Wrap it up

Eating sandwiches makes a bad economy better
By BRIAN DUFF  |  January 30, 2008
GOOD THINGS GOING: A Fat Baxter's wrap
under construction.

As the economy slides into recession it is time we started to think more seriously about the sandwich. In tough times the sandwich can provide practical and affordable sustenance; wraps are the original version of the sandwich, as well as a trendy “update” of the genre.

Fat Baxter’s at the top of Munjoy Hill is the East End’s new destination for wraps. I tried one called “the papa.” Fat with finely chopped crabmeat and a liberal dose of mayo, this sandwich had some good things going for it. The tortilla kept the roasted corn and tender asparagus from spilling out. The smokiness of the former and bitterness of the latter worked well with the sweet crab. But the wrap approach accentuated the sandwich’s inherent mushiness (helped along by an herbed goat cheese) too much. I suggest you go off-menu and ask for this sandwich on Fat Baxter’s very good multigrain.

That toasted multigrain works well on a sandwich with warm prosciutto, apple, gorgonzola, and a “maple drizzle.” This sandwich is tasty, though it hits a lot of sweet notes: the maple, the apple, the cheese, even the bread. The salty, chewy, nearly crispy meat doesn’t stand up to it with every bite. It could be better without the drizzle. It came with a crunchy, peppery, not-too-wet slaw with big chewy pieces of cabbage. These sandwiches are labor-intensive, but it’s pleasant to peruse Baxter’s shelves while they are constructed. There are two tables tucked in there, but it is hard to imagine eating at one.

Fat Baxter’s East End Market | 88 Congress St, Portland | 207.773.7888

North Star Café | 225 Congress St, Portland | 207.699.2994

Colucci’s Hilltop Market | 135 Congress St, Portland | 207.774.2279

Amato’s | 71 India St, Portland | 207.773.1682
In contrast, the whole point of North Star Café, which offers food, dancing, and folk music, is to stick around a while. The feel is more 1990s lesbian than straight-up hippie — and the vibe is relaxed and crunchy. It is so relaxed, in fact, that the knit-capped staff forgot to make my sandwich. But the rich coffee kept me occupied and they made up for it with a free cup of stew. It’s a pleasant place overall, with a light wood floor, olive walls, and a buzz of conversation on several mid-afternoons. The wall art, which involved angels, elephants, and space ships, could be curated more thoughtfully.

The same is true of the sandwiches, generally speaking. North Star has its own version of a sweet sandwich (this time thanks to brie and a marmalade-y apricot preserve) with prosciutto. While it was not bad, the baguette and cold meat made me miss the graininess and the warm chewiness that I found up the hill. The El Dorado was also good enough but not great. Reading “yellowfin” in the description, I imagined thick flakes of rich grilled fish. But it’s basically a tuna salad on an unremarkable wheat. The mayo had that ineffable Miracle-Whippy flavor, red onions offered welcome bite, and the capers were nearly undetectable. Everything comes with mixed greens, which also show up between the bread.

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