On the Trail of Tasty and Creative Sandwiches
John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich (yes, a real place, title and person) famously inspired one of the world’s most popular means of corralling tasty eats for easy consumption. He may not have been the first person on earth to put meat, cheese and fixings between bread, but it makes a great story.
By April Bartel, Photography by Turner Photography Studio
As the gossip goes, this 17th-century noble was on a gambling binge that lasted for more than 24 hours. Hungry but unwilling to leave the table, he ordered beef “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread so that he could eat with one hand and hold his cards with the other. We don’t know if he won, but he or his legend started a food sensation.
To this day, his title is synonymous with this easily portable meal. There are plenty of regional variations—submarines, torpedoes, grinders, po’ boys, hoagies, etc.—but we are less concerned with nomenclature than being able to get our hands on one of our own.
Join us on an exploration of some great local places to literally grab a bite.
The first stop on our tour is Brunswick where Abed Alkteifan and his wife, Sawsan Alrisaei, established the Potomac Street Grill in 2012. The restaurant is cozy with a full bar and a substantial menu that bridges American standards with international favorites from Italy, India, the Caribbean and more. Their specialty is Syrian food, traditional fare from the owners’ homeland. Alkteifan calls his wife an “artist” with spices. He says local folks warmed up to Syrian cuisine, but visitors from D.C. and other metropolitan areas jump for something different.
He will whip up daily specials including crabcakes, meatloaf or a kicking curry, but the kitchen hustles out sandwich orders like their Cuban, pork barbecue, steak and cheese, or grilled chicken club wraps. On the Syrian side, there is marinated chicken or lamb shawarma prepared on site and a spiced ground beef “soujouk” sandwich served with pickles, cool tzatziki sauce and a choice side, including the popular golden rice, spiked with cardamom and coriander.
“People also like falafel,” says Alkteifan. “Falafel in the Middle East is like burgers for Americans.” These bite-size morsels of ground chickpeas are vegan and served as a sandwich or an appetizer.
Just steps away from the Brunswick train depot is Boxcar Burgers. Is a burger a sandwich? We will take it, especially when you throw in Boxcar’s toasty adult grilled-cheese special.
Proprietor Brett Novick started with a roving food truck and added locations in Brunswick and Frederick. He says burgers have universal appeal but the highlight here is uber-local beef. “We have two or three farms and we buy direct.” He supports local agriculture wherever possible, including sourcing from Thurmont’s third-generation Hillside Turkey Farm, Maryland’s Roseda Farm for all beef hot dogs, and a host of local craft beers.
You can build your own sandwich with crispy or grilled chicken, or a juicy burger, or go for cheffy menu picks like the Cyril Figgis, a beefy indulgence with McCutcheon’s fig jam, caramelized shallots and creamy goat cheese. We learned the hard way to eat these over the plate. Novick and staff look for creative combinations. He’s currently engineering a recipe for Chicago-style Italian beef that starts with braised chuck roast and finishes with vinegared peppers and melted provolone. Weekly specials are created by staff members and posted each Wednesday. There is hand-scooped ice cream for dessert, too.
Heading into Jefferson, The Little Red Barn Ice Cream Café offers a cheery welcome. One hundred years ago, the barn was a shelter for a local teacher’s horse and buggy. Today, it’s a hub for tasty treats, family picnics, first jobs and community connections.
The Kaler family transformed the site 10 years ago. Matriarch Dr. Laura Kaler says, “We had the whole family working to fix it up and used local rehab people to save as much as we could.”
After starting with ice cream and a few sandwiches, the business quickly expanded the options. Now there are more than a dozen sandwiches, along with salads, coffees, soups and other sweet fancies. Diners can channel Elvis with a PBJ-and-banana sandwich or opt for a lunchbox classic, ham and cheese. Kaler says the Red Barn Ruben and the Ciabatta Club are popular picks. Vegetarians go for the Mediterranean with provolone, tomatoes and pesto. And the breakfast bagel is served all day long. First responders even get a free coffee or ice cream on first Fridays.
Down the street, Jefferson Market has sliced-to-order deli and plenty of grab-and-go food, including daily soups, sides, and desserts. There’s a case of ready-made, no-frills sandwiches, too. We picnicked on olive loaf and pillowy potato rolls, baked on site, on the cruise over to Middletown.
Eateries in this eastern hamlet draw fans from far and wide. They flock to Fratelli’s Italian & Seafood, Tapia’s on Main, Dempsey’s Grille and The Main Cup. Middletown’s Black Hog BBQ location is part of a thriving local chain with raves for their all-scratch kitchen, including a Triple Mofo that loads tender brisket, pork shoulder and pit ham onto a griddled bun with Swiss cheese and onion.
The hidden gem, quite literally, is Aleko’s Village Café. It’s inside Fountaindale Sunoco. Started by Joana Tsinonis to honor her father, Aleko’s uses imported ingredients and family recipes for an authentic taste of Greece. Their Athenian gyro features rotisserie chicken or a lamb/beef blend with tomato, onion, tzatziki and fries wrapped in a pita. The souvlaki starts with tender chunks of chicken or pork. Vegetarians can swap house-made vital wheat gluten for gyro meat and barely note the difference. Other sandwiches include a porterhouse steak and cheese, a lightly battered fried fish, an Italian cold cut or meatball sub. As added temptation, there are trays of homemade Greek desserts like baklava and butter cookies.
Zipping to Thurmont, The Farmhouse Exchange is another winner with local sandwich lovers. It’s conjoined to one of the sweetest places around, Gateway Candyland, so you can grab bunches of lollipops and carrots in one stop. The hard part is ignoring shelves of delectable baked goods while crossing to the counter. This fast/casual deli offers plentiful lunch and dinner options, including weekly meat bundles that are locally and responsibly raised.
A local baker makes the bread for the French Dip—mounded with roasted beef and au jus for dipping—crispy paninis and more. Employees pick weekly features, like the crowd-pleasing special, the Mac Daddy. That’s an oozy tower of pulled pork, mac-n-cheese and hickory-smoked bacon on a pretzel roll. There’s also a Chipped Chicken on a croissant that’s smothered with beef gravy and creamy Amish butter cheese.
Around town, fans shout out the Thurmont Kountry Kitchen for its Super Melts and open-faced sandwiches with gravy with generous sides. Bollinger’s Family Restaurant gets props for sensuously satisfying brisket and pulled pork “from the pit.”
Superfoods Cafe & Market in Mount Airy fortifies diners with gluten-free and raw, vegan options. Darlene Union and Tracy Hales created the place to provide healthy, organic foods and they take it seriously. There’s a separate toaster and oven for gluten-free products. Patrons enjoy house-made hummus, herbed cashew “cheese,” and nutty taco “meat,” even freshly blended organic peanut butter available in sandwiches, wraps, or by the container-full. Stretching the sandwich concept, Superfoods offers a collard wrap for extra greens and less carbs. Their market section stocks uncommon finds like cacao nibs, goji berries, spirulina, local honey, and vegan protein powders. There’s wine, too.
Darlene says, “People can come in to relax or get together, even for a ladies’ night.”
Nearby Concetta’s Main Street Bistro is Jeffrey Baer’s labor of love. This eatery dishes up “famous” meatball subs, juicy “muffulatas,” grilled Reubens, and indulgent barbecue shrimp with bacon and guacamole on ciabatta. Concetta’s PLT raises the bar, substituting Italian pancetta for bacon. Equally inventive, their French toast sandwich is an all-day favorite alongside bagels with lightly-smoked Nova lox.
Baer happily serves breakfast for lunch or lunch for breakfast. “If you want cheesesteak at 9 o’clock in the morning, I’ll make it for you,” loaded with grilled top round, of course. Concetta’s patio lets diners soak in the sun.
On to Urbana, Pumpernickel + Rye is beloved for tasty eats with a conscience. Co-founders, Amy Nesbit and sister, Megan Hook, agree, “We care very much about the integrity of our food and sourcing local for sustainability.” The restaurant won a 2022 Frederick County Sustainability Award. Amy continues, “Everything in your bag is compostable…We do our best to be a no-waste kitchen.” That includes working with Key City Compost since opening in 2019. “We want to do things differently.”
Their seasonal, “thoughtfully curated” menu includes combinations like the Don’t Worry Brie Happy with turkey, creamy brie cheese, and sweet gingered apples or the Notorious P.I.G. with fennel roasted pork shoulder, broccoli rabe, and apricot jam. The Whistle Stop is a veg-friendly pick with cheesy fried green tomatoes and zesty giardiniera.
“All our meats are made in-house, all of our condiments, jams, and spreads. Everything on your sandwich, except the bread, is made here,” explains Nesbit. “We’re always experimenting.” Their tiny marketplace carries unique, local items, too.
Frederick City is definitely a foodie town. Its diverse cuisine choices run the price spectrum, making it a great place for sandwiches, too. There are enduring fan favorites, like the grand dame of the “theater district,” Crabapples New York Delicatessen, serving quality Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and other authentically styled eats. Canapés 550 Grab & Go Café is an offshoot of chef ML Carroll’s thriving catering business. She’s competed on several Food Network shows, highlighting her flair for luscious baked goods, fresh soups and salads, and top-notch sandwiches like the jumbo shrimp salad or house-made meatloaf glazed with mamba sauce.
We caught up with fellow sandwich icon, a.k.a. Friscos. Just outside the city, the place boasts a laid-back vibe with two spacious patios. Customers queue out the door during peak hours.
Angie Graf-Wolf started with partners in 1990. Now sole proprietor, she proudly maintains the original high standards. “We season, bake and slice our own roast beef in-house,” she says. “That is a real beef product, not a deli product. The same goes for the ham.” They scratch-make as much as possible, including salsa, barbecue sauce, mac & cheese and their trademark exploded potatoes. The Embarcadero and the Lombard sandwiches reign the beef category while turkey stars in the Oakland and Trans Am. For ham, it’s the South of Market. That’s hickory smoked ham with Swiss and home-made honey mustard. Pair any selection with a curated wine or local beer.
Fans of the 7th Street Sandwich Shop in the College Plaza Shopping Center know the lingo. The beach-themed cafe names sandwiches based on surfboard sizes. There are longboards or short boards (subs), boogie boards (slices) and skimboards (flatbreads). And all the bread is made in-house from organic flour. It also added a full bar last December.
“We make what we like to eat,” says Lexi Wittstadt, general manager.
It seems to be working. Best sellers are the 7th Street Steak & Cheese, The Godfather Italian cold cut sub and the turkey club. We tried the toasty Twin Fin Club with ham, turkey, generous bacon and mozzarella, plus a side of crispy hushpuppies, but diners can always “build your own board.” A social media darling, the indulgent Mr. Crabs skimboard is a feast paired with the Wednesday special, seven wings and a whiskey sour for $7.
Of course, Downtown Frederick is loaded with many hot spots: Firestone’s Market on Market, Bushwaller’s, Juliet’s Italian Market & Café, The South Market Sandwich Shop, Tonix, and so many more. It would be easy to enjoy a different sandwich every day for a month and still not try them all. Regardless, you can feel extra fancy with each bite.
After all, you’re eating like an earl.