Friday, July 19, 2024

The vegan club at Somerville’s Diesel Cafe. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The new year always has us health-conscious for a nanosecond, and then it’s back to regular routines until the following year. Maybe there are people out there with stronger wills than mine, but if you’re still at it and looking for lighter fare that won’t fill you up, here are some solid sandwich go-tos.

The vegan club at Somerville’s Forge Bakery, Bloc and its mothership, Diesel Cafe, is a combo of roasted tofu, avocado, tempeh bacon, tomato and Sriracha mayo topped with mixed greens on sourdough. It’s surprising in its texture and flavor – much meatier than you’d expect – and that combination of fresh veggies, bit of Sriracha spice and plant-based proteins is wholly satisfying.

Similar in result is the smoked turkey and cranberry sandwiches at the Flour bakery-cafés around town. The lean roasted turkey comes with a light, tangy cranberry chutney accented with sage mayo, mixed greens and aged cheddar atop fresh multigrain bread. In one bite you get Thanksgiving dinner with your New Year’s resolution. Like that vegan club, it’s simple yet deceptively complex in the combination of flavors working together, and it feels guilt free. The concoction is part of Flour’s new sandwich special slate that includes country ham on a fresh and chewy baguette with aged cheddar, pickles and butter – who can say no to pickles and butter? – and a grilled mushroom melt, an earthy and addictive assemblage of sautéed morels, smoked gouda, gruyere, caramelized onions and sherry on sourdough bread arranged in a heart shape. The sherry and caramelized onions together are subtly evocative of a bœuf bourguignon.

Sandwiches at Flour in Cambridge, including one with smoked turkey and cranberry, can come arranged into a heart. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The cafes are popular sit-and-study spots that have pretty advanced online or in-cafe ordering systems. The P&K Delicatessen on Beacon Street, the Somerville and Cambridge town line, feels like dialing back in time.

The deli opened in 1952 and is in its third generation of operation, and is the very definition of old school. Open from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., inside is a classic bodega/spa with canned goods, snacks, breads and home needs on racks with a sparkling deli counter at the end. You can get meats to go, but the subs here are an experience. The menu’s not vast and leads with classics such as your basic Italian, chicken parm and meatball/sausage combo; in the morning, P&K serves egg and sausage sandwiches. But I’d direct your eyes – and they best be big – to the Dagwood.

The Dagwood at The P&K Delicatessen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

In “Blondie,” the equally old-school comic strip (it began running in 1930), husband Dagwood Bumstead is often featured making a sandwich piled high with a variety of meats and cheeses. At P&K’s it’s some of the leanest and rarest roast beef and moist roast turkey you’ll ever put in your mouth. The rest is up to you. For me it’s light mayo, lettuce, pickles and black pepper. The result is a feast that could almost be lunch and dinner. The sandwiches are served on super soft and chewy braided sub rolls delivered each morning fresh from the Winter Hill Bakery – the bread is sublime. There’s nowhere to sit down at P&K, but it is affirming to step through the doors and back to a simpler, less tech-driven time. Want to order ahead? Pick up the phone and call.

Diesel Cafe, 257 Elm St., Davis Square; Bloc, 11 Bow St., Union Square; and Forge Baking Co., 626 Somerville Ave., Ward Two, Somerville

P&K Delicatessen, 244 Beacon St., Ward Two, Somerville

Flour Bakery + Café, 40 Erie St., Cambridgeport; 114 Mount Auburn St., Harvard Square; and 190 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridgeport near Central Square, Cambridge

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Want to learn how to make sushi or hand-pulled noodles like a James Beard-nominated chef? During January and February, Tracy Chang, the can-do owner and chef at Pagu, offers hands-on instruction in making noodles and sushi rolls. You get to eat your handiwork, too. For dates and times and to sign up, see Pagu’s website and get your toque on.


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.