For a sandwich in Seoul, this will doSo it’s come to this. His palate jaded by overly exotic Asian fusion cuisines, his wallet wounded by glitzy south-of-the-river dining palaces and his enthusiasm dulled by one too many dire restaurants, your reviewer finds himself standing before the portals of a humble franchise eatery in Itaewon.
But it has promise. I was recommended this joint by fellow Joongang Daily contributor Mark Russell, who raved about the fare here in such enthusiastic tones that I half expect to see the place appear in this year’s Oscar nominations. What decided it for me, though, was the fact that the fare in question consists largely of sandwiches.
When the fourth Earl of Sandwich originated his culinary tradition at an all-night gambling session in London in 1765, he could scarcely have imagined the gruesome abominations that would be disgracing his family name in Seoul a mere 238 years later. Sweet, characterless breads and horrifically, appallingly mismatched ingredients (example? Try processed cheese, chunks of Spam, gherkins, iceberg lettuce and cocktail cherries) make a decent sandwich in Seoul a rarer find than an honest politician. Making a sandwich is hardly rocket science, so why do so many Seoul sandwich makers get it so spectacularly wrong so frequently? It is a mystery ― and it is the scarcity of edible sandwiches that lures us to Itaewon’s Schlotzsky’s Deli.
On the ground floor is seating, the service station and a magazine rack offering bookish diners a range of fine journals (including this one). Decor is a lot of exposed brick, huge colorful murals of farmers and bakers doing their respective things, and stacks of equally colorful tins of Schlotzsky’s produce (empty ― we checked).
Upstairs, from the second-floor windows you can gaze out as the wildlife of Itaewon ― obnoxious stall owners, gawking GIs, bearded Muslims, geriatric streetwalkers and the occasional bemused tourist ― flows by below. As a spectacle, it is not quite the Serengeti Plains, but is diverting in its own way. Aural ambience is a selection of golden oldies from the ‘50s,’60s and ‘70s, and it is all quite relaxing.
When you order, you receive an electronic thingy that flashes red lights and vibrates, indicating that your grub is ready to collect. Once ours starts quivering and flashing, yours truly descends to pick up the order, and our tale begins.
First: a Chinese Chicken Salad, at 6,900 won ($5.85), offers tangerine segments, slices of chicken breast, lettuce and shredded carrot. It is of substantial size and the breast is rather good ― as is the Caesar dressing. But this is a deli, and the real story is the sandwiches. First, a large Pastrami and Swiss (large: 7,500 won). Wedged between slices of black bread, this offers a thick serving of moist, pink pastrami and a touch of melted cheese. It proves very good ― the standout of the meal. A Ham and Cheese Original (large: 7,500 won), in warm muffin bread, is nicely stuffed with ham, and the gherkins are also a pleasant touch, but the cheese is of the plastic (sorry, processed) variety. Weakest by far is the Original Cheese (small: 5,500 won), which has damn little cheese, instead offering a dominant taste of French’s American mustard. A pattern emerges here: the meats are very good, the cheeses not so. (Note to Schlotzsky’s: Consider offering a Caesar salad sandwich. You could cut the croutons). There are also pizzas on offer, but as one of Seoul’s finest wood ovens is a few minutes’ walk away at La Tavola, this is not a core competency here. To finish, we try the homemade cookies, but these are, while pleasantly crumbly, too sweet by far. Yuk. Service seems pleasant enough (although they got our order wrong).
As for drinks: there is good news, there is bad news. The good? For 1, 500 won you can glug as much as you like. The bad? That price is for sodas ― and there is no booze. There are designer coffees, but this does not make up for the lack of wine and beer. Next time I will smuggle in a couple of cans, and although this newspaper’s editorial policy is not to advise criminal activity, in the interests of a rounded dining experience, I see no alternative but for readers to do the same.
Verdict: This business sits somewhere between the blah burger chains and the frenetic (and over-priced) family franchise diners. In just about any other globalized city with a per capita GDP north of $10,000, Schlotzsky’s wouldn’t merit a review, but considering the scarcity of edible sandwiches in Seoul, the place gets a conditional thumbs up.
English menu; English spoken.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m. (according to staff), 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (according to website), daily.
Tel: 793- 3539.
No parking site.
by Andrew Salmon
From Itawon subway station (line No. 6), take exit 4; walk west. Schlotzsky’s is about 50 meters along on the left. For more information try www.cooldeli.co.kr.