International spots offer alternatives to turkey.
As a lover of food who lives in Pittsburgh, Munch is used to sandwiches being, well, obscene.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes a sandwich piled high with french fries, coleslaw, cheese and meat just feels like home.
But Munch also recognizes the value of a simple sandwich that can be neatly wrapped and comfortably consumed.
And that is exactly what Munch and Dear One of Munch got on a recent trip to Sand Presso, a new coffee and sandwich shop in the Strip District near the border with Downtown.
"I wonder what the name means?" DOOM mused. Munch, excited to be one step ahead of DOOM, clarified the obvious: "Sandwiches. Espresso. Sand Presso."
Munch and DOOM walked into the immaculate, brand-new restaurant not sure what to expect. The online menu listed a wide selection of fancy cafe standards -- coffee, espresso, tea, chai, frappes, smoothies -- as well as a list of basic sandwiches, including turkey, tuna salad and egg salad. But the online menu also listed specials of bibimbap -- a Korean dish of rice, veggies and egg -- and a California roll, which could only be interpreted as sushi.
The menu is written on a blackboard in the neatest block lettering Munch has ever seen. There were two specials the day we visited -- a bulgogi sandwich and a chicken teriyaki sandwich.
Munch and DOOM decided to keep it simple. DOOM initially asked for the tuna salad sandwich with cheese, only to be told that cheese is not available, so DOOM opted for the egg salad sandwich ($3.50) instead. Munch accepted the lack of cheese and ordered the tuna salad ($4.50). Because it was still unseasonably warm for November, DOOM requested a strawberry smoothie and Munch ordered a "kona mocha frappe" (both $4.15).
Munch and DOOM took a seat at the front of the long restaurant and admired the ornate tin ceiling and freshly painted walls. Small paintings adorned a red wall, and a large, flat screen television was embedded into the wall above the cash register. A gleaming red espresso machine and retro red Coke coolers completed the decor.
A woman brought the sandwiches in brown paper bags, DOOM's labeled with an "E" and Munch's labeled with a "T."
We reached into the bags and pulled out the most impressively wrapped sandwiches either of us has ever seen. The sandwiches were so neatly and perfectly secured behind two layers of waxed paper that they were difficult to unwrap.
"My sandwich is secured behind a wall of origami," DOOM quipped.
Munch's tuna salad was good, but Munch regretted not being adventurous and getting the bulgogi.
DOOM was pleased with the egg salad sandwich, but noted that there weren't sides like potato chips available.
"It's definitely missing multiple deli-for-dummies things," DOOM said. "Cheese, for example."
The drinks were less impressive. Munch wound up with a hot mocha instead of a cold frappe. DOOM was informed that the blender wasn't working and got a cup of coffee to replace the smoothie.
Shortly thereafter, someone realized the blender was unplugged, and a smoothie was quickly blended and delivered to the table. There didn't appear to be any actual strawberries in the strawberry smoothie; it seemed more like blended strawberry sherbet. Not bad, per se, but not exactly a smoothie.
Sand Presso is a Korean franchise, and the sandwiches pictured on their website, www.sandpresso.com , look fantastic. (Munch can't read Korean, but Munch is fluent in Sandwichese, and Sand Presso's full spread looks quite impressive.)
Munch hopes that the owners of Sand Presso will continue to expand their specials and refine their menu, because a unique, perfectly wrapped sandwich is always an excellent lunch.
Sand Presso, 1125 Penn Ave., Strip District, is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays; 412-315-7428; www.sandpressousa.com .