If the South Wedge's Open Face Sandwich Eatery isn't on your radar, you're not alone. "We get a lot of people who come in and ask how long we've been here," says owner Jared Valentine. "We say, '10 years.'"
Open Face, a small shop on South Avenue, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. Since 2004, it has taken a unique approach to sandwiches — you could say Open Face thinks outside of the lunchbox. These aren't foot-long subs or NYC deli-style fare. Open Face offers fresh takes on fillings, sides, and presentation, with options for vegetarians, vegans, and those eating gluten-free.
Take, for example, the mashed-pea sandwich ($8.50 with a side). Served open faced, two crunchy slices of toasted wheat, sourdough, or rye bread are heaped with fresh and brightly green mashed peas; the mix is both a little sweet and a little starchy. The peas are then topped with bits of smoky bacon, a sweet and acidic pomegranate-balsamic drizzle, and dotted with a mildly funky melted gorgonzola cheese. (Vegans and vegetarians have the option of ordering it without bacon or cheese.) It's a delicious sandwich that satisfies, but doesn't leave you feeling heavy and weighed down.
Similarly, the corn mash ($8.50 with a side) tops your choice of toasted bread with roasted and smashed corn that has been mixed with diced red bell pepper. Like the mashed peas, it too is served warm; it's also drizzled with a sweet and spicy apricot barbeque glaze and sprinkled with melted cheddar and battered, fried onions. The corn mash is sweet and creamy, similar in flavor to the corn casserole you might enjoy at Thanksgiving. That's offset by the salt in the onions and the surprising heat in the barbeque sauce — the sandwich would not be as memorable without that spicy kick.
The menu also contains more expected sandwiches. The maple turkey sandwich ($8.75 with a side) starts with house-roasted turkey. The bread (your choice) is spread with maple mustard, and packed with mixed greens and yam crisps. The turkey is fresh and mild, and the yams provide a hint of sweetness and crunch. But it's the mustard that pushes things over the top. It's both sweet and fiery; at times the heat travels into your nose and delivers a zing, like you would expect from good wasabi.
The open melt roast beef sandwich ($9.50 with a side) comes with two slices of toasted bread, which is, as with all the sandwiches, just under an inch thick and spans about 7 inches. In the melt, each slice is folded in half at the diagonal, creating a pocket for the fillings. The warm roast beef is lightly topped with melted Havarti cheese and French fried onions, a smear of horseradish mustard, and a sprinkling of chopped greens and grated carrot to liven things up visually. Roast beef and horseradish is a classic combination, and are especially good when served warm, as they are here.
Those having trouble deciding on just one sandwich can opt for the sandwich tasting ($8.95 with a choice of side), which lets you select two sandwich halves. (Add an extra 50 cents for open face or open melt sandwiches.) There are also salad and soup choices, plus an array of teas and an espresso bar.
Open Face likes to be creative with its drink offerings as well. Each week, a new steeped water ($2 for small; $2.25 for large) is featured, infused with the fresh flavors and colors of fruits and vegetables. Cucumber spinach water was the color of honeydew melons. The spinach flavors couldn't be tasted, but the cool and clean flavor of cucumber came through. Beet ginger water was also refreshing. Its gingery top note gave way to the beet's earthiness, and was beautifully magenta in color.
You can also pick up a bottle of Moxie soda ($2). Moxie is little known outside of New England, and is especially popular in Maine, which named it the official soft drink of the state in 2005. In production since the late 1800's, it's a love-it-or-hate-it beverage. Though it has the syrupy feel and cool, almost minty flavor of root beer, it has a bitter, medicinal edge. (I fall into the hate-it camp, but if you haven't tasted Moxie before, you should give it a go.)
There are good dessert options near Open Face in the South Wedge. Cheesy Eddies is known for its cheesecake or carrot cake, and Hedonist serves artisan chocolates and ice cream. But you might want to give Open Face's peanut butter chocolate chip cookie ($2.25) a try. This is a thick and hefty cookie made from scratch. The first bite is sandy and slightly crumbly. As you chew, the texture becomes creamy and smooth. The peanut butter flavor is rich and bit salty; it's a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the chocolate chips. It's also gluten free, but doesn't suffer from any of the faults of a typical GF baked good (dry, leaden, lacking structure).
Open Face's décor fits in with the South Wedge vibe: it is small, hip (arguably hipster), and thoughtfully crafted. Dark hardwood floors yield to sage green walls. Hammered metal squares form a chair rail against which wood chairs lean. There are only six tables, four of which seat only two people. Prominently featured in the space are shelves filled with glass jars, vials of teas waiting to be steeped, and vintage advertisements. It would feel more like an apothecary's shop than a lunch spot, if not for the window peeking into the kitchen, revealing ocher yellow walls and shelving brimming with pots, pans, utensils, and spices.
As Open Face is a small spot, if you head there during the lunch rush, expect to wait for a table and your food. It's worth the wait.