Sandwich Planet: The Safest Sandwich Shop in Manhattan

Feb 6, 2001

The Bottom Line First-rate sandwich shop, featuring an endless number of selections. Definitely try the churascos. But don't expect much in terms of atmosphere.

We were there for less than 30 minutes. Within that short period of time, four cops passed through the doors of Sandwich Planet, eager to sample what might arguably be dubbed the best sandwiches in town. It was obvious these gentlemen were regulars. They chatted casually with the restaurant's manager as they awaited their dinners. My husband and I, sitting at our tiny little table by the window, felt quite comfortable (and safe) as we devoured our hearty sandwiches. Next to our table, a trio of bohemian-looking college students, also regulars, discussed their evening plans. As the manager stopped by to take their orders, they extended him a party invitation, handing him some directions scribbled on a piece of scratch paper. (Sad confession: I'm a terrible eavesdropper, but in a place like New York City, eavesdropping provides you with some of the city's best, FREE entertainment.)

Located a block from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Sandwich Planet is situated in one of the least attractive areas of Manhattan, surrounded by run-down buildings devoid of any charm, liquor stores, fast food places, maybe a couple of adult video rental stores. The only people-watching you can engage in around there involves the murderous looks of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd as they wait in the eternally long Lincoln Tunnel line. Why am I telling you this? Because ordinarily I would never come to this neighborhood (this and Macy's are at the top of my forbidden territory list). Plain ole good food might not even be enough to convince me since the city has many much better-located eateries which satisfy my high standards just fine. But how many of them are dedicated to that lowly lunch-box staple known as the sandwich? None that I know of.

I'm not saying that no other place in town serves a decent sandwich. That would be ridiculous. But Sandwich Planet is a temple to sandwiches with over 100 sandwiches from which to choose. Each copious sandwich contains generous portions of top quality, ultra fresh ingredients, and it goes without saying that the variety is unbeatable. The sandwiches are all neatly categorized on the restaurant's sandwich menu for your convenience.

(1) Churascos

My favorite sandwiches. Churascos are basically grilled chicken breast sandwiches, but there is nothing basic about these sandwiches. The chicken breast is perfectly grilled and incredibly juicy, especially for chicken, which tends to be dry. It was so juicy in fact, that I quickly exhausted my usually inexhaustible napkin supply, wiping the juices dribbling down my chin. I highly recommend The People's Choice Churasco ($7.25) (swiss cheese, mushrooms and grilled onions) with guacamole. It is served on a jumbo, soft sesame bun with lettuce, pickles and a slice of ripe tomato. The piece of chicken breast is so large that it hangs off the bun. A very satisfying sandwich that elevates chicken sandwiches to a whole new level. If you like sandwiches with a little more spiciness, you might want to try one of the blackened chicken sandwiches, like the Bourbon Street ($7.50) (blackened chicken, bacon, jack, bayou mayo, onion and sourdough) or the Napalm ($7.50) (blackened chicken, bbq, jalapeno, cheddar and habanero sauce). I downed at least three glasses of water while eating one of their blackened chicken sandwiches.

(2) Hamburgers

The same list of sandwich selections that is used for churascos also applies to the hamburgers. Although the hamburgers are generally good, I think they are definitely overshadowed by the churascos. This is probably one of the few times in my life where I've encountered chicken sandwiches that are so much juicier than hamburgers that it's shameful. Like the churascos, hamburgers are also served with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. My husband likes the El Camino Hamburger ($7.50) (bacon, jack cheese, ranch dressing, served on sourdough). The combination of the bacon with the ranch dressing is incredibly appealing and savory. Sandwich Planet also does a wonderful job on the classic Patty Melt ($6.75) served with swiss cheese on slices of rye.

(3) Panini

All of the paninis consist of different Italian cold cuts served cold on the bread of your choice (stirato, rosemary, foccacia and pizza bianco). We recommend the Vesuvius Panini ($5.75) (hot sopressatta and smoked mozzarella) on stirato bread (similar to ciabatta). The sopressatta (and salametti and toscano salami) all look like they'd be really bad for you, but they remind me of the sandwiches that we had in the snack bars of Rome.

(4) American and International Classics

This is a total mish-mash of sandwich classics, like French Dip ($7.00), Muffaletta ($7.50), Croque Monsieur and Peanut Butter and Jelly ($4.50). (Why anyone would want to pay for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is beyond me.) I've tried the Hell's Kitchen Cheesesteak ($7.25) from this category. Mt first thought upon seeing the cheesesteak: Did they make a mistake? Is this one sandwich or two?! There was a generous portion of thinly sliced roast beef accompanied by white cheddar and onions on a toasted ciabatta. It was good, but something was a little off. The onions weren't adequately grilled, so they didn't emit that caramelized sweetness that so perfectly complements the roast beef.

(5) House Specialties

It's hard to categorize these sandwiches in any particular way since they range from the traditional BLT ($5.75) and Turkey Club ($6.00) sandwiches to the what-the-heck-is-that-will-it-really-taste-good sandwiches, such as the Hot Soprassetta, Roasted Peppers, Bleu Cheese, Tabasco Sauce, Red Leaf Lettuce on a Ciabatta ($7.25). It seems like the red hues of that sandwich would blend together better than the flavors, but then again, years of eating experience have taught me never to be too quick to judge.

For the Sally Albrights of the World

You would think that with such variety, there would be no need for Sandwich Planet to offer custom sandwiches, but I suppose you always have the Sally Albrights (from When Harry Met Sally) of the world, who need to have their sandwich just so. For those people, Sandwich Planet has an extensive list of ingredients from which they can fashion their own creation. The basic sandwich, ranging from $5.00 to $5.50, can be anything from the classic (house roasted turkey breast and house roasted beef) to the gourmet (bresaola and prosciutto) to the elementary school throw-backs (bologna and tuna salad). Other ingredients, like various cheeses (smoked mozzarella, fontina, white cheddar, goat cheese), vegetables (artichokes, avocados, roasted peppers, olives), and sauces (Bayou mayo, truffle oil salsa, horseradish sour cream black pepper sauce (wonder what that tastes like!)), can be added to the sandwich for an extra charge of 75 cents per ingredient. There is also a choice of sandwich breads.

Now there's another New York institution whose name is synonymous with sandwiches. I am, of course, referring to the ubiquitous New York deli. Many of you may wonder how Sandwich Planet compares with those famed New York delis. Well, in my opinion, there is no comparison. If you want first rate sandwiches accompanied by creative fixings and little attitude, go to Sandwich Planet. If you want old New York atmosphere, crotchety sandwich makers and ten feet high sandwiches which will increase your chances of a heart attack before 50, go to one of those New York delis.

The interior of Sandwich Planet looks like a child's romper room, albeit a cramped one. The walls are painted bright primary colors - red, blue and yellow. There are a handful of tiny tables, paired with yellow vinyl chairs. The bold blue and red "Sandwich Planet" lettering on the wall of the restaurant reminded me of Superman comic book lettering. My guess is that the restaurant seats a maximum of 14 people.

*Note: The owner of Sandwich Planet also owns Island Burgers and Shakes (766 Ninth Avenue, tel: 212-307-7934), which is only a few blocks north of Sandwich Planet. Island Burgers has a larger dining area, is closer to the Theater District and features many of the same churascos and hamburgers as Sandwich Planet.

Address: 534 Ninth Avenue (between 39th and 40th), New York, NY

Telephone: 212-273-9768

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 12:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Take out and delivery are both available.

Vegetarian Friendly: Absolutely

Kid Friendly: Yes

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