Beast's Naomi Pomeroy won last night's Sandwich Invitational, the opening salvo of the star-studded Feast Portland food festival, proving that it's hard to overcome a hometown advantage. While Pomeroy's maple-glazed pork belly with watermelon slaw was excellent (especially the watermelon slaw), its edge over the sophisticated "cheese steak" prepared by Franklin Barbecue's Aaron Franklin and Podnah's Rodney Muirhead was slight.
But many of the event's chefs weren't ready to cede victory just because they were cooking on someone else's turf. Here, a few of the attention-getting sandwich tactics trotted out by participants, including Seattle's own Ethan Stowell.
MAKE IT MASSIVE
"You want to win these things, you got to go big," a Stowell staffer told a pair of event goers who were awed by the size of the porchetta sandwiches on his serving tray. But plenty of takers who swore they couldn't possibly finish a whole Stowell sandwich ending up eating the pig flesh and their words: The layers of onion mostarda and bosc pear added complex sweet-savory notes, and showcased an Oregon-grown product as well as any sandwich in the ring.
MAKE IT PATRIOTIC
Lines were surprisingly short at the Invitational: The few folks who had to wait more than two or three minutes for a Franklin/Muirhead sandwich might not want to mention the ordeal to the Austinites who are accustomed to waiting two hours for a shot at Franklin's brisket. The only line which numbered upward of a dozen sandwich fans radiated from Duff Goldman's stand: Even high-minded food lovers can't resist an Egg McDuffin.
Ned and Jodi Elliott of Austin's Foreign and Domestic played the red-blooded American card even more vigorously, sticking flags into their smoked pork butt and pickled Dungeness crab and pear slaw sandwiches. Still, the better gimmick was between the bread: The crowning pig ear's gravy was extraordinary.
A majority of chefs built their sandwiches around pork, but Irving Street Kitchen's Sarah Schafer went even further: Her Cuban fritas patties combined Kobe beef, pork, veal, guinea hen offal and chicken liver. (While the meat mayhem was planned, the equipment breakdown wasn't: Schafer had to contend with a non-functioning fryer.)
OR JUST MAKE THE SAME SANDWICH YOU ALWAYS DO
Ned Ludd's Jason French's sandwiches stood out because they weren't spangled or spectacular. He served shrimp and watercress tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off. "You know, I don't care," Ludd said when asked how he expected to win with such a simple entry.
"How do you compare a Reuben to a meatball?," said Kenny & Zuke's Ken Gordon, who served his signature (and impeccable) Reuben. "I hate chef competitions. I don't subscribe to that stuff."
Franklin, who collected the best brisket title at last year's Texas Monthly BBQ Festival, agreed: "We're just hanging out," he said. "It's about getting a cold beer. Or several."