Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Food is an evolving, sticky beast. It picks up bits of influence like a caterpillar inching humpbacked across the gritty lines of culture. Usually what is born is passable fusion: a banal miso-glazed pork chop or “salsa verde” Doritos. But occasionally, only the cream is skimmed from the DNA food pool of two cultures, and what you are left with is a delicate, moth-like dish, emerging from a cocoon of oppression. Enter the Vietnamese sandwich. Elusive, and distinguished, this little loaf contains the best of French bread-making skills with the indescribable balance the Vietnamese can thrust upon all five parts of the tongue.
I first heard about this joint on a recommendation not for the sandwich, but for the coconut cake. Like a Costco free sample, I took the bait, and there I was yet again, in another dive parking lot in south Fresno, stepping into a little box with bars on the windows.
I was packed into a pickle jar of a room jammed with people, a fish tank, TV, newsprint-topped tables, and mounted cakes displaying the latest Pokemon figurines knee-deep in frosting. I swerved my way to the counter and ordered a sandwich. For $3 you get a choice of “regular” or “hot” (an obvious choice) always served warm (in both temperature and spice). Within minutes I was handed a little hoagie swathed in wax paper and a rubber band. I was in for a treat.
The baguette is impeccable. Warm and crisp, with an interior tug of white dough. Inside, a smear of red chili sauce cradling an amazing mix of pickled carrot, cucumber, and radish spears on a bed of cilantro sprigs. This is in perfect compliment to the meats: a thin slab of roasted pork and a pâté-like slice, riddled with black pepper. One bite and your mouth will understand the delicate dance between sweet and hot, crispy and warm, salty and sour.
For $2.50 you can get a slice of the coconut cake ($0.50 more than its fruity counterparts) in a little plastic case to-go. The cake is green; a pale, minty hue that permeates from sponge to filling, only broken by a snowy whipped cream top. The cake is light and not too sweet, with a pillowy spring in each bite. The filling is custard laced with generous chunks of coconut meat. Cast aside your visions of the bleached rubbery shreds that stick in your gums. Imagine you’re in Belize, on the beach, and a humble citizen machete chops the big green fruit and serves it up. It is this incarnation of coconut, the tender morsels of ripe nutty flesh, that are hidden in your cake… and it is spectacular.
Queen Sandwich & Cake is another example of the humble feast bestowed upon our Valley. Eat in gratitude for the collision of nations that has brought you something as complex and modest as the Vietnamese sandwich.
Queen Sandwich & Cake
2318 N Fresno St, Fresno, CA 93703
Southeast corner of Clinton and Fresno