Editors' pick

Sundevich

Deli
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

A world of sandwiches

By Justin Rude

Friday, Aug 26, 2011

Just a block from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Ali Bagheri is serving gourmet sandwiches from a converted garage beneath his apartment in Shaw. Sundevich is a modest counter-service operation with a menu of 11 carefully considered sandwich creations and a handful of house-made salads and sides.

The establishment is built around a philosophy that favors working with small local growers and producers instead of corporate food service giants. Bagheri, who has cooked at Equinox and Jaleo, is a partner at the nearby Seasonal Pantry, a boutique market and grocery, which helps him keep the sandwich shop stocked with what's fresh and local.

On the menu: The sandwich selection at Sundevich features a variety of global flavors. Bagheri cooks in a small, open kitchen he designed himself. His setup - a grill, broiler and range - would be minimal for a regular restaurant, but it allows a great deal of flexibility for sandwich assembly. Most meat is cooked to order, so at any given time there might be kebabs on the broiler and skirt steak on the grill.

The Jamaican-inspired Kingston is a standout. Warm and spicy jerk chicken is the only protein not cooked a la minute, but the time it spends soaking up the flavors of the allspice and habanero-heavy spice mix is well worth the (not long) wait. The island spices play perfectly with the salsa, spicy slaw and garlic mayo that share space in the crusty baguette.

Vegetarians will be happy here. Three of the 11 options are vegetarian, and the Cairo is vegan. These aren't boring, flavorless grilled-vegetable affairs. The Cairo matches bright house-brined vegetables with hummus, cucumber and walnuts; the Isfahan features a rich souffle of spinach, mushroom, walnuts and barberries (tart red berries popular in Persian cuisine); the familiar combo of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato is elevated in the Capri with garden-fresh ingredients and a balsamic reduction.

If there is a point of contention at Sundevich, it might be the bread. I like a good, crusty baguette, but some of my dining companions have found it a little tough. Bagheri explains that the crust lets the rolls, which are from Canela Bakery in Gaithersburg, stand up to the shop's freshly cooked ingredients: "We actually air them out on racks so that they develop that thick crust," he says. "The meat coming off the grill is really juicy, and the bread needs to be able to absorb that."

On the side: Sundevich's sides and salads are prepared and packaged each morning before the shop opens. The salads are made with fresh produce and are quite simple compared with the more-imaginative sandwich options. The sides are often just as good as the main attractions. Try the spicy slaw, which lives up to its name, and the thick, creamy potato salad.

Hit the road: Is a food truck in his future? In addition to catering, Bagheri says he would like to look into selling his sandwiches to a wider audience by way of a mobile kitchen.

Bottom line: For a quick takeout lunch or an easy after-work meal, Sundevich is a great neighborhood sandwich spot.