I have always admired those who can successfully sell simplicity. In the food world, being simple isn’t easy. Frills can cover a multitude of sins. When complicated concoctions are stripped of their bells and whistles, they often fall flat due to less-than-perfect execution. Simplicity is also easy to ignore. Take the typical potluck dessert table. A beautiful tarte fine will almost always end the night missing only a few polite slivers, while that mammoth ganache-covered, dragée-encrusted, white chocolate curl-adorned, mini chocolate chip-packed chocolate cheesecake with a name like “chocolate explosion” will always be the first to go, no matter how it tastes.
Well, Cutty’s sandwich shop is an example of simplicity that cannot be ignored. When I work in Brookline Village, I’m there once a week, and that’s a lot for someone who nearly always packs a lunch. For a long time, I have hesitated writing a review of my go-to lunch spot. For one, it’s very well-known now, and I don’t need the line to be any longer or the specials to sell out any faster. Although it warrants it — of course, it warrants it — it seemed like writing a review of Cutty’s would be like writing a design piece on the furnishings of a neighbor’s home or a “hot or not” assessment of a best friend’s fashion choice.
But Cutty’s needs to be recognized on this blog as an example of simplicity at its best. A Cutty’s sandwich is just a sandwich. It’s not served with a side of frisée or frites, and it cannot be ordered with a fried egg topper. Ingredients aren’t piled a mile high, and sauces don’t splash out the sides. What makes the sandwiches special is their flavor combinations that are familiar yet finessed. Each component is prepared expertly and carefully. While I’ve eaten my way through almost every sandwich, salad and dessert and have re-ordered all of those, I thought I’d highlight just two items: the expected and the unexpected.
The Roast Beef 1000 at Cutty’s needs no introduction. It is the most pilgrimage-inspiring item on the menu, even though it wasn’t the sandwich from which owner Charles Kelsey planned to receive his fame. It’s simple: the meat is done right. It’s dry-salted overnight to ensure succulent, juicy meat when slow-roasted. The peppery outer ridge is just as pleasing as the medium center. Shallots are fried to crisp perfection and add a subtle bite and a nice contrast to the modest mountain of tender meat and soft slice of cheddar. The most surprising part for me is the housemade thousand island dressing that is smeared on the bun. As a Dijon devotee, I was skeptical, but I love how the light sweetness doesn’t become overly aggressive when coupled with the sharp cheese and how the tang brightens the buttery richness of the beef. It’s held together with a brioche bun from Iggy’s that has a sturdy, shiny crust but that is soft and not too cumbersome.
For me, the unsung hero of the Cutty’s lineup is the Chickpea Carrot Salad. The salads at Cutty’s are actually good enough to make me take a break from their lunches served between bread. This one is truly unique. Crunchy grated carrots are intertwined with creamy chickpeas. Their sweet and nutty flavors are kicked in the rear by a zesty and liberally spiced dressing, or rather, marinade that’s peppered with cilantro and finely ground almonds that make it pleasantly gritty. It’s served very cold (most likely from the fridge), but I like to let it sit for a little, so I can really appreciate the earthy flavors.
Expected or unexpected, I have yet to have a breakfast bite, lunch special, sandwich, salad or baked good that hasn’t been utterly simple but completely stellar from my friendly neighborhood sandwich shop.