Despite its apocryphal aristocratic origins, the sandwich is a humble beast. The Earl of Sandwich might have used bread to shield his playing cards from his meat, but these days, the sandwich is more often the go-to lunch for busy office dwellers, eaten at one's desk between e-mails.
The lowly sandwich is often eclipsed by its flashier cousins: the burrito, the wood-fired or gourmet-topped pizza, the carb-watchers wrap. But it's the simple sandwich (So portable! So dependable!) we keep coming back to again and again.
Here are seven under-the-radar sandwiches (which also happen to be under the noses of Hill denizens) that deserve some love:
• In-the-know Senate staffers (and sometimes a Senator or two) head to the basement of the Senate side of the Capitol for the Baby Gourmet's BLT ($4.95), one of the best BLTs in town. The bacon is always crisp and plentiful, the bread toasted evenly, and the smear of mayo perfectly proportioned.
• Inside Gandel's Liquors, this unassuming House-side liquor store (211 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), a small deli counter turns out some unexpectedly good lunch fare. The Gandel's Special ($4.98) lives up to its moniker, with layers of capicola, mortadella and Genoa salami laced with tangy vinaigrette.
• Taylor Gourmet, the Philadelphia-style deli at 1116 H St. NE and 485 K St. NW, makes a case for the notion that the cheesesteak is Philly's second-best sandwich. The Pattison Avenue ($7.20 for a 6-inch) is a version of the roast-pork hoagie made famous at iconic spots such as DiNic's in the City of Brotherly Love's Reading Market: Hunks of slow-roasted pork shoulder, spicy broccoli rabe and tangy shards of provolone cheese are piled on a bun from famed Philly deli Sarcone's.
• How do you know there's a great sandwich around? Take a cue from the contractor's trucks that pull up to Mangialardo & Sons, an old-school deli at 1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Many a working man's lunch is the classic Italian sub called the G-Man ($6). The traditional array of meats (ham, bologna, pepperoni, salami, mortadella and turkey) is elevated by the bread on which it's served ' Mangialardo's gets theirs from the nearby Catania Bakery. Aficionados swear by the hard rolls, all the better to hold in the generous portions.
• When Eastern Market (225 Seventh St. SE) burned in 2007, Hill residents not only feared a local landmark would be lost, but they also worried about the disappearance of the market's signature dish, the crab cake sandwich ($8.85) doled out at the Market Lunch. Fat discs of fresh crab, crisp on the outside and held together by a bit of binding, the delicacy hardly needs the soft bun that carries it. A ladle of the pickle-laced tartar sauce is a must.
• A pricier option is Art and Soul's Country Pastrami Reuben ($16), a heaping mound of rye bread, pastrami, chow chow (a homemade pickle relish) and swiss cheese, served with house-made chips. Art and Soul (415 New Jersey Ave. NW) takes Southern dishes and gives them a modern flair. The result is both chic and satisfying.
• The Napolitano meatball sub ($9) at Toscana, the tucked-away Senate-side takeout spot (there are a few tables upstairs and on the patio, 601 Second St. NE) is a find. The braised all-beef meatballs are the star: dense but not tough, and well-seasoned with ground pepper and flecks of parsley. Provolone and a tangy sauce provide delicious backup, while a house-made ciabatta roll soaks up just enough to keep the sub from getting too messy. Which, come to think of it, the Earl of Sandwich himself might applaud.