I never know what to order when I go into one of those trendy new soup-and-sandwich places. The list of uncommon offerings is endless. The people standing behind me have obviously downloaded a menu at home and given this some previous thought.
Am I the only person in line who hasn’t got a clue what he wants?
Most of the choices at places like Panera and Einstein’s are curious combinations of international cheeses, weird sandwich spreads like “pesto” or “tomesto,” with words like “frontega” or “sri-rancha” thrown in.
Before I order something new, I try to envision what all that will taste like when they glop it together on one sandwich and nuke it. The human mind can only imagine so much, like when I tried to visualize Bill Clinton as first lady.
Sandwiches have changed since I was a kid. Back then, there was ham, roast beef, peanut butter and jelly, and tuna or egg salad. That’s what you got at home from Mom or at the corner deli.
The Earl of Sandwich supposedly invented the sandwich in the 1700s so he could eat and play cards at the same time. But I just don’t see a guy betting his fortune on an inside straight and then asking his servant if there is any chipotle mayo for his portabella and Swiss on a jalapeño bagel.
Now, I have so many unrecognizable choices, plus the pressure of the customers behind me who are antsy to get back to their laptop at a nearby table.
I recently visited Einstein’s at lunchtime, stayed at the back of the store and put on my specs. From that vantage point, I could peruse the menu without being pushed into a premature decision. I tried to go unnoticed.
Rats! I was spotted.
“You! Back there, sir. What can I get you today?” she bellowed. All the employees whipped their heads around, somewhat embarrassed they had not spotted me first.
“I don’t know yet. I’m just browsing.”
The menu became a large blur. The Thai Salad with Lime Dressing merged in my mind with the Spicy Chicken on Onion Challah. Panicked, I retreated to an old 1960’s standby.
“I’ll have a ham and cheese sandwich,” I said.
Customers stared at me in bewilderment, like I had ordered a vanilla cone at Ben & Jerry’s.
“Do you want Black Forest, Bavarian, Cuban or Virginia ham? And what kind of bread? We have nine varieties … and do you want it toasted? And which country do you want the mustard to come from? And how about cheese? We have a separate menu section listing all of the options.”
I left and got a Big Mac. No complicated questions coming through the loudspeaker. Just, “Do you want fries with that?”
I did. And it only took one second to make up my mind.