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"I rememeber when I first realized that I needed to hire more employees," says Ike Shehadeh, founder of the hugely popular sandwich shop Ike's Place. "I had five people, and we were serving 200 people a day, and the line was two hours out the door."
To afford a larger staff, Shehadeh didn't pay himself for 19 months, but adding more employees only solved part of the problem. "We went from 200 sandwiches a day with a two-hour wait," he remembers, "to 600 sandwiches a day with a two-hour wait."
Thankfully, the wait isn't quite that long at Ike's new Santa Rosa location. But even for Ike's first day on Mendocino Avenue, with only a Facebook post as an announcement, the line was out the door.
What's the secret? "I always say what works best for me is layering flavors," Shehadeh explains. "When you're able to add different types of flavors that touch different areas of the tongue—and also with texture, when you get crunchy or squishy or chewy—the more you can distract the brain and the tongue, the deeper you're getting in the experience."
So what's new at the Santa Rosa spot? Customers will notice the local touches on the menu—the "Luther Burbank" sandwich, the "Charles Schulz," the "Deep Throat," the "Natalie Wood." A good, simple starter with roast beef, salami, turkey and provolone is the "Matt Cain" (the Giants have a heavy presence at Ike's), and there are copious vegan options, as well.
But for the truly adventurous, there's the five-pound Kryptonite ($19.91), one half of which is pictured on this week's cover of the Bohemian: roast beef, turkey, pastrami, ham, salami, bacon, avocado, pesto, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and banana peppers. At this week's grand opening party on July 25, the person who downs it the fastest gets free sandwiches for a year—provided they're still standing.
Ike's Place, 1780 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.293.9814.—Gabe Meline
Zazu on the River
The 'U-Pick' BLT; $10
When Duskie Estes and John Stewart closed their Bovolo restaurant in the back of Copperfield's Books and opened Zazu on the River, it did wonders for the restaurant's ambiance: it's a pork-themed snack shack on the grounds of Davis Family Winery, overlooking a wide bend of the Russian River. As for the sandwiches, there's a pulled-pork sandwich on a soft bun, recommended, and the "World's Greatest BLT." The boast is a bit much—I'd toast the bread and swap out the romaine lettuce for the retro crunch of iceberg, personally—but the housemade Black Pig bacon, thick, ripe tomato and outstanding surroundings (river, bocce ball, outdoor seating) still make this a sandwich that's hard to resist. Even better, once the tomatoes in the adjacent tomato garden are ripe, the restaurant plans to offer "U-pick" BLTs, where diners can actually pick the tomato for their sandwich. Hands-on, dining, indeed! Zazu on the River, 52 Front St., Healdsburg. 707.569.0171.—Stett Holbrook
KC's Downtown Grill
Crispy Buffalo Chicken; $11.50.
Buffalo wings can be such a mess, such a hassle. Who can really be bothered? If only they could take the same principles—spicy sauce, hot chicken and cool blue cheese dressing—and apply them to a sandwich. But wait a minute! KC's Downtown Grill makes a crispy buffalo chicken sandwich that will satiate your need for wings and then some, without the need for 13 wet-naps. Almost as large as two sandwiches, it contains a helping of crispy fried chicken breast bathed in spicy buffalo sauce. But there's more. Served on a big "fluffy French roll" with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo, the sandwich is big on flavor and comes with a chilled cup of blue cheese or ranch—your preference—to quell the spiciness. Of course, the sandwich is served with fries—it wouldn't be right to eat a crispy chicken sandwich with anything else. The only other recommended component to this meal might be one of KC's ice cream milkshakes, but you may want to consult your physician first. KC's Downtown Grill, 9501 DuVander Lane, Windsor. 707.838.7800.—Holly Abrahams
Basically any sandwich on a sourdough roll; $7.49–$7.79
There's a moment when you're waiting in line for sandwiches at Michael's when you realize you're about to experience something special. Yes, Michael's sourdough rolls are so fresh, warm, sweet and crispy that they put any French bakery to shame. Perhaps the tastiest this side of the Seine, Michael's incredible rolls perfectly complement the ingredients of their nearly 30 specialty sandwiches. Standards like the tuna salad are given new life with every bite, while creations like the basil cream chicken have made it difficult for the lunchtime crowd to spend their precious 30-minute break on any other local bite. How many delis have to put up signs saying that they've sold out of their bread for the day? It's unheard of, but thankfully it's also a reproducible formula, with locations now in Rohnert Park and Petaluma exposing Sonoma citizens to the wondrous addiction that is Michael's Sourdough bread. If Jean Valjean really existed, he'd be stealing from Michael's right now. Michael's Sourdough, locations in Novato, San Rafael, Petaluma and Rohnert Park. www.michaelssourdough.com.—David Sason
The Jimtown; $8.75
There's no such thing as a simple sandwich anymore, and maybe that's a good thing. The "Jimtown" looks unassuming on the outside, yet it's anything but on the inside. Start with the baguette bread. In the wrong hands, baguette can slice open the roof of your mouth in a jiff, but not this diddy, soft and chewy on the inside, lightly crisp on the out. As you sink down further, you'll come tongue-to-mouth with prosciutto from Zoe's Meats. It's flavorful with just the right amount of salt—no gamey aftertaste here. The bread is swathed in Jimtown's own figgy-olive spread that'll cause your taste buds to roar. No sandwich would be complete without cheese, and this one delivers with just the right touch of Point Reyes blue, ever so slightly melted. "The Jimtown is one of our most requested sandwiches to eat on the patio or take on a picnic for winetasting," says owner Carrie Brown. Jimtown packs people in on weekends, many who are vying for this deceptive delight with the deliciously daffy flavor profile, but trust us, every finger-licking bite is worth the wait. Jimtown Store, 6706 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. 707.433.1212.—Christina Julian
Big John's Market
The Grove Street; $6.99.
Turkey sandwiches can be pretty ho-hum. Turkey, mayo, lettuce, bread and cheese—they often lack the emulsion of flavors we crave in a sandwich. However, there's an exception to every rule, and that's Big John's Market and their Grove Street sandwich, a turkey sandwich with elevated ingredients that are both simple and tasty. The first standout is the garlic-herb turkey, a pleasant departure from the all-too-abundant mesquite or honey-smoked turkeys. This herbaceous meat is juxtaposed with light, creamy Havarti cheese and garlic aioli. Holy aioli, this stuff is good! It adds a needed richness and at the same time builds the already present garlic flavor. Finally, the Grove Street is topped with tomato and spring mix greens, which adds a fresh, crisp element, and Big John's has a nice selection of fresh breads to customize the perfect sandwich. Big John's Market, 1345 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.7151.—Holly Abrahams
Big Bottom Market
The Independent; $9.50
Guerneville's Big Bottom Market has been a big boon to this small Russian River town, and the market's picnic fare tops the list. The deli offers a menu of regular sandwiches, but the changing "celebrity sandwich," an edible ode to local personalities of note, is different each month. For July, however, the sandwich celebrates our nation's birth with the "the Independent." You know, like Independence Day? Named chiefly in honor of Becoming Independent, the local organization helping those with disabilities live on their own, it's a firecracker of a combo featuring Black Forest ham, Point Reyes blue-cheese spread and cherry-shallot chutney with mixed greens on a soft French roll. Mmm. Big Bottom Market, 16228 Main St., Guerneville. 707.604.7295.—Stett Holbrook
Aubrey McMinn was raised in Healdsburg, so she's seen a lot of changes in its once-sleepy downtown. Now with more Lexuses than pickup trucks, the streets around the plaza will soon see the dive bar John & Zeke's sold to new owners and a foundation for Seghesio Vineyards' pizzeria and salumeria poured on the site of the old post office before the end of the year. "It's changed quite a bit," she says.
McMinn is the catering manager at Oakville Grocery, which itself supplanted the old Healdsburg City Hall and police station on the plaza, and where the sandwich menu is on the cusp of changing, too—10 brand-new sandwiches already on the menu in the original Oakville location will come to Healdsburg this fall.
"We have our core sandwiches. The turkey pesto, the Mediterranean grilled chicken, the smoked turkey cranberry—those are always our staples," says McMinn. "And then we've added a couple over the years, taken some off, and changed them seasonally."
But one thing won't change, and that's the Mezzaluna, a glorious cult favorite that inspires long drives from faraway towns. Essentially a thin pizza crust baked on-site folded over a baby spinach or club salad, the Mezzaluna is prepared with such precision and freshness that there'd probably be a riot were it ever taken off the menu.
Everything is made in-house at Oakville Grocery, excluding the breads, which come from Cousteaux Bakery just down the street. For McMinn, the perfect sandwich is all about proper layering ("Start with the meat, then put the tomatoes on it so it's not soggy, then cheese, make sure you have enough greens on there, salt and pepper"), and she confesses that, yes, it's hard not to simply eat all day at her job.
Keeping busy with out-of-towners helps. "All day long, questions!" McMinn reports—everything from giving directions to consulting on which winery to visit. "In the off season," she says, "we have to keep our consistency and try to cater to the locals. The tourists leave, and it's just us. Our town."
Oakville Grocery, 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.4333200. 7856 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, 707.944.8802.—Gabe Meline