Because we’ve covered a lot of noodles here on Brunch with Bear, I would like to take a moment to stress how much I love sandwiches. Almost every good television show has at least one joke—if not an entire episode—about sandwiches, if we’re being completely honest. A good sandwich is highly underrated and difficult to find, especially when your food allergies have everyone saying things like, “We have wheat bread? Can you eat wheat bread?” (Cue the eye roll.) Cross-contamination makes places like Subway seem like a death trap, and apparently people really like putting cheese on sandwiches and really don’t like making substitutions or alterations to their menu. So when my dad was visiting the city, he found the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, a cute sandwich chain that originated in Chicago and now has stores all over the United States!
Potbelly Sandwich Shop has a simple menu and a simple concept, which may seem boring or corporate to the average New Yorker, but we like simple because simple means safe. This particular branch was located near the Empire State Building, a neighborhood in which it is impossible to find anything to eat, even if you don’t have food allergies. For those of you in offices with short lunch breaks, or hotel rooms with no energy, a good sandwich shop might be just what you need.
This particular shop was located on 5th Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets, most easily accessible from the 34th Street – Herald Square stop on the B, D, F, M, N, Q, and R trains, or the 33rd Street stop on the 6 train. If you’re on your typical tourist jaunt, you’ll be able to walk from Bryant Park, Macy’s and Madison Square Garden.
The fellow at the counter was as enthusiastic as he was kind, a rare temperament to find in the middle of Manhattan. He was informative and understanding of the allergy situation, and gave us a list of allergens for their shop. Potbelly Sandwich Shop has an allergen menu online, and the online list is basically the same as the one that you’ll find in the store. NOTE: Not every sandwich franchise even has an allergen menu, either online or in the store, so we quite appreciate that Potbelly Sandwich Shop is conscientious enough to have both, and that their staff is aware of food allergies. Even better, their allergen menus list the contaminants by component, and not simply by menu item, which is really great when figuring out if a sandwich is inherently unsafe or just unsafe because of the cheese. (Bleh, cheese.)
The setup is a glorious assembly line, from toaster to sandwich paper, and as I am a fan of both efficiency and watching my food cooked in front of me, this process was enjoyable. Basically, watching a sandwich assembly line is like watching a teppanyaki show but with chicken salad sandwiches instead of expensive Japanese food. (And no onion volcanos.) Our server was very conscious about changing his gloves and washing everything from the bread knife to the cutting board. The final product was neatly wrapped up with its own little paper bag, which came in handy later. Potbelly Sandwich Shop also has a selection of chips and sodas, like a normal sandwich place, but NOTE: the particular chips at this particular branch were all made with peanut oil. I personally have no issues with peanut oil but beware, my more sensitive Brunch with Bearees!
Of all the sandwiches that I like, chicken salad is the least likely to be allergy-friendly at a restaurant or a sandwich shop, as many places use nuts, cheese, or simply don’t know what kind of ingredients go into making chicken salad. (“It has mayonnaise? Can you eat mayonnaise? What’s in mayonnaise?” “I don’t know, sir, I was hoping you could tell me…”) It is also time-consuming to make for myself, and therefore, a very exciting sandwich to order if the opportunity presents itself.
The chicken salad was slightly spicy, but in a warm and hearty way, and it was a perfectly light meal on a hot May day. I usually hate celery, but for some reason, this addition did not bother me at all. The bread was perfectly toasty (on both sandwiches!) and able to retain its shape as I ate my sandwich. It greatly vexes me when the bread of a sandwich disintegrates or deflates to a flat cracker, as it completely destroys the ratio of fluffy bread to fluffy filling. As such, the ratio of outer sandwich to inner sandwich was both excellent and intact.
The first sandwich I received was inexplicably on wheat bread instead of white bread as I had ordered, but the server was appropriately (as in, not overly) apologetic and graciously made me the correct sandwich free of charge! I felt bad at first, but a girl with food allergies has to be comfortable asking for what she orders. The upside was that I had an extra sandwich for a long plane ride scheduled later in the day, perfectly preserved in its paper bag. (Naturally, Bear was very excited at the prospect of two sandwiches.)
Because I was catching a flight later that day, I was particularly concerned about any allergic reactions, but we were completely in the clear! The chips were strange tasting, but that certainly isn’t Potbelly Sandwich Shop’s doing and possibly due the the presence of peanut oil. All in all, a safe and scrumptious sandwich experience!
As I have mentioned before, we usually review restaurants with an abundance of noodles or restaurants with higher price-points because those are the places that have the reputation and the resources to be allergy-friendly. However, it can be very tiresome to search for mysterious benefactors and make Open Table reservations just to get a bite in a city full of food, so we are very thankful to find a reliable and enjoyable lunch spot among all the frills of fancy Midtown Manhattan.