Thursday, August 9, 2012
It wasn’t the kind of message you’d expect from a lunch delivery spot: “You know what to do, you know when to do it.”
Actually – having only heard of the essentially undercover sandwich service from a friend – I didn’t know what to do, or when to do it either. So I hung up.
Minutes later I received a call, “I missed your call a little while ago, this is Dave, or Hero’s.”
That led to good things: an array of gourmet sandwiches and thoughtful sides delivered to my door precisely at the 1pm promised.
Bluetooth receiver in ear, chef-owner Dave Halasz showed up and spoke with conviction when explaining his love of Palermo Bakery bread and his hatred of Taco Bell.
“This area has simply amazing produce that you can’t get other places,” he says. “Too many people eat fast food for lunch, or don’t eat at all because they can’t get out of the office. I wanna make it easier for people to eat better.”
Halasz internalized classic French training at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I., where he also learned the business of being a chef, but he says it’s the experience of working under several champions of “haute cuisine” around the country, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Ken Oringer, that really taught him to cook – and pushed him west.
“Like clothes, food is very fashionable,” he explains. “I was always trying to put myself in the best restaurants, but I got tired of following the trends.”
So Halasz ditched his Miami home for California, starting off behind the counter of The Cheese Shop in Carmel and working banquets at Spanish Bay.
He soon opened a booth at the sprouting Pacific Grove Farmers Market, then traded in the table for a bicycle trailer and coasted along the recreation trail in search of hungry strollers. It’s when he started soliciting the grease monkeys of Sand City’s auto mall that his current vision materialized.
“Mechanics eat better than anybody,” Halasz says.
True – at least if they’re scarfing down the same French-style seasonal offerings delivered to my doorstep, like the sizeable Chunky Turkey Hero ($7/whole, $4/half, like almost all Hero sandwiches) with garlic-roasted turkey breast, a noticeably homemade mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, which satisfies without inducing a food coma. And the Goat Basque ($7/$4), which delivers big with goat cheese, salty marcona almonds, lightly roasted bell peppers and green olives, all covered in herbs de Provence on sourdough.
“Chefs always say they don’t have a favorite,” says Halasz. “I’m not like that. The Goat Basque is totally enjoyable in terms of technique and flavor, and after two bites I already want another. It’s haunting.”
While the Bourbon and Coke Hero ($7/$4) – with roast beef slow-cooked for 10 hours in bourbon and Coke – sounded like a promising conversation starter and a succulent marriage of beef and booze, the absence of either beverage’s flavor in the very tender meat disappointed. But Halasz succeeds with the Cuban Hero ($7/$4). Inspired by a traditional medianoche sandwich, which Halasz describes as the perfect end to a night of drinking, the hit-every-note torpedo turned on taste buds I wasn’t aware I had. It’s surprisingly juicy, thanks to the sweet and tangy garlic citrus sauce, layered with pulled pork, crunchy pickle slices, Swiss cheese, soft sauteed onions and finished with a slice of tomato and romaine lettuce.
There’s also a California Hero ($7/$4) for vegetarians, starring pickled cucumbers, shredded carrots and chopped cilantro for a Vietnamese banh mi-like base, then graced with a happy helping of avocado, tomato slices and basil to make it Californian. A praiseworthy sandwich, at least as far as the fillings – my herd of hungry co-workers was accurate in agreeing the bread was yummy, but overabundant. Other items we didn’t try include the Tuna Caper Hero on rustic Italian bread ($7/$4), the BBQ Chicken Hero coated in Boo’s Sloppin’ Sauce and a curiously Mexican slaw ($7/$4) and the Buffalo Hero ($4), where thick slices of fresh marinated mozzarella join dandelion greens, citrus segments and olive tapenade on a slender baguette.
The sides are as impressively nuanced as the sandwiches, including the potato salad ($1), pleasingly zinged with pickle juice and apple cider vinegar, and the pasta salad ($1), tossed in light sour cream and the same tangy vinegar.
The jicama salad ($8), though, is the standout. Halasz juliennes and tosses the jicama in citrus aioli, tarragon and mint and tops it with a generous mound of poached baby shrimp complemented by a trio of grapefruit, oranges and Persian lime slices. It’s lightly dressed, letting the crunch of the jicama stand out while being brightened by the light blanket of tart-yet-creamy aioli.
Currently, Hero runs out of a friend’s restaurant kitchen at an undisclosed location in Pacific Grove. Though business is rocky – and Halasz earnestly scouts an affordable alternative to styrofoam – he hopes to find his own space for Hero in the future and expand from there, broadening event catering offerings as he goes.
In reference to his “please order by 10:30am” menu disclaimer, Halasz offers this: “If someone’s hungry and stuck at the office at 5 and they are going to be there until 9, I am honored to find them something to eat.”
In other words, we now know what to do – and when to do it is negotiable.
HERO SANDWICHES Order early to ensure availability • Weekly menus can be found online on Hero Facebook page or www.hero-sandwiches.com • 917-0705.