Foxface (New York, August 2019)

[Upfront disclosure: this write-up is of an establishment owned by friends and of a meal at which we received a significant comp.]

Foxface, a tiny—and I mean tiny—sandwich shop in St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, opened late last year. Ori and Sivan, who own and operate it, are not strangers to the once vibrant, now moribund American food forum world. I’ve known them for some years now, mostly online. Some of those who’ve followed their restaurant reports over the years might well have been surprised that on their return from a five year sojourn in Tokyo they decided to sell sandwiches; but nobody would be surprised to learn that these are some bloody excellent sandwiches (in some cases literally so: blood shows up in the ingredients of a couple of sandwiches in their ever-changing lineup).

Not having seen them since they were in the Twin Cities briefly on business a few years ago, we were looking forward to going down to Foxface for lunch one day and hanging out with them a bit. But the day before our scheduled visit they got written up very positively in the New York Times. It’s not like they were flying totally under the radar previously but the traffic bump was significant and there was no question of their being able to step out of the kitchen to shoot the shit. We did get to eat some sandwiches though (and as it turned out I did get to hang with them at Adda a couple of nights before).

Their kitchen, as noted above, is very small indeed. And they don’t do anything in a hurry, emphasizing deliberate and careful preparation over speed. Whether you are getting a sandwich to go or eating it there you shouldn’t expect to be handed one right or even five minutes after you place your order. (I believe they now also have some Japanese-inspired booking system for those who are getting sandwiches to go and don’t want to wait in line.) The ingredients are all top-notch—from the bread to the meats and seafood and veg. Many herbs and chillies are grown in their own garden and they make their own hot sauces and pickles. These may be sandwiches but each comprises multiple components made with great care and technique, and composed as thoughtfully and wittily as plates at the city’s better formal restaurants.

There aren’t very many of these sandwiches on offer on any given day and there is no fixed menu from day to day. Only one sandwich is always on the menu. The others switch in and out based on what’s available to them that fits the ideas they have; and all are only available in limited quantities till they run out each day (they’re open Wednesday to Sunday).  On any given day the featured ingredients in their sandwiches may range from the seemingly prosaic to camel. To find out what’s going to be on offer the thing to do is to follow their Instagram account. It’s always going to be an eclectic mix of ingredients and flavours. In other contexts, some of this might come across as fusiony or even dilettantish—not the individual sandwiches but the juxtaposition—but somehow the act of putting things that might not strike you as belonging in sandwiches into sandwiches makes it all seem organic. And as good as the stuff that goes into the sandwiches uniformly is, the bread (from Pain d’Avignon) is what ties it all together. It’s not just that they buy excellent bread fresh every day (instead of engaging in a half-assed bread “program” of their own), but also that the bread for each sandwich is perfectly toasted and/or pressed.

While the sandwich ingredients are luxe and the cooking precise, the sandwiches themselves are anything but prissy: none of the ones we ate or saw were anything anyone should eat in a careless manner in a white shirt, and all are large. Most people get sandwiches to go—hopefully not eating them while walking—but there is also limited seating in the bar they share space with, and into which their kitchen opens. Whether you get your sandwiches to go or to eat in the bar (dark and appealingly dingy) each will show up in a large paper box that opens out into a sort-of plate. I guess till this point their sit-down custom has not been large enough to make more than one sandwich delivery mode worth the while.

We were in no hurry. We placed our order and staked out a table at the bar. After a bit of a wait the sandwiches came out one by one. To see which ones we ate and what was in them take a look at the slideshow below. Scroll down to see which we liked the most, how much all of this would have cost (if we’d paid for it all) and to see what’s coming next.

All were excellent. I had the Smoking Fox at the top while the missus liked Kids Today the best. The boys were split between the Smoking Fox and Shrimp & Grits. Speaking of the kids today, this was the first time that they happily ate sandwiches without picking all the veg or herbs or pickles out of them. It’s not normally easy to get them to even eat a burger with lettuce in it.

All of this plus three Italian sodas, tax and tip would have come to about $75, but as I say we got comped a hefty part of the bill. Even at full freight this would have been less than we paid the previous weekend for a bunch of seafood rolls at Luke’s Lobster on the UWS. Even if priced the same in terms of quality (or quantity for that matter), there would be no contest. In fact, I’d guess it would be hard to beat Foxface on a quality to price ratio anywhere in Manhattan, given the ingredients they use and the quality of the cooking. Prices currently range from $10-14 depending on the sandwich—compare with the $20 sandwiches at Pastrami Queen. Yes, they’re friends and my endorsement is contaminated but I do recommend them very highly indeed.

Up next from New York: more Japanese food, either sushi or ramen. I’ll have another recipe this weekend too. Early next week, a St. Paul report (either Joan’s in the Park or the new incarnation of Cook St. Paul).

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