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El Capitan El Capitan Joanna O'Leary

Bowled Over (Sort of) at Bowl Café

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Anyone who claims, “A good man is hard to find,” hasn’t ever searched for a decent sandwich. In my experience, there are few things more elusive than a truly excellent sandwich.  It’s amazing how something so seemingly simple is so easily messed up by misguided chefs. Needless to say, a fine balance of quality ingredients is important, but so are complementary bread and condiments, and, if appropriate, cheese. A good sandwich might require gentle heating or full-on toasting to reach perfection and the intrepid sandwich monger should know exactly what temperature best behooves his or her creation. Finally, architecture is key: a pleasantly messy sandwich can make for an entertaining lunch, but a sandwich totally falling apart leads swiftly to disgust and dissatisfaction. 

Can you tell I have high standards for sandwiches?

This code of conduct for sandwiches is why I most often make my own at home, and, perhaps, why I only think a handful of places (Hobbit Café, Mainely Sandwiches, Kenny & Ziggy’s, Brown Bag Deli) offer a consistently good variety. And please don’t even say the word “Subway” in my presence. 

For those reasons, I was more than a bit skeptical of Bowl Café. Their slogan, “More Than Just a Salad,” also didn’t help assuage my cynicism because taglines of that sort (“More Than Just Pizza!” or “More Than Just Burgers”) are usually advertised by otherwise monomaniacal establishments in a cheap attempt to seem more diverse than they really are. 

The “more” connected to Bowl Café, I soon found out, refers not only to a fairly impressive selection of sandwiches but also to the presence of thin-crust pizza. A recent trip to Pink’s meant I wasn’t in the mood for the latter, but I was very keen on trying some of the creative sandwiches. The build-your-own option definitely appealed to my inner control freak, but if I really wanted to design my own sandwich I would have eaten at home. So, in the spirit of discovering new combinations (designed by other people), I tried a half each of the “El Capitan” (prosciutto, brie, basil, honey on French bread) and the smoked salmon sandwich, which combined buttery hard-boiled egg bits, tomato, and capers on dark rye with a rather unorthodox flavor of cream cheese (lemon).  Because the summer heat had not yet abated, I asked for my El Capitan only slightly toasted and I am happy to report this modification did not screw with my tasting experience. In fact, at room temperature the brie was delightfully pungent and certainly up to standing toe to toe with the equally rich prosciutto. The basil and honey added a botanical sweetness that in turn balanced the saltier meat and cheese, while the crackly bread provided some variant texture. Absolutely delicious. 

Less impressive was the smoked salmon sandwich. The rye bread proved a poor container for the sloppy fillings and the lox was a bit dry, which necessitated alternating bites with swigs of some diet soda for lubrication. A surprise hit, however, was the lemon cream cheese, whose tart citrus notes paired terrifically with the tangy caper berries. 

Smoked Salmon Sandwich, Joanna O'Leary

On other visits to Bowl Café, I have tried and liked salads such as the lovely “Montrose” (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, pears, apples, walnuts, jack cheese, tomatoes, avocado and mixed greens), but in comparison the sandwiches shine brighter. Which then makes me think “Bowl Café” is misnamed since its best items are not eaten with a spoon. But then maybe they’ll use it as an excuse to serve ice cream as well… 

Bowl Cafe
607 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX. 77006

Bowl on Urbanspoon

Written by Joanna O'Leary
Joanna O'Leary

Joanna O'Leary

With a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard University and a PhD in Victorian literature from Rice University, Joanna O'Leary enjoys reading and writing almost as much as she likes to eat. She has worked as a food and travel writer for a number of publications including Let's Go, Wine Enthusiast, Black Book, the Onion, and the Houston Press, and is currently writing a book on amateur turn-of-the-century cookbooks and material culture.


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