Does Berkeley have crummy sandwiches?

Bakesale Betty's fried chicken sandwich

San Francisco Magazine, that oversized, glossy love letter to food and fashion*, recently named what it considers the best sandwiches in the Bay Area.

And, if you can believe it, not a single sandwich in Berkeley was selected.

There were sandwiches from Oakland (Bakesale Betty’s chicken and coleslaw on a French roll got a nod), sandwiches from Pt. Reyes Station (Osteria Stellina’s grilled cheese was singled out), sandwiches from San Carlos (The Refuge’s pastrami is apparently good enough to die for), and plenty of sandwiches from San Francisco.

But not one from Berkeley.

How can this be? Berkeley is the home of Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard, Acme Bread, and all things artisanal. Someone must be putting ingredients together to make delicious sandwiches.

Here’s another, harsher thought: What if the magazine is right?

Berkeleyside decided to take matters into its own hands and conduct a poll of delicious sandwiches within the city’s borders. Here is what we think are some pretty tasty lunch treats.

Star Grocery

Star Grocery is more than 60 years old and from the outside looks old-fashioned. It’s not all fluorescent lights and spit and polish but wooden shelves and faded linoleum. Yet its meat department makes some of the best sandwiches around. They are so enormous it’s hard to eat an entire one, but with its crunchy Acme French bread and meats cured on the premises you can’t go wrong. Many of the sandwiches are Italian-themed, with names like the Soprano, Goodfella, the Godfather, and Raging Bull. Call ahead, if possible, as they sometimes run out.

Café Panini

This Berkeley institution tucked inside the charming Trumpetvine Court on Allston Way has been serving up fresh and delicious sandwiches for a few decades. While my 14-year old likes the artichoke sandwich on French bread, I prefer the Roma Panini with pesto, Roma tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. It is lightly toasted and served open faced.  The lemonade is also great and they have this super dense chocolate cookie that is the perfect end to a meal.

Fred’s Market No. 2

Any student at Berkeley High can tell you about Fred’s Market on University Avenue. At lunchtime there is always a line and I wager that most of the people are ordering the chicken sandwich. It’s got grilled marinated chicken chunks, grilled onions, and a special Middle Eastern sauce. Provolone cheese is melted on top and the entire concoction is put on a soft French roll.  This is another sandwich that is so large it’s hard to eat the entire thing.

Café Fanny

This Alice Waters café named after her daughter has many delicious items. But I love the egg salad sandwich on toasted levain bread. It is topped with sun-dried tomatoes and anchovies. Why can’t I make this at home?

Saul’s Restaurant & Deli

If Saul’s is good enough for Michael Pollan and Michael Lewis, it is good enough for me. Both Berkeley writers are regular customers, a nod to the deli’s recent turn toward sustainable, organic meats. The Niman Ranch pastrami is served warm and bursting with flavor. The meat is not as thickly stacked as it once was, but the sandwich is still delicious.

What am I missing?

*In all fairness, San Francisco Magazine also does in-depth journalism. The magazine has been nominated for two National Magazine Awards this year, one for public service and one for general excellence.

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  • Kim

    Berkeley Bowl makes some darn good sandwiches as well (both in the deli departments and in the Berkeley Bowl West cafe)!

  • Andrew

    It’s true – that Bakesale Betty’s sandwich is amazing! She needs to open in Berkeley too! I must admit I’m disappointed in Berkeley sandwiches. There are some good ones here and there, but not a real sandwich shop with quality ingredients and good flavors. No place comes to mind when I “just want a sandwich.”

  • Andronico’s deli counters make very fine sandwiches as well.

  • Lisa G.

    The meatball sandwich at Summer Kitchen Bake Shop on College, you guys. Life changer.

  • I’d add to the Berkeley list Summer Kitchen Bake Shop. I think their lemon chicken sandwich is a classic.

  • Jean DiMaria

    Gregoire! Gregoire! Mmm!

  • Maureen Burke

    Oyster poorboy at Berkeley Bowl.

  • Jill

    Anything the Bread Workshop makes!

  • Good heavens. We have to have a serious talk. I know this will be difficult for you but suck it up – this is important.

    The simple fact of the matter is that you can’t get a really great sandwich anywhere west of the Mississippi. Oh, sure, you can get decent sandwiches. You can get tasty sandwiches. You can get creative sandwiches. Just none that are all that great. You can’t get a great sub. You can’t get a great sandwich between two slabs of bread.

    There, I said it.

    Now you might wonder why and I’ll tell you but brace yourself because this is going to cut down to the marrow of some of the most precious pretensions of California foodie culture. Brace yourself. The reason you can’t get a great sandwich out here on the left coast is because…

    The bread sucks.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s actually a lot of great bread out here. *Especially* around Berkeley. Bread that’s good with wine and cheese and sauces and salads. Bread that’s good entirely on its own (and how many of us haven’t gotten a roll or two *as lunch* from The Cheeseboard collective?). There’s just no good sandwich bread. Not one slice to be had. Not one roll.

    You can’t buy a decent sub roll (aka hoagie roll, etc.) or a decent loaf for slab sandwiches to save your life. Everything on offer around here has crusts that are too hard. Half has centers that are way too dense, the other half has centers with far too many air pockets through which sandwich fixens leak. Across the board – and I know it is heresy to say it and I’ll probably be run out of town on a rail – the flavors are too damn strong: If I want to eat bread I’ll eat bread. If I want to eat a sandwich, the bread better know how to act like an Emmy-winning back-up singer.

    Around here the sandwich connoisseur is left with a choice between a bread-centric, hard-to bite sandwich that hits the stomach like a rock — or resorting to flabby, wimpy, tastes-like-pre-chewed-paper bread shipped from a factory hundreds of miles away.

    And I have to say that, on the east coast, you find plenty of local suppliers who know how to walk that knife-edge ridge of bread that is structurally sound for a sandwich, yet not “tough”. That is light enough for lunch, but that doesn’t dissolve to moist crumbs under load. That is tasty and complementary – but that doesn’t fight with the fixens to dominate the meal. On the East Coast you can buy a sandwich. Around here, on the Left Coast – you’re limited to enjoying the concept of a sandwich expressed in pseudo-sandwich form.

    Consider, for example, the famous Primanti Bro.’s in Pittsburgh. Inch-thick slabs of bread that don’t fill you up and are easy to bite into (and taste great) – yet which stand up to being overstuffed with fairly wet tomato and cole slaw and greazy fries. I tell you: it was almost 10 years ago when the small local bakery that makes that bread suffered a fire and had to shut down for a week or three. It was on the news for days. The town was in mourning. People were walking around dressed all in black, some of them vamping with goth attitudes. Of course, Pittsburgh has been constantly in mourning for a few decades with many people walking around dressed all in black, some of them vamping with goth attitudes — but the bakery fire made for a good explanation for a while.

    In summary, that’s why it’s so unfortunate that you can’t get good sandwich bread on the left coast, especially not around Berkeley: its absence deprives people of a good excuse for being sullen and dramatic.

  • Ah, yes: the Primanti’s test:

  • I agree with you on Fred’s; their sandwhiches got me through high school. A couple other good Berkeley sandwich spots are Tangerine on Solano ave, and Gregoire on Cedar! I’ll keep thinking.

  • Daryl

    What about the outdoor Brazilian Cafe/Stand on University, a half block down from Oxford? Great sandwiches, great music, great atmosphere, great people. Check it out!

  • Atman Fuchs

    Cafe Intermezzo? Totally huge, fresh sandwiches, that are so Berkeley.

  • Deirdre

    E-z stop deli on shattuck!! Another good sandwich place!

  • Tree

    Gosh. . . people still eat sandwiches? I gave them up when I got diagnosed with diabetes seven years ago. The carbs!

    Sandwiches, in general, seem unhealthy to me.

    That chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty’s might as well be called heart-attack-on-a-roll.

    Sandwiches are sneaky, nearly always loaded with way more calories than you want to acknowledge. There is fat (in cheese or in the mayonaise or oil used to grill ingredients or grill the whole sandwich) and where there is fat there is cholesterol and high calories. Combine the blood glucose spike from the bread carbs with the fat spike of the rest of the ingredients and you have yourself an unhealthy meal. I am steadily amazed that so many sandwiches are eaten.

  • Renee

    You can get Bakesale Betty’s Chicken Sandwich without the sandwich. It’s a salad- on a ton of the delicious slaw. I’m a diabetic and this works for me, though eating 1/2 the chicken is the best bet if you can pull it off. :)

  • It’s just SF Mag; hardly the definitive guide to the Bay Area.

    That said, I have to side with Newberry. In addition to being a thoughtful (not to mention well-researched piece), it really did select the best sandwiches and sandwich places. Sure, Berkeley has names like Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard, and Acme Bread. But they’re just that: names. Good ones content with using the freshest ingredients, but they don’t come close to the inventiveness of the spots mentioned in Newberry’s article.

  • It pains me to say it, but I think you might be right, Brock. I think there are some excellent Berkeley sandwiches, many mentioned in both Frances’ piece and in the comments. But they don’t have the originality of many of the ones in the SF Mag article.

    The exceptions I would personally make are for the pastrami sandwich at Saul’s, which I’ll happily put against any of the ones featured in SF Mag, and the lemon chicken at Summer Kitchen Bake Shop. Much better, on numerous levels, than the iconic Bakesale Betty’s fried chicken sandwich. I love the slaw they make at Bakesale Betty’s, but the bread for her sandwich is very so-so. So Berkeley shouldn’t have struck out, even by SF Mag’s high standards in that article.

  • Ian

    I love Berkeley, and I love sandwiches, but this list of hopeful contenders just makes me sad. Gregoire is the only place in Berkeley I would proudly bring a sandwich lover to.

  • michael

    Gregoire is a ghastly oversight – their sandwiches are better than any in the eastbay.

  • It’s panino, not panini, when talking about a single sandwich.

    My nod is to the Pastrami sandwich at Wood Tavern in Rockridge.

  • Woops…Wood Tavern is about 10 feet beyond the Berkeley-Oakland border, on the Oakland side, so maybe d/n count.

  • Tim

    Sandwich, shmandwich.

    For this vegetarian, Berkeley’s burritos have kept me deliriously happy for the past twenty years.

  • Oh, you forget about EZ Stop deli on Shattuck. Been in business a long time, even when I was at BHS in the mid to late 80’s.

  • Lily

    Gregoire has built an empire around his scrumptious sandwiches– and rightfully so.

    My personal favorite: a classy twist on a spicy tuna roll.

    Toasted Semifreddi’s white bread with sriracha aioli. Wakame salad, seared ahi tuna and homemade potato chips.

    Still doubtful, see this month’s lunch menu:

  • Ben

    I’m from Berkeley originally and I live there now.

    I love sandwiches of all kinds, I seek them out.

    I have to say, Berkeley is lacking in 2 kinds of food: Vietnamese and Sandwiches. Lots of good, decent sandwiches, nothing great. It’s almost like there is a law against great sandos in Berkeley because there are great ones waiting right on the other side of the borders (Bakesale Betty’s, Zarri’s Deli, etc.)

    There is so much good food in Berkeley that there is bound to be one major deficiency. It’s the Sandwich.

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  • David

    What about Gather’s sandwiches? I eat one almost every week (well, I work Downtown…) I guess they opened lunch right after this column was written. Check out the offerings:

  • Mike Farrell

    While I’m on the wayback machine, let me say that Berkeley had a superb sandwich shop in Cruchon’s, (the original one on Shattuck just north of University)
    One of my earliest restaurant memories is of going there and having my favorite sandwich;
    Westphalian smoked ham with blue cheese on black rye. And Russian mustard.
    I am eternally grateful to my parents for not serving me “kid’s food” or ordering for me off the “Child’s Menu”
    Thanks Mom & Dad!

  • Nina Cruchon

    What a thrill to read a shout out to my Aunt Norma and Uncle Jerry’s restaurant “Cruchon’s.” While I was very young and lived in Seattle when they owned the restaurant I enjoyed the family stories about their restaurant adventure. I have a hand typed menu that I inherited from my favorite aunt Norma Cruchon, who was ahead of her time, had a passion for cooking, and all things French.
    Niece Nina

  • Roger Ruth

    A long, long time since the Berkeley Cruchon’s, but I’ll never forget their marinated mushroom salad/sandwich. It was a slice of rye bread, topped with layered water cress, sour cream, the mushrooms and probably other things I’ve forgotten. If other people remember other ingredients, I’d appreciate knowing what they were. Meanwhile, I still make marinated mushrooms in a recipe I copied from Cruchon’s.

    Another Crushon’s indelible memory is of their Double-Dutch Chocolate Crunch Pie–so rich that if you could finish two servings, the second was free!

  • Bob

    Well I’ll be ——-  ….I don’t believe this. I used to dive pearls at Cruchon’s back during Korea: Jerry and Norma had just opened the place in about ’51…’52 Oh dear God do I remember it back then…it was just nonstop low comedy from the time you set foot in the “beer on tap/sandwich house” ….I also recall the 1920s speakeasy scene wall mural done by Norma herself. When I came back from overseas one of numerous times in ’64, I went back there to look Norma and Jerry up and neither were there…then in more recent decades I went back to where I thought the place had been on the west side of Shattuck and plumb NUTHIN’….nobody I asked had even heard of the place. What ever became of those two?

  • Donn Spindt

    Dear Nina~ My sister and I were just reminiscing today about eating at Cruchon’s in Berkeley when we were little. What a great place! We both remembered the mural on the wall with all the movie stars painted on it and were wondering if a photograph exists.
    -Donn Spindt