By Julie Fitz-Gerald
New flavours add appeal – but don’t go too crazy
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Sandwiches: from butternut squash to tandoori chicken offerings, this classic lunch order has gone from traditional to trendy. Egg salad and ham and cheese are now relics of the past, replaced with creative new combinations that incorporate “superfood” ingredients for added health benefits.
Mike Simeone, co-founder and director of Artisano Bakery Café, has been coming up with tantalizing sandwich creations since his first location opened in Etobicoke, Ont., in 2006. “Over the years we’ve found that our customers want a sandwich that’s a little more complicated, something that they can’t make at home,” he says. Ten years later, Artisano has been fueled by creativity and growth, expanding to five locations and staying true to its original vision of providing healthy, wholesome food at an affordable price.
However, the sky is not the limit when it comes to inventive new sandwiches. While customers want exciting new ingredients packed full of nutrition, they still want to play it safe where meat selection is concerned. “The limitation ultimately is on the protein that you put in the sandwich,” Simeone explains. “The majority of sandwiches we do are built around grilled chicken or turkey, and the reason for that is because it goes across all age groups.”
Kevin Mathieson, chef and co-owner of Art-Is-In Bakery in Ottawa, has also noticed customers tend to opt for “safer” meats and cheeses, while wanting toppings that push the boundaries. “Using rare cuts of meat, I find that people won’t go for that. If you do an oxtail, veal sweetbread or chicken liver, for me those are amazing cuts but they won’t sell. I find people really look for comforting flavours. If it’s something they don’t know they tend to stay away from it,” he explains. Mathieson, along with his wife, Stephanie, opened their bakery in 2005 and in December 2010 moved to a more retail-oriented location that could also house a café. For the past six years, the husband-and-wife duo has been blowing customers away with fresh, creative food made from scratch.
Despite limited protein options, there are few rules when it comes to vitamin-rich veggies, flavourful spreads and breads boasting seeds and grains. Mathieson’s “squash caponata” sandwich has been making waves among his customers who love the flavour profile. Roasted, sweet butternut squash is topped with goat cheese, tomato, arugula, olives, sundried tomatoes and basil pesto, cradled on a crispy olive bread to offset the soft nature of the ingredients. Another fan-favourite is the “fried crispy pickles melt” which offers maximum crunch and flavour. Dill pickles are breaded in a homemade tempura batter, fried, topped with spicy mayo, arugula, cheddar, and caramelized onions, and served on “dynamite” cheddar, chive and jalapeno bread. Cue the drooling.
At Artisano Bakery Café, Simeone says the most popular sandwich is a turkey brie offering, combining tender roasted turkey breast, brie cheese and sliced green apples, topped with a cranberry mayo and served on a fresh ciabatta bun. Another bestseller is the turkey avocado sandwich, bringing together oven roasted turkey breast, bacon, provolone cheese, avocado and tomato, topped with a special mayo-based sauce and served on a molasses bread made specifically for the sandwich. “It’s an interesting flavour combination,” Simeone says.
Avocados are an obvious choice for sandwich ingredients as they continue to soar in popularity among consumers. Mathieson’s avocado poached egg sandwich is a top-seller in his café, and Simeone serves several sandwiches featuring the palate-pleasing fruit. “We’ve been using avocados for a long time,” Simeone notes. “It’s a terrific product in terms of health benefits and has a great mouth feel on a sandwich.”
Ethnic flavours are also on the rise and can quickly become customer favourites. One of Mathieson’s bestselling sandwiches is a Thai chicken offering. The chicken breast is marinated in curry powder, coconut milk, cilantro and brown sugar for 24 hours and then baked at 550 degrees for a charring effect. It’s topped with cilantro, arugula, havarti cheese and thinly sliced chilies for some added heat. A curry mayo finishes off the flavour explosion. On a typical Saturday, Mathieson’s kitchen churns out around 120 Thai chicken sandwiches.
A tandoori chicken sandwich is currently in the works for Artisano Bakery Café, featuring sliced grilled chicken thighs in a wet tandoori rub, garnished with fresh cilantro and a yogurt spread to offset the heaviness of the tandoori flavour. Simeone expects it to be a big seller now that customer demand for more exotic dishes is on the rise. “The tandoori chicken will be a terrific sandwich because I think the market is catching up now. Indian food has become more high profile, so it doesn’t scare people off anymore.”
Acting as the bookends of a great sandwich, bread selection is crucial. Simeone says one of Artisano’s original offerings — the chicken, grilled vegetables and goat cheese sandwich—is still a top-seller because of the cheese focaccia that it’s served on. “That’s all about the bread. It won at the bakery show three years in a row. The bread makes the sandwich.” Artisano’s fresh-baked breads are all-natural, contain no preservatives and undergo the full fermentation process prior to baking. Many are also made with sprouted grains.
Art-Is-In Bakery’s “crazy grain” bread consists of whole grain rye flour, wheat flour and over a dozen grains — and it “sells like crazy!” It’s dynamite cheddar, chive and jalapeno baguette is another bestseller, along with “chop chop sourdough,” where the dough is literally chopped up with cheddar cheese, white onions and roasted garlic.
Sandwich trends are showing that adventurous consumers want to add some pep to their lunch fare with carefully crafted sandwiches that take creativity to a whole new level.