We make the BEST sandwich on the island." Such was the claim I noticed, while cruising food Websites one day, of a place I normally would have cruised right past in my car, given the island in question. Key Biscayne is, to put it kindly, not exactly a worth-a-special-drive destination for seekers of tasty cheap eats.
The capital letters hooked me. The best sandwich is one thing. The BEST is quite another, especially for an ex-Manhattanite, when combined with the "deli" part of Ad Gustum's name and a "New York, New York" sandwich that sounded like an improvement on the classic Reuben (corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut plus pastrami on rye) on the menu.
This is one sandwich that should be taken off the menu quickly, before some more recently transplanted, still temperamentally type A Manhattanite realizes how easy it is to buy handguns down here. Neither the alleged corned beef nor the alleged pastrami were anything a New Yorker would recognize; in fact it was impossible to tell which of the two mystery meats was which. The brownish-gray one resembled some nightmare Oscar Mayer version of a palomilla steak: simultaneously somehow both dry and gelatinous in texture, and flavor-free. (I suspect it was turkey pastrami, something that should come with a warning sticker.) A few marginally pinker slices that were probably the corned beef tasted no less like packaged lunch meat. The rye bread was indescribable, except that an entire loaf of the insubstantial stuff could've been squeezed into a wad the size of a golf ball.
Other sandwiches were better, most notably a chivito. This Uruguayan "little goat" sandwich actually contains steak, ham, cheese, fried eggs, and a sautéed peppers/onion mix (plus wisps of lettuce and tomato, for health). After downing the high-cholesterol combo, diners are likely to feel as if they've ingested a small goat. Ad Gustum's gratifyingly greasy version lived up to the chivito's nickname, "heart attack on a bun."
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The roast pork in a Cuban sandwich was real, rather than the stuff from a deli roll a plus. Unfortunately, though, the meat had been reheated on a grill, parching it badly. Some pickles would have helped moisturize it, but none, though promised on the menu, was on the sandwich. An otherwise passable pan con lechn suffered from the same juice-sucking reheating method, and from no discernible mojo.
Better than the sandwiches were Ad Gustum's salads: a shrimp rendition whose crustaceans were small but perfectly cooked; chicken salad with huge white meat chunks, minimal mayo, and multicolor peppers subbing for the usual celery; and mixed greens featuring romaine and mesclun rather than boring iceberg.
Best was another nonsandwich offering: matambre. This Argentine "hunger killer" a pinwheel of marinated beef rolled with spinach, peppers, onions, hard-boiled eggs, and herbs always looks wonderful but, depending on seasoning and cooking, can taste bland or dry. In Ad Gustum's version, the stuffing was remarkably savory and the meat so succulent it needed neither sauce nor extra salt. It was a BEST truly worthy of its capital letters.