As the competition in the sandwich category stacks up higher, operators are looking for ways to give their sandwich menus cachet. Many are trading up to better bread.
More than simply a canvas, bread plays a major role in the overall taste, texture and look of a sandwich.
Consumers’ top bread picks
What are restaurant patrons seeking in sandwich carriers? Italian and French breads were the winners in Technomic’s 2016 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report, with at least half of those surveyed saying they would most likely opt for one or the other when given a choice.
Toasting or grilling sandwiches gives them a little extra craveability—one preferred by 54% percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 45% of those over 35 years old.
When it comes to ever-popular breakfast sandwiches, breads traditionally associated with morning meals stand out. Croissants, bagels, English muffins and biscuits scored highest in Technomic’s sandwich study.
Operators innovate with carriers
Chefs continue to push the envelope when choosing building blocks for their sandwich creations.
As cubanos, cemitas and tortas pop up on menus, breads made to showcase these Latin sandwiches are growing more common. Telera rolls, a relative of the French baguette with a soft middle, leave room for layering ingredients. Pillowy Italian rolls often stand in for the hard-to source signature Cuban rolls to produce the desired flattened effect.
And cemitas rolls, round brioche-like affairs made with egg, are typically topped with sesame seeds. At Chicago’s popular Cemitas Puebla, chipotle sauce, Oaxaca cheese, avocado, seasonal greens and meat or vegetables are piled onto rolls baked from a cherished family recipe.
Sprouted breads, such as the sprouted bagel flat found in Panera’s Turkey Sausage, Egg White & Spinach breakfast sandwich, appeal to protein-conscious consumers.
Ciabatta is a popular option, especially for grilled or pressed sandwiches, as the consistency holds up well under heat. Sandwiches at Mendocino Farms are built on about a half-dozen varieties of bread and rolls, but ciabatta is the most common, arguably for its versatility. It’s served either plain, pressed or toasted, the latter in the “Not So Fried” Mary’s Chicken, a flavor bomb of shaved, roasted chicken breast, herb aioli, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, bits of fried buttermilk batter and pickled red onions with a side of chipotle BBQ or mustard pickle remoulade.
Pretzel-style rolls lend a salty, chewy element to a sandwich while simultaneously creating more depth and a “wow” factor. The Ham & Swiss Pretzel at Corner Bakery layers smoked ham with tomatoes, shaved red onions, Swiss cheese and stone-ground mustard/mayo on a hoagie-shaped bun.
Flat breads for sandwiches have evolved beyond lavash and pita to house-made versions. At Baco Mercat in Los Angeles, the El Pesco Crispy Shrimp with Sriracha sandwich is folded into a soft shell inspired by tacos and pizza dough. It’s filled with fried shrimp and creamy chive cabbage slaw.
For Pane Bianco chef/owner Chris Bianco, the ideal sandwich bread needs two qualities: a crisp structure that will hold up and a yielding center that will accommodate ingredients. The crave-worthy sandwiches at the Phoenix concept starts with a house-made focaccia that’s crisped and charred in a wood-fired oven, brushed with olive oil, then split and mixed with ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes, roasted red peppers, artisan chicken salad and freshly pulled mozzarella.
This post is sponsored by Euro-Bake