The basics are done well at Earl's Sandwiches, a friendly new carryout cafe located on the eastern edge of Clarendon's lively restaurant corridor.
Step inside on a Saturday morning and employee Katie Fitzpatrick and co-owner Steve Dugan will be making breakfast sandwiches to order. The locals are lucky to have such a worthy alternative to standing in line for spongy stacks of franchise pancakes: Not-too-thick, square slices of sourdough are brushed with butter and lightly toasted on the outside only, so the beaten egg and custom fillings are cushioned in softer, chewy bread ($2.59 to $4.99). "It's really good, and more convenient than making it at home," says customer Allison Geballe of Arlington, with her husband Josh and 18-month-old son Will.
Long before the lunch rush looms, Dugan has grilled eggplant slices for the day's orders of Mona Lisas (a "vegetarian masterpiece," $6.29). Every other day, he roasts the turkey, top round and pork loin for his other signature sandwiches. The portions are generous but not gargantuan, dressed with nice homemade touches and served on fresh ciabatta and sourdough breads made locally with no preservatives.
"There's a lot of processed stuff out there," says Dugan, a 39-year-old Adams Morgan resident whose business partners are investor Maurice Roche and John Snedden, founder of Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Co., where Dugan once worked.
His simple concept for Earl's (as in the Earl of Sandwich) is clear. The satisfying Louie (roasted turkey with pesto mayonnaise, $6.29) and Monty (roasted beef, served warm with a zippy barbecue sauce made in-house, $5.99) already have earned a loyal clientele. But the classics hold their own in Earl's lineup, such as the BLT ($4.29), cheeseburger (lean yet juicy, served on a Big Marty sesame roll, $4.99) and all-beef hot dog with chili ($2.49). Soups, chili without beans, side salads and hand-cut french fries, all made from scratch, round out the menu.
A half-dozen sandwiches were recently added, including a few more vegetarian options. And Dugan now sells his Monty barbecue sauce (12-ounce jar, $3.99) and special-recipe cranberry relish (eight ounces, $2.29). But you might be happier to let Earl's do the fixin'.
--Bonnie Benwick (February, 2006)