I was working late the other day and, by the time I got back to my apartment, it was a bit late to go about making dinner. So, I surveyed my fridge door for coupons. There were the usual items — pizza, wings and so on — but I wasn’t much in the mood for those. I briefly considered a burrito from Chipotle or Freebirds (both of which are nearby), but that seemed like too much food at the time.
A sandwich seemed like a good idea and I was about to go for Quiznos — if it weren’t for the fact that I had opened by credit card bill only moments earlier and noticed that I had been to Quiznos four times in as many weeks. In lieu of Quiznos, Schlotsky’s seemed like a good alternative. And, because I didn’t want to get there only to end up standing in front of the counter staring at the menu while I made my decision, I decided to check out their menu online ahead of time.
What I noticed on their front page right away was a new item, their “Grilled Chicken Romano Panini”. As it’s described on their home page, the panini has “grilled chicken breast and melted Gruyère cheese with sweet red peppers and fresh baby spinach on freshly toasted slices of Artisan bread”. That sounded pretty good to me, especially since I couldn’t even recall when last I had Gruyère on a sandwich.
The Schlotsky’s near me is only about a quarter mile away and it didn’t take long to get there. There was hardly anyone there, so I walked right up to the counter and ordered the panini. As I handed over my credit card to pay for it, the lady behind the counter verbally dispatched my order to the sandwich maker in the back (which wasn’t really “in the back” as the sandwich-making area was more to the side of the cashiers).
I could see him building the sandwich and I watched as he started with two slices of bread and added the chicken, red peppers and Gruyère. Then, to my horror, he omitted the most important part of the panini-making process: the panini press. In traditional panini-making, the sandwich is assembled and then placed between two hot metal plates which are pressed together. However, that technique was not employed this time; rather, my panini to-be was sent through the toasting-conveyor-belt just like any other Schlotsky’s sandwich.
Sure, the bread became toasted and crunchy, but it wasn’t really a true panini anymore. The distinction may seem subtle, but the benefit of the pressing process is that all of the ingredients meld together. In particular, the cheese oozes into the cracks and crevices within the bread to form a type of delicious hybrid cheese-bread. As it was, my Gruyère did melt, but only onto the surrounding chicken and peppers. I was denied any cheese-to-bread integration.
In fairness to Schlotsky’s, the sandwich was still decent (by normal sandwich standards).There were plenty of morsels of lean chicken and the red pepper was tender and sweet. As a Chicken + Something sandwich, I might have even been inclined to recommend it to friends. But why would they assume the panini persona if they were only panini poseurs at heart? I can’t say that this has soured me on Schlotsky’s, but I could really go for a good panini after having almost attained one.