By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
One is that "café" is an awfully optimistic description for a totally unatmospheric lunch-counter space in a downscale minimall, with only four or five tiny tables lining one wall; a planned 600-foot expansion should help, but the 1909 definitely feels more like a take-out joint than a café conducive to hanging out.
But the main reason is that the 1909 does a darn good sandwich. What makes these generously filled six-inch torpedoes better than most other subs in town can be pinned down to two elements: superior bread (white or whole-wheat French bread, white or wheat hoagie rolls, or wraps; the white baguette is especially good, owing to crunchy crust) and extremely interesting specialty sandwich spreads. In place of mere mayo or plain oil and vinegar, sandwiches are typically seasoned with a subtle house vinaigrette plus one of many flavored mayonnaises, including honey-mustard, curry, lemon-dill, chili, apricot, and a garlic aioli that, I warn you strongly, is so succulent you may never try the rest. (An additional warning: Do monitor your sandwich maker; though service is friendly, I've more than once gotten sandwiches with anywhere from one to five ordered ingredients missing.)
My favorite is the $6.50 Godfather, an impressive construction of salami, capicola, ham, and mozzarella, plus vinaigrette, aioli, and all the classic Italian-grinder toppings: lettuce (romaine instead of personalityless iceberg: yea!), tomato, onions, pickles, and hot -- but not too hot -- peppers. To transform a substantial sub into an Ultimate, add prosciutto, expensive at $2.25 extra but worth it. As a responsible reviewer, I must mention that the 1909 menu's descriptions of the Italian cold cuts as "the finest" and "premium" are a bit exaggerated; we're not talking prosciutto di Parma here. But the meats decidedly beat supermarket and chain-sub-shop stuff in quality. And as a famous New York food writer discovered a few years ago when he substituted Veuve Cliquot for prosecco in an attempt to upgrade a Bellini, the most expensive ingredients do not always make the tastiest product. Trust me: I've tried creating the Ultimate Italian sub using tender San Daniele prosciutto, artisan salami from Belluno, buffalo mozzarella ... and frankly, 1909's more challengingly chewy prosciutto and the blander and less intrusively aggressive salami make for a far better sandwich.
Skip the "rare" roast beef sub, carnivores, unless you like well-done beef. But both pork sandwiches satisfy: a hot Midnight (improved by honey mustard in place of plain) and a cold Farmers featuring lean loin slices plus the toppings. I favor fatty roast pork, but 1909's virtually fatless meat is surprisingly moist considering its greaselessness -- gentrified hog heaven for lunchers oriented toward fitness not fatness.
For nonmeat eaters 1909's selection of fish and vegetable subs is both extensive and imaginative. Especially recommended are the French Vegetarian (Brie, artichoke hearts, sprouts, tomato, lettuce, onion, and lemon-dill mayo) and both tuna offerings: a California (featuring sprouts, avocado, tomato, and mozzarella) and a classic Swiss-cheese melt; fresh herbs are what make this tuna so terrific.
There are, by the way, nonsandwich items on the menu. But the pizza uses French bread rather than real crust, the salads mostly use iceberg lettuce -- pedestrian stuff. Go for the limo.