Birdbath Bakery’s recently opened outpost in the New Museum has a full menu of all of the eco-minded bakery’s greatest hits, including Our Man Sietsema’s beloved “Old School” vegetarian sandwich. Packed full of sprouts, avocado, and other vegetable matter, it is, Sietsema has written, “a thumbnail history of vegetarian cuisine.”
A mere three blocks north of the New Museum sits Peels. The Freemans offshoot also offers a sandwich that would do any Berkeley gray-hair proud: christened the Flower Child, it flaunts sprouts, avocado, and whole grains. Between Peels and Birdbath, the Bowery has never seen so much dietary fiber.
There are only so many ways you can tart up (or screw up) sprouts and avocados, but still, we figured there had to be a few notable differences between the two establishments’ interpretations of the iconic sandwich. And so we commenced this week’s battle.
First, we purchased Birdbath’s $7.50 Old School. Although mindful of Maury Rubin’s earlier comment that “in the real world of 2010,” $7.50 is “a fair number,” we were still a bit taken aback by the sandwich’s dainty proportions. It looked like something that could be served at a dollhouse tea party, or perhaps more accurately a doll-sized Workers Party committee meeting.
Still, the two slices of multi-grain bread looked hearty enough, and boasted a tanned, robust crust. They housed a bounty of mixed sprouts, carrot shavings, and avocado, the latter of which came both smeared on the bread and in creamy blobs.
The first — and second, third, and fourth – bite convinced us that while the Old School may be an inherently un-showy sandwich, it’s also an excellent one. And that is thanks entirely to the quality of its few ingredients, each of which is fresh and left alone to speak clearly of its own virtues. The bread is soft, nutty, and full-bodied, and its crust toasty and chewy. And the avocado seems to have been brightened a bit with lemon, which is a thoughtful touch. The sum of the sandwich’s parts are wholesome, but not in an obnoxious way — the emphasis rests on flavor, not piety.
Next, we made our way to Peels and forked over $8 for the Flower Child. While we’re used to the price tags on Peels’ sandwiches, we were still a bit put off by paying only a dollar less for the sandwich than we did for the smoked trout variety, which comes on a stout roll and is stuffed full of fish. Because like the Old School, the Flower Child is pretty small — its two slices of multi-grain have the same dimensions as Wonder Bread, and sandwich a spray of alfalfa sprouts, slivered raw purple onion, sliced cucumbers, and a thick smear of avocado. It looks like something a harried vegan mom would throw together for her offspring as she tried to get everyone out the door to school. It is also very green.
That said, the sandwich, like the Old School, earns points for its fresh ingredients. The avocado spread is reminiscent of guacamole, and the onions do their best to perk up the alfalfa sprouts, which are, well, sprouty. The bread doesn’t quite have the heft of Birdbath’s — it’s totally average multi-grain, agreeable enough, but lacking that chewy crust. All told, it’s a nice enough sandwich, but “nice enough” doesn’t really inspire us to spend $8.
So while there’s nothing particularly utopian about either sandwich’s price tag, the winner of this battle is Birdbath. Its bread gives it the edge, and on a completely superficial note, it just looks more appealing, thanks largely to the bright-orange carrots. But whichever you choose, you might take a minute to savor the fact that both sandwiches encapsulate not only a thumbnail history of hippie cuisine, but also the total overhaul of the Bowery. If spending eight bucks for alfalfa sprouts on Joey Ramone Place doesn’t send you into a fit of ironic pique, then nothing will.
Birdbath Bakery at the New Museum