Bread Fillers & Swillers

Posted On May 8, 2018

Lick your chops because we’re reviewing the best places to get a traditional sandwich

by Clair DeLune

A comedian lamented about the broad use of the term sandwich, vehemently averring that a hot dog is not a sandwich. He insisted that to be a sandwich it must be natural to cut it to eat it. A case for the taco can be made, considering the shell as a form of bread. Where hamburgers stand is anyone’s guess; they can be cut, and they are on bread. We included just two of the best iterations here. Lick your chops because we’re reviewing the best, most interesting and crowd-favorited places to get a traditional sandwich and accompanying sippings in the Midlands!

Villa Tronco   Panini. It even sounds like it tastes good. Take a filling, place it between two thick, chewy pieces of bread. Then grill it in an oiled Panini press, leaving tantalizing, crispy grill marks on both sides. Warm mozzarella. A refreshingly light option – featuring the colors of the Italian flag – is the vegetarian Caprese Panini, which features fresh mozzarella with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil and an olive pesto spread on a toasted ciabatta bread. Heartier is the Panini Tronco, which provides a choice of grilled marinated chicken, eggplant or Italian sausage served on a toasted baguette with sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms, then topped with a decadent garlic scallion cream cheese spread. Because Panini originated near Tuscany, try a Central Italian wine with it; perhaps a moderately-priced Urlo. 256-7677; villatronco.com

Shealy’s Barbecue A lively jaunt to Batesburg-Leesville is worth making just for the chance to eat at the legendary Shealy’s. We’re never sure if we turned the wheel or the car just motored there itself, following the delightful aroma of barbecue. The buffet is an overwhelming delight, but locals swear by the pulled-pork barbecue sandwich as a way to satisfy a barbecue addiction. Argue if you will about what type of sauce is best, but Shealy’s – known nationwide as “South Carolina’s premiere Bar-B- Que restaurant” – makes a mustard-based sauce that has been called “out of this world.” They also offer a peppery vinegar sauce. Nothing washes down true South Cacalacky ’cue like a bottomless glass of swee’tea or lemonade, darlin’. (803) 532-8135; www.shealysbbq.com

Tombo Grille topped our “Best of Burgers and Brews” list last year, so we could not fail to tout them again in our best sandwich issue for their hamburger featuring a thick, juicy, certified Angus beef patty on a delicious bun. Pair it with a glass of Clos de Bois merlot; or order an Argentinian Malbec, such as Leo Premium for an upgrade. Tombo’s burger is topped with sizzling bacon, grilled onions, smoked tomato aioli and your choice of Gouda, cheddar or gorgonzola cheeses. On Monday nights they feature live music from Columbia’s best musicians. 782-9665; tombogrille.com

Hwy 55 Confess. We’ve all had it happen. You are driving around minding your very own business and upon you leaps a craving for a burger and a shake that you just can’t shake. Before you pull into the usual run-of- the-mill joint, plug Hwy 55 into your GPS because the burgers rival gourmet offerings at upscale restaurants. When you taste the freshly handmade milk shakes, you’ll know why this Carolina-based chain of soda shops is fast becoming a quick-stop favorite. Put the pedal to the metal and bypass arches and pigtails – your taste buds will come alive when you step inside Hwy 55. 1-866- 391-2072; hwy55.com

Tiffany’s Bakery & Eatery has held the devout attention of it followers for over 40 years. With so many delicious choices, your selection might be hard but – because they are a bakery – their breads are not. The sun-dried tomato turkey won the wrestling match for star of our lunch plate but was closely tied by the turkey and dried cranberry with basil pesto; the former is on tangy, tasty, sun-dried tomato bread, while the latter surrounded the zing of cranberries with the quintessential comfort of a warm hoagie. A Dr. Brown’s Soda is a creamy treat. 736-2253; tiffanysofcolumbia.com

Liberty on the Lake The standout MVP on the sandwich menu at Liberty on the Lake is their BLT with Applewood smoked bacon, lettuce and tomato. What’s so special about that, you might wonder? The answer is three-fold: duck with garlic-rosemary aioli, brie (which rhymes with yippee) and the special flavor secret is sweet Hawaiian bread. Next to a cold glass of Liberty Ale enjoyed on the deck overlooking Lake Murray on a beautiful day, the Duck BLT is a slam dunk. 667-9715; libertytaproom.com

Upper Crust Wood-fired Pizza and Grill When you hear “Upper Crust,” you know the bread will be good – but admit it – you thought they were just a pizza place, didn’t you? Brace yourself for a joy rush: a Carolina pulled pork sandwich – slowly cooked and given a twist on the usual classic with cilantro slaw, sweet and spicy peppers and crispy tater tots. A glass of their strawberry lemonade puts some springtime sass in your glass. Worth mentioning is their piquant pimiento cheese sandwich. That’s admittedly pretty standard southern fare, but their concoction is sharper than most and comes dressed with bacon and tomatoes for a bootstrap up in the pimiento cheese wars. “Always Coca-Cola” with pimiento cheese will set off the sharp and sweet tastes beautifully. 888-6282; uppercrustwoodfiredgrill.com

Groucho’s This pillar of Columbia deli fame has stood the test of time. Long-situated in Five Points, Groucho’s is a three-generation survivor of the sandwich wars in South Carolina. Fighting for top honors are the Turkey International and the STP. The TI, as its devotees shorthand it, is a generous bed of warm turkey on what is arguably the sweetest pumpernickel bread on the planet – you cannot find its equal anywhere. The STP is a hoagie roll filled with hot roast beef and turkey. Dip either into a dish of “45 sauce” – an original concoction that puts a zesty spin on Thousand Island dressing – and munch on the crunch of a dill pickle. People revere their spiced tea, with ice renowned for its toothy splendor. No mystery that Groucho’s has blossomed past its Harden Street location with many franchisees spreading the deli-lore of Groucho’s through the Carolinas and beyond. 799-5708; grouchos.com

No Name Deli is one of Columbia’s treasures. That word-of-mouth, in-the-know, best-kept-secret isn’t so secret anymore. Once upon a time, the building had no name or sign and one had to be among the cognoscenti to eat there. Devotees recommend their liverwurst, egg salad sandwiches, and homemade soup; but we are staunch defenders of the roast beef, which is sandwich bliss. Specialty sodas are a must – take your pick. 252-0480; nonamedelisc.com

Spotted Salamander While maintaining a brisk catering business, the café at the Spotted Salamander is garnering high praise for its delicious luncheon offerings. They offer a beefy sandwich that is getting raves in the community. Their piled embered brisket of beef comes with slaw, pimiento cheese, a crisp pickle and tangy BBQ mayo and has been on the lips of quite a few people when asked about Columbia’s best sandwiches. We know we’re not alone in our adoration of their chicken pecan salad on a light, flaky croissant. If you have time for some of their Sangria, why not trend full-on-Southern and relax with a glass? 556-2197; spottedsalamandercatering.com

The Other Store One can almost imagine the evolution of yet another place serving extraordinarily good food despite a charmingly ordinary moniker. Patrons in Forest Acres almost certainly must have named it by default. What is undeniable is their fierce loyalty to The Other Store. The original Greek turkey pita is a fresh and healthy combination of turkey, ripe olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, mayonnaise and Greek dressing in Mediterranean-style pocket bread. Finish with some scandalously delish caramel cake, paired up with a cup of coffee that, for under a buck, will put fancy national coffee franchises to shame. 787-4351; facebook.com/otherstore

Immaculate Consumption introduced healthy California-style foodways and a collegial relaxed coffeehouse charm in a rustic setting when those West Coast concepts were still alien to the Midlands. Just walking upon the resonant wooden floors and smelling the rich coffees they roast on site can “perk” you up. For lunch, we suggest you let chix rule. Decide between Scott’s chix salad sandwich with baked chicken topped with granny smith apples, almonds, olive oil and spices with white cheddar; or Rox chix salad sandwich topped with red peppers, mushrooms, avocado, hot sauce and white cheddar on pita. Another fight to the finish might involve their vast array of coffee drinks versus original formula Cokes in the bottle, featuring real sugar – no high-fructose corn syrup here! We heartily commend their vast vegetarian line-up of sandwiches. 799-9053; immaculate-consumption.com

The Local Buzz emerged on the scene in 2015 in the Rosewood area. Coffee-based drinks like their cold brew with cream, or soft drinks – including bottled Mexican Coca-Colas – provide a backdrop for what is a growing menu of unusual sandwich offerings. On the regular menu, the Cali is a crowd fave with its fresh turkey, avocado, cucumber, Muenster cheese, sprouts, lettuce, tomato and spicy mustard on whole wheat bread. Weekend brunch provides the opportunity to take on the Buzz Beastwich challenge or perhaps the more modestly-sized Monte Cristo. 602-5166

Cock ’n’ Bull tavern is the place to go for a Philly steak. This neighborhood pub in a house in Shandon might change the minds of those who believe there is no Philly sandwich to be found outside of Philadelphia. Transplants agree that this tavern and grille provides an exception to that rule. Why not give yourself a taste of the City of Brotherly Love right here in the Sandlapper state? To be wise in the ways of Philly steak lore, “youse” needs to know the way to order cheese and fried onions atop is “Whiz wit,” y’all. We’d suggest you set the whole thing off with an ale, an Audible Ale or a craft brew – perhaps one from Pennsylvania. 251-4474

Goat’s Truth be told, you vegetarians need more options. Serving that need is Goat’s black bean sandwich. It comes with house-made pickled red onions, fennel and carrots and a house salad. If your companion is a seafood lover, invite them to take a virtual trip to New Orleans with an Oyster Po’Boy, filled with fried Gulf select oysters covered in Cajun remoulade. After a glass or two of a Montefresco Pinot Gris from Italy, you’ll be ready to venture out into the world again. 708-4495; goats2.com

Good Life Café Lest ye feel left out of sandwich enjoyment as a vegan, run, don’t walk, to Good Life Café to enjoy an alternative to the standard sandwich fixings of meat and cheese and bread. Good Life saves the day with its light, yet filling, Nori mushroom wrap, which mixes marinated mushrooms, cauliflower rice, avocado, red pepper, pickled cabbage, kale, special sauce and even more kale on the side. Complement it with a Westbrook White Thai draft beer that imbues the flavors of fresh lemongrass and ginger root – you won’t believe it is crafted right down the road in Mt. Pleasant. 726-2310; goodlifecafe.net

Cool Beans Coffee Company This coffee shop could corner the cool market just for its clever wordplay on a short-lived mid-century slang term but it’s their food that shines. Our visit posed a challenge as to whether or not their bright curry chicken salad sandwich would outstrip a longstanding favorite: the turkey sandwich. Both were fresh and featured fresh focaccia bread that supports and exalts the ingredients in each sandwich, and the addition of cheddar to the turkey sandwich gave it an unexpected edge. Curry launched the chicken salad sandwich to the top spot, but it was a close contest. Order a sparkling water with the meal, then treat yourself to a decadent coffee drink to help you fight any temptation to nap away post-tryptophan groggies. 779-4277; coolbeanscoffeecompany.net

Di Prato’s pleases palates from the mild to the wild. Another Northern sandwich import into the Palmetto State is the Reuben, which has grown in popularity. For many decades, one not only could not get a decent Reuben here, one would have been hard-pressed to find it on Midlands’ menus at all. Choose the traditional version boasting house-cooked corned beef, layered between three grilled slices of rye bread with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. Because we were in a true deli mood, the “Psst-try- me” pastrami was a huge hit, too. Since it took a “blue moon” to find a place in Columbia that can do Reubens and hot pastrami sandwiches justice, we strongly suggest you celebrate this fabulous find with an ice-cold bottle of Blue Moon beer. 779-0606; dipratos.com 

Swanson’s Deli When you want a tasty sandwich in an inspiring historical structure, wend your way to Swanson’s Deli in the original Arcade Mall on Main Street. Dazzling our companion was the turkey pesto, with its additions of Swiss cheese, basil pesto, lettuce and tomato on pressed Panini bread, with a crunchy side crisp cucumber-tomato salad, while our selection was the Italian, to match the Italianate architecture of the Mall. We enjoyed Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham and Provolone cheese on a hoagie with lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, oil, vinegar and a spicy dash of oregano. Lemonade added a piquant touch, with just the right sweet and tart balance. 343-3253; swansonsdelicolumbia.com

Moctezuma’s To the uninitiated, that might sound like a “mock” Mexican restaurant name, however nothing could be farther from the truth. Moctezuma is one of the accepted alternative spellings of Montezuma, the ninth tlatoani or ruler of Tenochtitlan and the first to welcome European explorers to the Aztec civilization. Fittingly, Columbia now has a restaurant that introduces Midlands’ residents to truly authentic foods from that region. A torta is a sandwich, and the torta Cubana is immense. Sausage, breaded steak, egg, Mexican sausage, ham and queso fresco combine to challenge the biggest appetite – try to conquer that, if you dare! Clearly, you are going to want a salt-rimmed Margarita. 888-7498; facebook.com/MoctezumasTaqueria

Crave Artisan Market Famously craving is what Columbians are doing in regard to a tiny 2-year-old artisan café in Melrose Heights. Nestled into a small row of shops on Millwood, Crave is generating raves about faves from fans across town who extol their food as absolutely addictive. Crave’s specialty foods are perfect to grab and go when you’ve had a long day and don’t want to cook but want quality food. We suggest the Gladden artichoke Panini with turkey breast, artichoke Parmesan spread, roasted red peppers and tomatoes on world-renowned Turano bread. Quaff a glass of Bonita’s hibiscus tea for a flavor jolt you’ll hurry back for or grab a Cannonborough soda for some festive fizzy flair. 254-1001; facebook.com/craveartisanmarket

5th Avenue Deli Columbia gave “The Big Apple” its nickname, and New York City has given us some great sandwiches in return. Welcome the relatively recent advent of the 5th Avenue Deli on Rosewood Drive. Cue two of its best sandwiches: the Kilbourne, containing roast beef, bacon, pimiento cheese and banana peppers on pressed ciabatta bread with au jus on the side; and feel the love for the Ray Tanner, which honors USC’s back-to-back national-championship-winning baseball coach. Savor its combo of turkey, bacon and provolone on ciabatta or choose wheat berry bread with cranberry mayo, lettuce and tomato. We think a carbonated lemon/lime beverage would be so refreshing with either sandwich. 988-0063; 5thavenuedeli.com