From subs and clubs to bocadillos and bagels, Sydney's Great Sandwich Renaissance has cranked up a gear.
"Can I share with you my worldview?" comedian Tina Fey once asked Alec Baldwin in the American sitcom 30 Rock. "All of humankind has one thing in common: the sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich."
Fey's 30 Rock character was also fond of potato chips in her pastrami on rye, which is a combination I'm not completely across. However, the sandwich is also a deeply personal thing and there are no rules except fresh bread always and margarine never.
What we lack in world-famous sandwich spots similar to Katz's in New York, Sydney makes up for in sheer sanga diversity. The Great Sandwich Renaissance of the past five years has gifted us Continental Delicatessen with the city's best darn French dip; A1 Canteen's muffuletta (rest in paunch); and a knock-out katsu on milk bread at Sandoitchi, Darlinghurst.
COVID-proof carb kiosks have continued opening in the past 18 months, joining Sydney's already-heaving smorgasbord of bocadillos, bagels, butties, bifanas, croques, clubs, panini, sabiches, arepas, rougamos, vada pavs and the almighty banh mi. Here are 15 of the best new sangas in the city and suburbs. Hold the potato chips or not – the world is your po'boy.
1. The hambo at Humble Bakery, Surry Hills, $14
What a beautiful, lovingly wrapped little torpedo from the team behind Porteno and Bodega on the same block. Blushing pink shaved ham with gruyere and zucchini pickle to cut through fistfuls of butter. Simple and effective. Humble's springy bread also has a super crunchy crust, but not so flaky that you'll have to vacuum the keyboard, car or cat afterwards. This is very much an all-terrain sandwich you can scoff on the go, but best enjoyed at the source with hot coffee and the world's most photographed finger bun.
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, no phone, instagram.com/humble_sydney
2. The beef brisket behemoth at Mrs Palmer, Darlinghurst, $14
Unlike Humble's hambo above, this is not the kind of sandwich suited for eating in the office, unless your desk is a couch and work is watching Fast & Furious 9. In other words, this is a messy beast stacked with slow-cooked brisket "as high as gravity will allow", says Mrs Palmer co-owner Anthony MacFarlane.
Beef is marinated in garlic, onion, allspice, charred chipotles and brown sugar, before finding itself between thick slices of Sonoma soft Italian loaf with caramelised onion chutney, fried shallots, pickles, lettuce and purple cabbage. A nice nap afterwards is the right idea, followed by margaritas and tacos at La Farmacia, Palmer's semi-secret mezcal bar out back.
81 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst, no phone, mrspalmersandwich.com
The salad sanga at Redfern's new deli. Photo: Nikki To
3. The salad sanga at Good Ways Deli, Redfern, $14
Seriously, though, how bloody good is a salad sandwich? It might be the only food rich with school-canteen nostalgia that's actually healthy.
Good Ways opened two weeks ago in a former Lebanese sweetshop, and the smart-casual cafe-bakery-deli rocks a cracking riff on the salad sanga. Bright with beetroot, carrot, sprouts, mushroom pâté, mayo and thick hunks of Maffra cheddar, the salad is bolstered by a wattleseed ciabatta baked in-house to provide roasty depth and colour, according to co-owner Jordan McKenzie. "Eventually we would love to become more reliant on native grains," he says.
In addition to Vegemite scrolls and rhubarb-jam lamingtons, Good Ways also boasts a cheese and apple toastie, chicken waldorf sandwich, and a welcome penchant for broadleaf rocket, also known as "proper rocket" or "a million times tastier than the mixed rabbit-feed leaves found in supermarkets". OK, now class dismissed.
20 Cooper Street, Redfern, no phone, goodwaysdeli.com.au
Fish sandwich and lemonade at Fish & Lemonade. Photo: James Brickwood
4. The crumbed fish sambo at Fish & Lemonade, Manly, $15
This schmick Manly chipper knows what's up: slice sandwich bread lengthways, thus creating a little pocket for your ingredients to minimise spillage and increase lunch mobility. Genius. The harbourside takeaway also knows how to crumb and fry New Zealand hake so the moist fish flesh, its crisp coating and soft white bread come together in multi-textured perfection with pickles, tartare and iceberg to boot. Don't miss the audibly crunchy potato scallops either.
Shop 15, Manly Wharf, Manly, 02 9055 5442, fishandlemonade.com.au
The scrambed egg and 10-chilli mayo torta abuela at Maiz Mexican Street Food. Photo: Debbie Gallulo
5. The De La Abuela at Maiz Mexican Street Food, Newtown, $18
The bolillo is a lot like a crusty French bread roll, but a little squatter and easier to get your mouth around. It's the backbone of many good tortas, and Newtown's Maiz is all about good tortas, not to mention Mexican brunch specialities such as mole con hongos sope (mushroom and macadamia mole on a thick corn tortilla). This is a breakfast burrito-free zone.
"Our bolillos are baked by a local Vietnamese breadmaker," says Maiz chef and co-owner Juan Carlos Negrete. "We provided him with our recipe to give us the closest thing to the bolillos of Mexico, crunchy outside and soft on the inside."
Pick of the tortas is the abuela, filled with scrambled eggs fried lacy and golden, smoked mozzarella, escabeche carrots and mayo charged with 10 types of chilli (for pepper geeks: ancho, mulato, chipotle, cascabel, piquin, guajillo, pasilla, arbol, habanero and morita, specifically). It's a steadying sandwich to welcome the day, while a carne asada torta is at the ready for lunch, starring lime and oregano-marinated rump, black beans and avocado.
415 King Street, Newtown, no phone, maizstreetfood.com
6. The pambazo chorizo at Itacate, Redfern, $18
Keeping the Mexican wave going, let's talk pambazo. Similar to a torta, but made with softer bread soaked in guajillo chilli sauce, the Mexico City specialty requires four serviettes to get through or – clutches pearls – a knife and fork. At her new Redfern Mexican deli and restaurant, tamale legend Rosa Cienfuegos offers a traditional pambazo, flavour-packed with crumbled feta, potato and finely chopped chorizo. Heaven with a hangover and cold bottle of pineapple Jarritos.
129-133 Redfern Street, Redfern, no phone, instagram.com/itacate.redfern
7. The chicken schnitzel choose-your-own-adventure at Calabria Panineria, CBD, $5.50
Sandwich queen Marcella Nelson-Aebi has shifted her giant schnitzel sanga skills from Malibu in Surry Hills to an unassuming new store in the laneway near Mr. Wong. That $5.50 price tag is merely a starting point to lay on optional extras such as scamorza, tomato, jalapenos, horseradish and Polish pickles.
Note that Calabrian pepper chilli paste makes all sandwiches better, and few things will beat a chook schnitzel fresh from the fryer and bedded on soft, white Italian bread, tramezzini style. Also note that Nelson-Aebi is running a one-woman show, so time your lunch visit after 1.30pm for the best chance of avoiding a queue.
1 Abercrombie Lane, Sydney, 02 9251 0000, instagram.com/calabria_panineria
Art deco booths and vintage styling at Harvey's Hot Sandwiches. Photo: Nikki To
8. The Philly cheesesteak at Harvey's Hot Sandwiches, Parramatta, $16
A real deal cheesesteak should probably be made with thinly sliced rib-eye rather than shaved scotch fillet, but the new Parramatta Square precinct is a long way from Philadelphia, so what the hey? Harvey's serves a delicious version of Pennsylvania's least subtle sandwich regardless: a long roll loaded with well-done steak, grilled onions, hot pepper sauce, and enough cheese to make a pizza pie blush. There's a next-level ham and salad sub worth your hard-earned too, and I dig the art deco vinyl booths and chrome-edged tables a lot. Harvey's, hurrah.
Shop 4, Parramatta Square, Parramatta, 02 9169 0838, harveyshotsandwiches.com
The vegan-friendly Al Green at Small's Deli, Potts Point. Photo: Supplied
9. The Al Green at Small's Deli, Potts Point, $13
Is The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch the best name for a sandwich ever? Yes, absolutely, who is even asking? Inspired by Ronda and David Armitage's children's book of the same name, the Small's Deli LKL holds double-smoked ham on a long, soft roll, plus apple chutney, vintage cheddar and a thicket of cos. It's exactly what you want to eat while wearing a woolly cable-knit and fondling reef knots.
However, the sandwich is a rotating special at Small's, so most of the time I leave the shop with a hulking Al Green. The vegan favourite is a towering pillar of health, packed with kale puree, iceberg, avocado, alfalfa, pepitas, Granny Smith apple and green goddess dressing on a panini from Organic Bread Bar in Paddington. Double the sanger's colour range with house-made chilli paste for an extra 50¢.
166 Victoria Street, Potts Point, 02 8592 5597, smallsdeli.com.au
10. The za'atar bagel at Mensch Bagels, Surry Hills, $15
Sydney is slightly spoiled for bagel choice these days, from Marrickville's Brooklyn Boy to Bondi's Lox in a Box (coming soon to Newtown, too). Mike Samaha opened Mensch in March, inspired by the gold-standard bagels at New York's Russ & Daughters and determined to bring a better roll with a hole to Crown Street.
There are cream cheese schmears and gravlax galore, of course, but I'm in love with the za'atar number paying homage to Samaha's childhood breakfast memories of drowning toast in tomato and the Middle Eastern spice blend with his Lebanese father. Tangy za'atar is spread liberally on a poppyseed bagel and topped with garlic-fragrant toum, tomato, feta, and lots (lots!) of parsley. A highly agreeable brunch for one.
475 Crown Street, Surry Hills, no phone, menschbagels.com
11. The New Yorker at Three Seagulls, Freshwater, $16
The Big Apple is coming up a lot on this list, isn't it? Anyway, I thought I reached my pastrami sandwich limit in 2016 when every bar with a breadknife was offering its version of the classic, too often made with cut-priced beef and nowhere near enough sauerkraut. Then along came Three Seagulls cafe, launching late last year and providing Freshie with Single O batch brew, chunky avo toast, and sambos for all-day surf sustenance.
Seagull's reuben riff is a corker, featuring fermented cabbage, Russian dressing and mustard in all the right places, and starring smoked meat from local hero Tothy Brothers Deli. Rye comes courtesy of Berkelo bakery. Say what you will about Katz's, but you can't eat its sandwiches with your feet on South Curl Curl beach.
87 Harbord Road, Freshwater, 0413 228 154, threeseagulls.com.au
12. The LP's Quality Meats muffin at Carriageworks Farmers' Market, Eveleigh, $15
For the past three weeks, LP's sausage muffin has been forcing me out of the house on Saturday mornings at a time I would usually be wearing hiking socks in bed and doing the Good Weekend quiz. Smoke whisperer Luke Powell is on the grill from 8am at Carriageworks Farmers', flipping pig's head-sausage patties and omelette-y egg with the potential to bring peace to the world – for five minutes, at least – on a sourdough muffin with cheese and house-made brown sauce. God, it's a good time. LP's Chippendale mothership also wraps a different sandwich special every weekend, such as smoked beef tongue with pickled veg.
245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, no phone, Saturdays only, lpsqualitymeats.com
Fried chicken biscuit with hot honey at Valentinas. Photo: Alana Dimou
13. The fried chicken on a biscuit at Valentinas, Marrickville, $19
Valentinas opened three weeks ago in a sleepy part of Marrickville and it might be Sydney's busiest American-diner-channelling cafe at the time of writing. Even on a weekday, you can expect a huddle of corduroy-clad punters out the front, all waiting for a lunch table and jonesing for pancakes, whipped maple butter, and biscuits drowned in sausage gravy.
The same southern-style biscuits (which any Australian nanna would identify as "a whopping big scone") also sandwich greaseless fried chicken thighs drizzled with honey and demanding hot sauce. By all means use a knife and fork without guilt. Also bring a few mates to share a fried mortadella sanga stuffed with the potato chips of Tina Fey's dreams.
132 Livingstone Road, Marrickville, no phone, instagram.com/valentinassyd
14. The blood sausage sanga at Soulmate, Newtown, $18 for two
While two-hatted Ester in Chippendale is forever home to the blood sausage sanga, I'm not against other places having a crack at it. On a Newtown backstreet far away from the main drag, Soulmate cafe slices its pork and onion black snag lengthways and slides it into a little Martin's hoagie roll to be enhanced with house-made sambal, herb aioli and chives. One hand, four bites, brilliant.
12/39 Phillip Street, Newtown, no phone, soulmatecoffee.com.au
15. The porchetta sandwich at Fabbrica, CBD, $18
Workers in the city are a lucky lot – they can visit Fabbrica pasta shop every weekday for a sandwich and never get bored. Marinated artichoke on Monday perhaps, jamon on Tuesday and a roast lamb sanga to celebrate Friday. Fabbrica and Ragazzi chef Scott Williams is currently filling the cabinet with a porchetta sandwich every Wednesday and Thursday, and it's a humdinger.
"There's really not much to it, to be honest," says Williams, somewhat humbly. "We get our pigs in whole from Luke Winder at Tathra Place at Taralga. He keeps a couple of breeds, but I tend to go for the Wessex Saddlebacks. Everyone should have a favourite pig breed."
Williams dry ages the pork belly for a week before it's rubbed with salt and pepper, rolled and roasted. Pickled cabbage – the only other filling besides mustard mayo – comes from Moonacres Farm in Fitzroy Falls; the bread comes out of the oven just before lunch.
"It's our sourdough take on the Catalan version of ciabatta, pan de cristal," says Williams. "The hydration level is over 100 per cent, meaning there's more water than flour in the dough to give it a super soft yet chewy texture."
Indeed, the rumour is true – the simplest sandwiches in life are often the best.
161 King Street, Sydney, 02 9064 8495, ciaofabbrica.com