If the (first, relatively well-fed) world can be divided into people who love breakfast and people who loathe it, then we fall squarely and firmly into the former camp. We also love sandwiches. And we’d been looking for an excuse both to try No. 7 Sub’s quasi-newish line of breakfast sandwiches, and to return to Saltie, where we hadn’t been in far too long. All of which made this week’s battle of the egg ‘n’ cheese breakfast sandwiches a bit of a no-brainer.
Both sandwich shops serve a riff on the classic form: No. 7 Sub, in dependably weird fashion, pairs scrambled eggs with smoked gouda, broccoli, ketchup, and Thai basil pesto. Saltie goes the slightly more traditional but no less inspired route with its Ship’s Biscuit, piling eggs and ricotta on a brawny square of focaccia. And so we set off on what has been one of the more gut-busting battles in recent memory.
Our first stop was No. 7 Sub, where the breakfast sandwiches are half the size of the regular sandwiches and priced accordingly. We ordered the $4 broccoli, egg, and cheese with Bryan Adams belting “Summer of ’69” in the background, and then took the sandwich to Madison Square Park.
On the face of things, ketchup and Thai basil pesto wouldn’t necessaily seem to be the most auspicious combination. But after our first bite of this sandwich, we became firm believers. Ketchup and pesto, when it comes down to it, are more or less tomatoes and pesto, a pairing that has launched many a pasta entrée. And here they make a sweet, earthy accompaniment to the eggs, which are smooth and soft as baby cheeks. The roasted broccoli is crunchy and agreeably salty, and the gouda contributes smoke and a sharp edge. The only (minor) disappointment is the bread, which, to our tastes, is a bit bland. We miss the rolls the shop originally served, which were faintly sweet and full of character. C’est la guerre.
So then it was under the river to Williamsburg, where we sat in Saltie’s window, contemplating both the scarcity of people on the sidewalks at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday and the beauty of the Ship’s Biscuit. It is, no doubt, a lovely thing, the eggs spilling out of the bronzed focaccia like rays of sunshine. It’s also massive, which made us more or less overlook the fact that at $9 it’s twice the cost of No. 7’s broccoli, egg, and cheese. It’s like a sandwich sired by a life raft.
But there’s plenty of brains to go with the brawn: The scrambled eggs are rich and fluffy, the ricotta creamy and smeared thick, the bread salty and tender. It’s messy as hell — you don’t so much pick it up and eat it as get a fork and map a strategy. But complaining about messy sandwiches is like complaining about a melting ice cream cone: Please, go find something better to do. We love a messy sandwich and we pretty much love this one, though it’s so relentlessly rich that we couldn’t finish it. While attempting to do so, we found ourselves missing the comparative complexity of No. 7’s sandwich, its unexpected textural contrasts and wackadoo but balanced flavors.
So while we considered ourselves very fortunate to have eaten both sandwiches, we concluded that if we could start the day with only one of them, it would be No. 7’s. Ketchup and pesto now occupy the same place in our heart as peanut butter and chocolate, and we’re not ashamed to admit we’re infatuated.
No. 7 Sub Shop
378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
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