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Fourth Street Market
You can't get much more central in downtown Santa Rosa than the intersection of Fourth and Mendocino, which makes Pete Mogannam's Fourth Street Market a cultural hub of the city. While waiting in line at the always-busy sandwich counter, I've witnessed political rivals engaged in debate; business deals being negotiated; reporters talking about tomorrow's front-page story; policemen complaining about downtown's homeless population; downtown's homeless population complaining about the police; and everybody complaining about parking. If downtown is Santa Rosa's heart, Fourth Street Market is its aortic valve.
In the midst of all this hustle and flow are Lisa Mogannam, Katie Smith and Marissa Morabe, three familiar faces behind the deli counter who manage the fast-paced balancing act of chatting with regulars, executing evasive dance steps around each other and making roughly 300 sandwiches a day for the lunchtime crowd.
"When I first started, I freaked out," says Morabe, who sees so many sandwiches a day she's even had dreams about them. At the height of the lunch hour, staying calm is key. Mogannam has been here since her father opened on the corner in 1996, and "the newbies always have to be broken in," she says.
But with the bustle comes rewards. Going through ingredients so quickly means they're always fresh, and there are the notably unusual orders that break up the day—tuna and egg salad mixed together, maybe, or the guy who orders just pickles, cheese and Dijon on dark rye. But the best part, all agree, is getting to personally know the customers, from all walks of life. "We see everybody," Mogannam says. "We hear what's going on in their lives."
"Sometimes we hear a little more than that," Morabe adds, but stops there, honoring the sandwich maker's unspoken confidentiality agreement. "A lot of them, I know their sandwiches and not their names. It's like, 'Hi, how are you? Tuna on light rye?'" Fourth Street Market, Fourth and Mendocino, Santa Rosa, 707.573.9832.—Gabe Meline
Breakfast Sandwich; $6.25–$7.25
Say the words "English muffin" and for most, images of plastic-sack, grocery-bought Thomas' muffins come readily to mind. Model Bakery threatens to redefine the category. This particular take is no ordinary muffin, starting at the roots of this buttery delight. It's concocted from focaccia dough riddled with olive oil, yeast, flour and even a pinch of vitamin C to rouse the health-conscious crowd. The dough drops are plopped on a cornmeal-lined tray and griddled on a stovetop, delivering a muffin that's airy and butter-soft. Michael Chiarello went as far as bowing down to this muffin on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and dubbed it "super airy and as light as a cloud," and we can't disagree. The goodness keeps on rolling, with fluffy scrambled eggs sandwiched between layers of Canadian bacon and sealed with cheddar cheese. For those looking to overindulge, avocado and tomato are available as add-ons. And, yes, maybe the vitamin C doesn't exactly counter some of the more gluttonous aspects of this not-so-innocent sandwich, once you chomp your first bite you'll no longer care. Model Bakery, 1357 Main St., St. Helena, 707.963.8192. Also at 644-B First St., Napa. 707.259.1128.—Christina Julian
Underwood Bar & Bistro
Moroccan Lamb; $12.75
The elegant Underwood Bar and Bistro, across the street from Willow Wood Market, features a hefty Moroccan lamb sandwich served on homemade flatbread. In part inspired by the popular Greek gyros, it's also made with harissa, a hot chili sauce that originated in North Africa. Hence, it's a Moroccan-style lamb sandwich, and it's spicier than any gyros this side of Athens. Matthew Greenbaum created it after visiting the Greek island of Tilos, then tweaked it to suit his own taste buds. Lamb sirloin is sliced, marinated and grilled until crispy and tender, then placed in warm flatbread that's as easy to fold and hold as a slice of pizza. Juicy tomatoes, arugula and red onion are added, along with tzatziki, the traditional Greek mix of yogurt and cucumber that provides a clean, fresh taste. Bite into this sandwich and you think you're eating in a cafe in Tangier or Marrakesh. It's been on the menu since the day the Underwood opened, and customers won't let the restaurant retire it. Underwood, 9113 Graton Road, Graton. 707.823.7023.—Jonah Raskin
Calistoga Turkey & Red Pepper Panini; $7.95
Turkey could be accused of being one of the most overexposed sandwich meats in the country, the rise of bacon aside. So not just any turkey sandwich could make the cut, but this one does, and here's why—the confluence of ingredients. Start with the focaccia bread. While buttery in flavor, it's not oozing with olive oil. Bread should be bread, after all, not a soggy alter-ego of its former self. This light, slightly crisp bread has just a touch of salt on top, which really works to its advantage. Add to that a roasted red pepper aioli spread, and then comes what we think is the heart of this sandwich: a layer of fresh, roasted poblano chilies packing a flavorful punch. Melted together with roasted turkey and a hefty dose of provolone cheese, this baby dances down the throat. In case you're feeling guilty over eating a not-so-square meal, the sandwich comes with organic greens and an heirloom tomato slice topped with asiago, or you can glam it up with your pick of gourmet salads (pictured with the Calistoga couscous). "This panini-styled sandwich is a locals' favorite. Enjoy it in our bakery, or as a delicious 'to go' meal at one of our neighboring wineries," says manager Jason Theobal. Village Bakery, 1353 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga. 707.942.1443.—Christina Julian
Grilled Cheese & Ham; $11.50
Few things are better than the childhood delicacy that is grilled cheese and ham. Mom probably made it with a couple of Kraft American Singles and pre-packaged deli meat, but Hopmonk Tavern does the grilled cheese and ham one better. Their version, which comes with tomato soup, has a Sonoma County edge—meaning it has some seriously upgraded ingredients. The sandwich starts on a high note with toasted, Parmesan-crusted sourdough. Inside, the eater discovers yellow cheddar, white cheddar and Gruyère, melted together in a rich, balanced cheese combination. (Not that anyone's counting, but that's four cheeses right there.) Ham, not always the favorite of the meat family, can lean toward dry or overly salty, but this grilled ham intends to change that, with the grill marks to prove it. The sandwich is finished with a dijonaisse, once a lesser-known condiment that's now a staple among gourmet sandwiches of the area. "The people who know about the grilled cheese and ham come back for it all the time," says Hopmonk manager Bill DeCarli. While DeCarli says the hamburger still wins the popularity contest, the grilled cheese and ham is a close second. Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. 707.829.7300. Also in Sonoma at 691 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.935.9100.—Holly Abrahams
The Fremont Diner
Sonoma's Fremont Diner has perfected a retro, Southern-inspired menu sourced from literally backyard ingredients and sustainably minded local purveyors. Close your eyes and point, and you'll pick a winner, but the top choice in the sandwich category is the Reuben. I challenge you to find thicker, juicier corned beef anywhere. The restaurant layers on the in-house sliced meat, tangy sauerkraut and a generous smear of remoulade sauce (just fancy mayo, really) between two slices of well-griddled rye bread. A ramekin of spicy whole grain mustard completes the deal. Fremont Diner, 2660 Fremont Drive, Sonoma. 707.938.7370.—Stett Holbrook
It seems that every week I discover a new person who regularly crosses county lines for Sol Food along with someone who has never had the pleasure of San Rafael's addictive Puerto Rican culinary phenomenon. Whenever I send the latter directly to the lime green building at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln, I urge him to order the Bistec sandwich. Thin, succulent slices of all-natural steak mingle with avocado, sautéed onions, garlic mayo and swiss on a mildly toasted French roll that's flat-pressed to tasty perfection. Before I stopped eating beef, I enjoyed my Bistecs (way too many of them each month) without the onions and with a generous drizzle of Sol Food's famous hot sauce. These days, I usually settle on the Veggie Deluxe or the Nine Pobre sandwich, which are both excellent alternatives. But the Bistec is the one. The season of neighborhood barbecues is always hard on me, with the permeating smells of burgers and ribs and all types of other treats I no longer eat. But that small torture is nothing compared to watching everyone besides me enjoy the best sandwich in all of Marin County. My willpower has gotten me through so far, but it's a struggle every single time. Carnivores, enjoy. Vegetarians, beware. Sol Food, 901 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael. 415.451.4765.—David Sason
East West Restaurant
Falafel Pita, $11.50
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, here's the token vegan sandwich, I guess they had to throw one in here for inclusion's sake." Well, there would've been more on our list if any of the other vegan sandwiches I've tried were half as good as the falafel pita—this thing made the cut on its own merit. If you've ever dissed sandwiches that didn't satisfy for want of meat and cheese, then this is the vegan's revenge. Ditch soggy bread; forget those kinda-but-not-really-filling veggie sandwiches from the deli. The falafel pita is a crispy, hearty, colorful Mediterranean dream that adding a dead animal to would only screw up. Overflowing with toasty falafel patties, lettuce and tomatoes and dripping with tangy tahini sauce, this sandwich is portioned enough to fill a hiker hungry after romping around nearby Spring Lake or Annadel. Eat it outside on a sunny day—enjoy its Mediterranean taste in our Mediterranean climate—and get fries on the side instead of the salad. A heads up, though: this thing's served in a bowl for a reason; i.e., it would prefer to fall apart and become falafel salad. East West Restaurant, 557 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.546.6142.—Jay Scherf