Sandwiches have enjoyed their moment in the spotlight this year. Not only have chef-dominated hero joints proliferated, but breakfasts are becoming sandwich-intensive, and even the lowly deli sandwich between two slices of white or whole wheat has achieved new luster. This year I ate dozens upon dozens, wolfing them down even when it wasn't mealtime. And rediscovered the sandwich's greatest utility: you can hold one and eat it while doing something else! Here are my favorites, month by month.
December: Picking up where No. 7 Sub left off, and successor to an innovative pizzeria now on hiatus, Boomwich is a new hero shop on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue with some wacky fillings. Even the bread is unusual: a deep-brown pretzel roll, soft enough that you won't tear your teeth out trying to bite into it. Of the many reconfigured standards, the one I like best is "Reubenese," featuring housemade pastrami and very mild sauerkraut, along with mozzarella instead of the usual Swiss, encouraging the smoky pastrami to shine. 311 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-643-9229.
November: Perhaps the nutsiest sandwich of the year was encountered at the Tamale Cart usually parked under the M train tracks at the corner of Myrtle and Wyckoff in Bushwick — a torta stuffed with two tamales, bargain-priced at $3. Do spicy chicken tamales make a good sandwich stuffing? You bet! Tamales are 50 percent lard anyway, so the effect is surprisingly greasy.
October: Sometimes the greatest sandwiches are right under your nose: like Poe's purloined letter, you never notice them. That is the case with the roasted brisket at Katz's Deli — always playing second fiddle to the pastrami and the corned beef. But the sandwich is spectacularly juicy, meaty and mellow without the smoke or spice-rub — or the searing pink color — of the cured briskets. It's a fantastically refreshing alternative, especially washed down with a tonic can of Cel-Ray. 205 East Houston Street, 212-254-2246.
September: Studying how to replicate the authentic New Orleans version of the hero sandwich, Orleans Po Boys popped up in Bushwick at the end of the summer, really just a truck parked in a graffiti-festooned fence right off of Myrtle Avenue. The oyster po' boy was spectacular, but even better was the original version of the sandwich, made with French fries and gravy — hence the name "poor boy." 603 Hart Street, 718-574-1000
August: In the warmest of summer months, the breakfast sandwich finally came of age at Egg Shop, located on the Lower East Side. Shown is the Egg Shop B.E.C., containing a cage-free egg, slice of cheddar, bacon rasher, and schmear of tomato jam, which is oh so much better than ketchup. And the sea-salt-crusted roll is an additional asset of this messy but easy-to-maneuver breakfast sandwich. 151 Elizabeth Street, 646-666-0810.
July: Reviving a long-reviled Southern classic (I ate it in high school in Dallas), Seersucker and Nightingale 9 spinoff Wilma Jean in Carroll Gardens offered a fried bologna sandwich at the end of July. The sliced meat arrived lightly charred from the griddle and mounted on a cushy hamburger bun, and the taste was the same as I remember it — garlicky, greasy, and salty. 345 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-422-0444.
June: One notable phenomenon this year was sandwiches made with substitutes for the usual two slices of bread. At Basque newcomer Donostia, two thick wedges of tortilla — the Spanish omelet, not the Mexican flatbread — substituted for the usual sliced staff-of-life. In "tortillas de doble capa," the filling is a lush mix of spinach and leeks which tumbles out the sides, and getting your mouth around this sandwich is every bit as difficult as eating an overstuffed hero. 155 Avenue B, 646-256-9773.
May: Like a ton of bricks Meat Hook Sandwich hit Lorimer Street at the end of May, purveying big meaty sandwiches using raw materials from the farmers market and the butcher shop just down the hill — with lots of pickled things thrown in for extra zing. But somewhat ironically, the sandwich that had the greatest impact was the vegetarian hero, jammed with fresh, cooked, and pickled veggies, and some crunchy fried tidbits, too. Delicious! 495 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, 718-302-4665.
April: The movie Chef — in which the hero chucks his restaurant career and sets off in a truck on a cross-country trek flogging Cuban sandwiches — occasioned a mini-spike in the fortunes of that venerable pressed sub. At Dominican stalwart Mambi in Washington Heights, the sandwich, with its layering of pernil, boiled ham, cheese, and dill pickles, is done more perfectly than perhaps anywhere else in the metropolis. 4181 Broadway, 212-928-9796.
March: Mexican sandwiches — tortas, cemitas, y pambazos — attracted an inordinate amount of attention this year for the first time, not only as great tuck-ins, but as one of the most effective uses of your dining dollar. At torta specialist Don Pepe in Sunset Park, the sandwich is available in dozens of geographically named permutations and in more lavish form than anywhere else, and you were well-challenged to eat more than half at one sitting. Shown is Espagnol Doble, featuring refried beans, fried egg, ham, fried cheese, frankfurter, potatoes, bacon, more cheese, jalapenos, onions, tomatoes, and avocados. Whew! 3908 5th Ave, Brooklyn, 718-435-3326.
February: The workhorse of the vegetarian sandwich world is the falafel in a pita — often eaten, rarely praised. A one-hand wonder that can be eaten on the go and always tastes good, wrapping itself in the flag of healthfulness, while also being salty and fried. The best of the year was found, paradoxically, at a Moroccan place. At the East Side's Casablanca Grill, the usual sandwich is improved with various North African-style pickled vegetable salads, to great effect. 1132 1st Ave, 212-355-3535.
January: Whiting — replacing catfish for thousands of Southerners who moved up here in the last century — became the classic fried-fish sandwich of Harlem. And nowhere is the sandwich piled higher than at Famous Fish Market. Well-crusted with cornmeal and black pepper, the sandwich contains an amazing six filets. Squirt on the Tabasco and tartar sauce! 684 St. Nicholas Avenue, 212-491-8323