Bleu has a build-your-own-sandwich menu that puts your sad little lunchbox to shame, with options like Ahi tuna, sweet Thai chili sauce, Bermuda onions, local goat cheese, and fried tomato.
Here's how it works: Take your menu card and mark your choice of protein from options like 100 percent Angus beef, fried catfish, or a portabello mushroom cap. Follow it up with your preference of temperature. (Obviously this matters less with the marinated chicken breast than with the sliced sirloin steak.) Then home in on the bread to suit your mood. Fried catfish? Opt for a poor-boy French bread. Going for lean with chicken breast? Try a tortilla wrap. Hankering for a burger? For an additional $3 you can have it on a grilled cheese bun — your burger placed between two grilled cheese sandwiches.
The rest of the menu plays out much as you would expect, with plenty of room for innovation and a chance for blunders as well. Six sauces, six cheeses, 10 regular toppings, and five premium toppings await your selection. How well do Jarslberg Swiss, fried egg, and something called Spicy Fancy Sauce go together? There's only one way to find out, and the joy of having all those sauces and cheeses and toppings at the flick of your pen is worth the gamble. You might just find a new favorite sandwich.
Bleu, 221 S. Third (334-5950)
If you're less inclined to build your own sandwich and prefer to leave your meal in the hands of a trained professional, Chef Connor O'Neill at eighty3 is your man. For a little over a month, he has been emailing out a list of weekly signature sandwich specials, using the lunch hour as a canvas for his vision of the perfect mid-day meal.
"People in downtown Memphis, it takes them 10 or 15 minutes to get down an elevator and then they've got to walk somewhere and get their food and get back out — they really only have about 20 minutes of time," O'Neill says. "The most efficient way to give them the same quality of food that we give to our nighttime diners was to figure out how to get the products into a format that's easy to cook, and sandwiches have always been the answer."
O'Neill has been dedicated to the art of the sandwich since his days in the Army.
"I love a good sandwich. When I was in boot camp, anything that fit between two pieces of bread was about as much time as you had to eat," he says. "It got me started there."
Now ask him about any of his menu items, and you'll see how far he's come from the days when whatever-fits-between-two-slices-of-bread was the standard. He eagerly explains, at length, how each component contributes to a complete flavor and texture profile.
"I like layers of texture and flavor," O'Neill says. "If I have a sharp meat like salami, with a lot of meaty, fatty flavor, I'll want a vinegar to contrast that, something like a slaw. Then I'm going to be looking for a good bread, something that's going to stand up to the flavors and soak up some of that saltiness but be firm enough not to get soggy. Next, I'm looking for something creamy, like a Provolone cheese, and then finally I need a smoky or grilled flavor, so I'm going to grill my bread."
O'Neill can wax poetic about any of his sandwiches, from his pulled-pork wrap to his steak sandwich, to his grilled cheese with Gruyère, leek fondue, mushrooms, and a Parmesan-encrusted bread. No wonder he gets excited enough to plan his sandwich offerings two weeks in advance.
Any of the sandwiches can also be ordered as a salad or wrap and will run you about $10. In a hurry? O'Neill encourages patrons to order in advance and swing by to pick up a quick bite on the way to Court Square or back to the office.
eighty3, 83 Madison (333-1224)