The New York Sandwich Project: Week 5

Today, like many days in the New York winter, the city gets bombarded with snow and is transformed into a slushy, filthy ice skating rink. Activities which normally require minimal brain functionality, like crossing the street without dying, suddenly become the focal point of everyone’s attention. Trains load up with those too terrified to drive, and then break down because, well, it’s the New York public transit system. Even with all the snowy chaos, the impossibly rushed pace of the city refuses to slow down, and as a result, the city spirals into a deeper, colder, crappier disarray.

And then, you find yourself alongside a slew of other frigid New Yorkers, at the end of a long and snow-shit filled day, deep in the bowels of the subway system, praying a train will come within the next half hour. It’s always at that moment, when it all seems to suck so bad you can barely function, you hear it. Sometimes it’s an alto sax paired with a six-piece drum set. Sometimes it’s a lone acoustic guitarist, banging out a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Sometimes it’s a guy who thinks he’s the second coming of reggaeton. The New York street and subway musicians.

Sure, a lot of times they’re terrible. But what is shocking and often haunting is the talent that arises from the cesspool, some of which are tattooed in my brain forever. One was a sullen young man on 59th street around Christmas time, belting out a soul-shaking rendition of “Danny Boy” (my grandfather’s favorite song to sing to me). Another time, I was sprinting through Atlantic Avenue, late and exhausted, kept going only by the resounding beats of a wild didgeridoo-bongo fusion sound. Then on 34 street, I witnessed a solo cellist whose sound seemed to mutate the squalid depths around him and elevate them into something glorious and magical.

But perhaps the most striking for me was the quartet of homeless men, singing an acapella version of “Our Father” as they weaved in and out of the crowds. One of the four men was handed two dollars by an onlooker. The homeless man in turn took one of those two dollar bills, worked his way through the crowd, and handed it to a woman huddled in the corner, selling fruit snacks from under a blanket to feed her family. Perhaps New York is not always as cold as we like to make it out to be.

Week 5: Patacon Pisao

For my fifth post, I wanted to try something new, venture into the great unknown of the sandwich world. My good buddy, Will To, is to thank for this week’s featured venue: Patacon Pisao, the award-winning and ground-breaking Venezuelan sandwich shop. It began in 2005 as a food truck and caught on like wild Venezuelan fire, now offering two permanent locations, in Washington Heights and Queens, and an upcoming spot on the Lower East Side. But what makes this cuisine so unique and awesome?

Plantains instead of bread. Sit, take a deep breath, and wrap your tiny head around that thought nuke. Coming from someone who is not a plantain lover in general, these sandwiches are stunning. The starchiness and texture of the plantains makes them an ideal (and healthy) alternative to your more traditional bread-based sandwiches, and furthermore sends every preconceived notion of the sandwich into an LSD-infused realm of possibilities.

But does that make it good? I have to remain objective in my reviews, existing as a sandwich scientist of sorts. Therefore gimmicks, while attention-grabbing, are not sufficient enough to win over my cold, dark New York heart. But at Patacon Pisao, the hits don’t stop at the plantains; these bad boys are unrelenting in flavor from top to bottom. Grilled chunks of carne asada, chorizo sausage, and fresh avocado comprise the Patacon Pisao, and they top it off with a sunny side up egg just for the hell of it. Pair that up with the BLaTin, the Venezuelan take on the BLT, loaded with crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado, and topped off with a crema de wasakaka sauce, you’re sitting pretty. Bring a friend, split them in half, and go on a joint odyssey of flavor.

If you’re not into plantains, Patacon Pisao hosts a slew of other sandwich options, including tachuchos (Venezuelan style-wraps), arepas (white corn meal patties), and cachapas (sweet corn cakes). Whatever you get, you have to wash it down with a chicha, their cold sweet rice milkshake. It’s smooth and rich, and its flavor falls somewhere between a Mexican horchata and a Korean sikhye, if any of those words mean anything to you. And for dessert, try the tres leches, their “homemade three milks sponge cake.” Oh yeah.

Patacon Pisao, it’s as delicious as it is different.