Widgets Magazine

Trail Mix: Strong, but no trump cards at Ace of Sandwiches

"The Ace of Clubs"-- low sodium turkey, honey maple ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato and monterey jack cheese on a grilled soft roll-- one of the deli's most popular sandwiches. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

It is true that the sandwich is named after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, but he did not invent the dish; the concoction has been consumed for at least a few millennia. For example, the Jewish leader Hillel from the first century B.C. devised the “Hillel sandwich” for Passover comprised of bitter herbs between two pieces of matzo (essentially crackers). The simplicity of the dish, which has in part facilitated the sandwich’s longevity, also makes it somewhat difficult for a sandwich shop to be spectacular. Such is the case with Ace of Sandwiches — a plethora of delicious options but nothing phenomenal.

The store is an inconspicuous stop in a corner mall with a handful of tables. It is, of course, extremely casual and essentially limited to a quick lunch since it is only open until the confusing time of 6 p.m.

Some sandwiches at Ace are very good. For example, Ace’s take on the Classic Reuben is actually quite interesting. The sandwich is served between two thick, toasty slices of rye that are delicious but border on too bready for the contents. But they have moved the sandwich in the right direction — rather than an explosion of dressing and sauerkraut that leads to the usual post-Reuben lethargy, Ace produces a manageable sandwich that is a good introduction to a classic for the uninitiated. The Plymouth Rock combines some excellent flavors and is quite strong as well. The cranberry sauce and stuffing, though, feel moderately industrial and don’t really impart enough of those warming, Thanksgiving emotions. Furthermore, while the Dutch Crunch is in general excellent, it might be too much for this sandwich and makes the mouth feel a touch drier than is ideal.

This is a variation of "The Ace's Melt"-- tuna salad and melted provolone cheese topped with avocado and served on a Dutch Crunch roll. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

The gravy on the Louisiana Po’ Boy suffers from the same issues as the stuffing on the Plymouth Rock. It masks the flare of the Dijon somewhat, and the sandwich, while providing a good variety of texture and an interesting flavor profile, does not entirely deliver what the aesthetics appear to promise. One of the biggest surprises on the menu, though, is the Atomic Pastrami. With jalapenos, jalapeno chips, pepper jack cheese and horseradish, one would expect a sinus-clearing experience from just the aroma. Somewhere along the way, the spice simply didn’t show up, and the heat is tolerable even for the non-adventurous. The sandwich is still delicious, and the crunch of the chips makes it a pleasure to eat, but there may be expectations left unmet.

Many sandwiches are only moderately tasty or even mediocre. The Ace of Clubs is an unfortunate semi-namesake, because it is not particularly strong. The French roll it comes on is delectably buttery, and the sandwich is decent but ultimately somewhat forgettable. The Albuquerque Turkey has so much potential with ingredients such as Boar’s Head Salsalito turkey, pepper jack cheese and pesto. Somehow, though, all the flavors end up relatively muted and, despite the excellent pressed focaccia, the sandwich is not as stellar as expected. The Tuna Panini is entirely underwhelming. It is refreshing to find essentially a tuna melt that doesn’t ooze mayonnaise, and in that sense, the sandwich is fairly crisp, but the experience doesn’t last a moment longer than the life of the sandwich itself.

There is probably not a single displeasing option at Ace of Sandwiches; the entire menu is dependable. The reduced volatility, though, comes with the standard risk tradeoff — you are less likely to hit a home run. Accordingly, while the shop does serve some very good sandwiches, it ends up at the higher end of “middle of the road.”