While the focus of this blog is on pizza, we enjoy any well-crafted specialty food item. This took us on a repeat visit to QT Sandwich Shop, purveyor of banh mi (Vietnamese hoagie) in Philly's Chinatown.
Spoiler Alert: BEST SANDWICH ON EARTH!
Both the Philly and New York press have given ample coverage to this remarkable sandwich. For a superb primer, click here for the Banh Mi Quick Start Guide from the New York Times Banh Mi Article in 2009. If that doesn't whet your appetite, stop reading now.
I love a Philly cheesesteak -- the savory meat and cheese and onions in unholy union laying languidly in the fresh and compliant roll. I love a well-crafted hoagie, especially if the foundation is solid like a roll from Sarcone's in Philly or Formica Bakery in Atlantic City. But I find that an authentic Italian hoagie is a bit of a belly bomb; the meat and cheese can overrule the bread and scant vegetables. The tomatoes are pink Florida tasteless slices and the lettuce is iceberg.
The banh mi gets off to a perfect start with a fresh French mini-baguette, which is then lightly toasted for extra crunch. Inside, you get a blend of Viet cold cuts that resemble American ham or pork, but with an extra infusion of savory and exotic flavor. They toss in some pork pate, some fish sauce, mayo, fresh and pickled vegetables that really crunch, jalepeno that offers snap but not fire, and sprigs of cilantro to make all the flavors dance. The soft but crisp bread, the salty earthiness of the meat and sauces, and the fresh crunch of the vegatables: it is Yin, Yang, and Yowza.
Did I mention, BEST SANDWICH ON EARTH?
I've had a fine banh mi from the since-closed "O" sandwich shop near Geno's in Philly's Italian Market. I've had banh mi from a few places in Brooklyn. All were good, but QT rules. If that was not enough, the staff in there are super friendly and informative. It seems like a multi-generation family affair, and reminds me in that way of the long-shuttered but cherished Saigon restaurant in South Philly. We made friends there in the eighties and watched the kids go from busboys to college students to IBM executives.
As awesome as the sandwich is (there are several twists, but you must begin with the house special), they have wonderful soups -- sweet or spicy -- and many other sides. We ordered tofu summer rolls that were as light and airy as the name suggests. Fine on their own, but they take on extra character with the side dipping sauces that are fish-sauce or soy sauce based.
Get down to QT early and often for the BEST SANDWICH ON EARTH! Ten stars out of ten. Bravo.