Chef Alan’s “Grinder Panini”

The classic italian fixins, baked to perfection.

And thus begins our venture eastward. My father grew up in a little suburban Philadelphia neighborhood called Wyomissing. It’s pretty homey area, a very warm community feel, and there’s a restaurant that my family always goes to with my grandparents called Chef Alan’s American Bistro. From the outside (and, really, the inside) there’s nothing to indicate the quality of food you actually get. That’s credited to the true Chef Alan, who studied at The Culinary Institute of America and decided to open the place in 1988 and bring the quality he learned to a more accessible form of cuisine.

The menu’s expansive, so if you ever get there, be sure to try many things. But a favorite of mine is the Grinder Panini, made of “tavern ham, provolone and hard salami baked in a crusty focaccia roll with lettuce, tomatoes and onions, drizzled with red vinegar, olive oil and oregano.” It takes the classic Italian sandwich (which, by the way, is my favorite kind of sandwich) and turns it upscale and neat while still providing you all of your traditional Italian flavor.

Let’s start with that crusty focaccia roll. What happens here, as with any good Italian, is that the red vinegar, olive oil and oregano essentially become one entity with the roll as it soaks up their flavors. This process turns two already tasty sandwich bookends into something with just as much character as the rest of the sandwich. These extras, which are often overlooked, really give the Italian the taste that you look for. Meat is meat, but these toppings make it an Italian.

Now, that’s not to say that the filler in this ‘wich are throw-aways, either! The delicious tavern ham is piled the highest and is really the focal point of the inside of the sandwich. Using that as basically a base of the inside, the ham is then lined with the salami to give it a little extra salty taste while the provolone layered against the salami uses its mild flavor to counter the salty duo of the ham and salami. While essentially following the blueprint, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the basics if it tastes good.

And then, of course, there’s the holy trinity of veggies: lettuce-tomato-onion, which essentially are there to give the sandwich the crunch, as I’ve said thousands of times before. But here, the onion (always a highlight on any sandwich) and the tomato really shine. The onion gives the sandwich that kick that’s missing (before the onion, the spiciest thing on the sandwich was oregano!) and the tomato is able to provide a texture on the opposite end of the spectrum from the rest of the ingredients.

Chef Alan’s doesn’t deviate from the beaten path of Italian sandwiches. They simply use focaccia bread to give it a crunch on the outside and then execute the filler to perfection. And, really, I couldn’t ask for much more.

(Chef Alan’s isn’t on Urbanspoon, but you can go like them on Facebook!)

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