Danny Meyer’s Sandwiched at the Whitney Museum Biennial

On Saturday I went to the 2010 Whitney Biennial with my friend Justin and his ol’ lady. I’ll tell you, I was actually more excited about the food options at the museum than the exhibit. I mean, 2008’s biennial sucked a big ol’ donkey’s ass and I vowed not to ever go to another.

Well, that was until Danny Meyer stuck a pop-up sandwich venue in the museum’s basement level. Apparently the cafe space, which formerly housed a Sarabeth’s location, is undergoing renovation. I don’t know what’s coming next there, but I was happy to give Sandwiched a go. I’m a big fan of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, and I love sandwiches. High expectations.

The concept: Mr. Meyer had the chefs from his burgeoning empire each create a sandwich for the cafe. You can read more about that on the Serious Eats New York post that Ed Levine did, where Ed recommends the “Heritage Ham and Sharp Cheddar” and the “Applewood-Smoked Turkey and Gouda” sandwiches (Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and Kenny Callaghan of Blue Smoke, respectively).

My favorite sandwich is a ham and cheese. Prosaic, I know, but I love them. So I feel I can speak with some authority about them. What I had on Saturday was good but not in my opinion “the perfect sandwich,” as Ed called it in his review. And certainly not for $9.75. Yes, the potato roll was the perfect bread for this sandwich, and it was well balanced in terms of relative ingredient amounts, but it just seemed to lack the flavor of some of the masterful ham sandwiches I’ve had in the city.

Two ham-and-cheese sandwiches I’d much rather have? The ham and gruyère at Dickson’s in the Chelsea Market and, my favorite, the Madrange ham and Emmenthaler cheese at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center. Those sandwiches are worth the premium prices.

I was set to try the turkey sandwich Ed recommended, but something else caught my eye: the “Knoll Crest Egg”—slab bacon, cheddar curds, Bibb lettuce, and tomato marmalade on pain de mie roll ($7.50). So we went with that instead. Of the two sandwiches that Justin and I split we both liked the egg one a little more. The tomato marmalade was at times a tiny bit much — like ultraconcentrated ketchup — but it had more flavor overall than the ham sandwich. Even then, it reminded me too much of the BLT with egg salad that you can get at Cafe Zaiya — which is about half the price.

All this is disappointing, as most of Mr. Meyer’s restaurants are solid and because his Cafe 2 at the Museum of Modern Art (at a similar price point) is very good.

The funny thing was that I actually enjoyed this year’s biennial. It was not only “better than 2008” (stepping in a pile of dog shit would be aesthetically superior to that year’s show) but it actually had some pretty strong stuff in it. So in the end, my expectations were reversed. I will be back for the 2012 Biennial but if an overpriced sandwich shop is part of the equation, I’ll take my lunch at the hot dog cart at the museum entrance.

Update (7/28/2011)

First, Sandwiched is no longer at the Whitney. It’s been replaced by another Danny Meyer joint called, playfully, Untitled. I’ve heard good things.

Second, I just had an updated version of this ham and cheese sandwich at the Serious Eats All-Star Sandwich Festival, which took place on Governors Island on July 23, 2011. That ham and cheese was MASTERFUL. The ham was shaved much thinner, almost veering into pulled-pork territory, and it was topped with a just-enough amount of pickled vegetables — julienned carrots and shredded cabbage. It’s damn near perfect. Apparently it’s often available as part of Gramercy Tavern’s soup-and-sandwich lunch special in the bar area.

That is all. Carry on.