese.

Generally speaking, you could probably throw any combination of things together and it would probably taste good.  The sandwiches include a small salad on the side which can be hit and miss but it’s a nice thought.  Like Negroni, it nice to have something else on the side to eat between bites.  With panini’s like these; smoked meats from Caplansky’s and the corned beef house; hot Italian sandwiches from California Sandwich; and even a microwaved bacon and deli turkey meat sub from Belly Busters (which is not fancy but surprisingly satisfying) my love of sandwiches is well served in Toronto.

http://www.negronipanini.com/

http://www.sandwichbox.ca/

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~ by jlowjlow on February 25, 2010.

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