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A Partnership to Be Eaten

A Partnership to Be Eaten -- Appetite for Life -- © Microsoft
The sandwich is a deceptively simple thing. It's two slices of bread with some stuff between them — but that stuff, and the type of bread it sits on, adds up to a universe of possibilities. Virtually every variety of meat, fruit, vegetable or spice you can imagine has a home in the right kind of sandwich — and conducting those experiments to discover the right pairing of bread and stuff is almost as rewarding as consuming the edible partnership that results.

To sample every great sandwich in America might take years, and we're absolutely willing to give as many as it takes. But in the meantime, here are five great American sandwiches you can sample as you get your own sandwich quest rolling.

The Duck Grilled Cheese at Olio, Jacksonville

Duck confit is an expensive mystery to the average American. We're tempted to think it a bit of fanciness reserved for the rich, who possibly garnish it with wadded-up currency. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and Olio's Greg DeSanto proves it with his Duck Grilled Cheese. The slow-cooked duck confit is piled high atop two slices of sourdough, covered with two kinds of melted cheese — American and Gruyere — and accented with lightly seared green tomatoes. It's a real sandwich of the people.

The Broccoli Sub at No. 7 Sub, New York City

Chain sandwich shops may have stolen the submarine sandwich from us and done unspeakable things to it in the name of convenience, but New York City's No. 7 Sub, under the creative guidance of Tyler Kord, is front and center in the battle to save it. The Broccoli Sub is the most deliciously potent of the eatery's armaments, packed with broccoli, ricotta salata, pine nuts, seared shallots and lychee muchim. As the submarine captains say, take 'er down easy.

The Catfish Sloppy Joe at RM Seafood, Las Vegas

Like so many of us, Rick Moonen originally learned to make sloppy Joes from his mother — but he figured out the recipe for this truly sloppy, truly delicious sandwich while working in Key West. With its diced catfish sautéed with onions, smothered in tangy tomato barbecue sauce and piled high upon a buttery bun with sliced pickles and — hey, why not? — potato chips, RM's Catfish Sloppy Joe is a credit to Moonen's mother, to Las Vegas, and to humanity itself.

The Woodland Mushroom Torta at Xoco, Chicago

It can be argued that pretty much anything you get between two slices of bread in Chicago will be worth your time, at least in the places that invest care in such things. Chicago owns the beef sandwich, the bratwurst and the snap dog — and now, surprisingly, it's going after the vegetarians, too. The Woodland Mushroom, created by Rick Bayless of Xoco, is an earthy marvel — wood-roasted mushrooms flavored with garlic, Prairie Farm goat cheese, black beans and wild arugula on a sourdough roll, with a three-chili salsa to dip it in. It's more than worthy of the town that beef built.

The Original Bäco at Bäco Mercat, Los Angeles

Josef Centeno's Original Bäco is kind of a textbook example of what makes the sandwich so beloved. The menu describes it perfectly — "crispy pork belly and beef carnitas with caraway pepper" — but doesn't speak to the tastiness of the flatbread, folded over the sandwich like a blanket, or to the feeling of bliss that seems to overcome everyone who tries it. Sure, it's a simple construction, but many great pieces of art are simple — it's the feelings we develop for them that are complex. Lots of Los Angelenos have a complex relationship with the Original Bäco, and that's perfectly OK.