Thursday, July 30, 2009

Press 195: Reinventing the sandwich and so much more

Erica Alvarez and Pablo Wolfe enjoy their drinks by the open window.
Photo by Ted Levin

By Marshall Slater

Comfort food…it’s certainly an overused couple of words and, in many respects, downplays the type of cuisine to which it refers. However, comfort food is quintessentially the expression one would use when describing the cuisine at Press 195.

Firstly, be forewarned that you will leave overstuffed. Even those with the best of intentions and the steeliest of resolve will find it quite impossible not to over-order after perusing the menu. The stuff sounds that good; and best of all, just about everything more than lives up to expectation.

This is a deservedly popular place whose reputation is consistently and appropriately growing. One visit and you will be returning; the diversity of the bill of fare is truly ponderous, the prices quite reasonable (dare we say a bargain?), and the consistency of preparation assures your fifth visit will be as satisfying as your first.

Want a snack that will satisfy? This is the right place. Want a meal to indulge? Ditto. Want to sit alone with a newspaper and enjoy a first rate sandwich that you won’t find anywhere else? Right again — come to Press 195. And for outings with a friend or a large group of compadres, you won’t find a better choice.

During the warm weather, the action is in the backyard, under the umbrellas or the tent, or the Park Slope sky. It’s a very friendly and welcoming place that’s also quite family friendly should you be toting the kids (and have no fear in this respect, either, as the menu is as “comforting” for them as it is for you). There is a separate price fixed $6 kids menu, which has all the right choices for predictable little ones.

Press 195 has been a fixture for several years but they closed some seven months ago for an extensive four month renovation, which brought new vigor to the place. They reopened just over three months ago and for many, that was not a moment too soon.

Although technically a “specialty sandwich place,” indeed, they were named the Sandwich Kings of Brooklyn by the Food Network, the term sandwich takes on considerably more meaning than that drab concoction too many of us have become complacent with.

But even before we get to the main event, Press 195 impresses. “The Knish Corner” of the menu is pure inspiration. Start off with an excellent knish, the square potato kind that used to top the steam tables of the ubiquitous Jewish delicatessens that once dotted the borough. But here the comparison ends. The kitchen then slices it open and fills it with any number of concoctions and combinations.

For instance, there is the veggie variety, which offers wonderfully fresh thin slices of green and yellow zucchini combined with a mélange of other goodies all cradled in molten mozzarella cheese, then the entire thing is pressed like a panini, so the top and bottom of the knish are seared and slightly crisped. The combination of fluffly, spiced potato with the fillings and the contrasting exterior is just addictive.

Other variations on a theme include the Steak Knish, grilled and marinated sliced steak with fresh mozzarella; turkey, Canadian bacon, tomato and Swiss cheese; roast beef, Cheddar cheese, sweet onion jam and spicy brown mustard; pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut and tangy roasted pepper dressing and the homemade meatloaf, Cheddar cheese and gravy. Well, you get the point…they are great.

Move on to the starters, such as the Buffalo Wings, wonderfully meaty (not like the anemic wings we are so used to), each like a mini chicken leg served with a thick bleu cheese dip. The wings are served either slathered in the spicy Buffalo sauce or in a sweet BBQ sauce; either one is sure to please.

Excellent too is the grilled asparagus appetizer, with snappy fresh stalks of asparagus served atop slices of tomato and thick wedges of milky mozzarella. But what really takes this dish into another realm is the addition of the house’s unique maple syrup basil pesto dressing, something that has become so addictively popular they now sell the sauce if you want to take some home.

And speaking of sauces, sample them all when you order the Belgian Fries, a variation on the French version. They are hand cut and double cooked. What makes them Belgian is that they are browned so they remain soft on the inside and slightly crunchy on the exterior. They are served wrapped in a paper cone and set into a serving tray. Order them with the dipping sauces, which include the Honey Jalapeno Mustard, sent in from upstate and a Brooklyn exclusive; or the roasted pepper (a smooth confection that’s mmm, mmm good), roasted garlic, Chipotle Jalapeno Mayo and BBQ.

Staying with the starters, there is also the very singular Hummus Plate — not your mother’s hummus plate either. This one consists of a black bean hummus, grilled marinated Portabella mushrooms, Kalamata olives and imported roasted red peppers with grilled spicy bread rounds.

And there is so much more to come.

Let’s get the long list of salads out of the way for those at your table who just must have one. Now don’t get me wrong, the salads are as creative and as satisfying as anything else on the menu, but when you come to Press 195, I want to feel my teeth tearing through the ciabatta bread on their way to my next-to-be favorite sandwich. But for the salad types, options range from the mixed greens with roasted beets, marinated onions, goat cheese and pure maple syrup walnut vinaigrette to the grilled lemon chicken with mixed greens, goat cheese, fresh orange, caramelized walnuts and a cranberry-citrus dressing, to the greens with grilled marinated sliced steak, fresh Mozzarella, corn, red pepper, tomato, Bermuda onion and a tangy creamy roasted pepper dressing.

Of course, there are also half-pound burgers available, as well as a variety of cold sandwiches, but with 40 — count ’em, 40 — hot pressed sandwich creations, you rarely find your eyes leaving that page.

Now while all the sandwiches boast entirely original and differing inspired combinations of ingredients, they all have certain aspects in common. To whit, they all come between the kitchen’s hand crafted ciabatta bread, and as we all know, what makes a great sandwich is the bread…and this is truly awesome bread. Next, portion size is always generous. And finally, prices are always moderate; you can’t spend more than $10 on a sandwich no matter how hard you try, and unless the two of you are ravenous, or you make the mistake of not ordering two different sandwiches so you can share and have double the pleasure, one sandwich tends to be plenty for two people, especially if you add on an appetizer or two (and you will), a knish or two (and you will), or the fries (ditto…you will).

The kitchen has obviously spent a long time experimenting with the different combination of ingredients that comprise each sandwich, and I have yet to find one that is not an inspired, winning mélange. Contrasting textures, tastes, ingredients, etc., all combine flawlessly. But let’s get to the specifics.

From the Turkey, Monterey Jack, fresh cilantro and Trapha­gen’s not-too-spicy Honey Jalapeno mustard to the variation on the Cuban, made up of homemade roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickle chips and roasted garlic spread, ingredients are of the highest quality and served in abundance.

The sliced ripe tomato, fresh Mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and Press 195’s famous pure maple syrup basil pesto is pure indulgence and, at $8, a bargain like all the sandwiches. My favorite, the grilled Portabella mushroom, is combined with fresh arugula and goat cheese with roasted garlic and black olive spread. The counter taste between all the ingredients is just fabulous. Choose the marinated spicy grilled chicken with onions, black bean hummus, fresh cilantro, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese; the reality is you just can’t make a bad choice and no matter how satisfied you are with your choice, you will be equally impressed when you try something different on your next visit.

There is fresh turkey, crispy bacon, Monterey Jack, tomato, Chipotle mayonnaise and guacamole, or the slice of tender grilled steak with avocado, sweet onion jam, fresh Mozzarella and creamy roasted pepper dressing; grilled lemon chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and balsamic vinegar, and the list goes on and on. So come once a day and repeat the menu every month or so…I promise you won’t get bored.

And as one might expect from a place that pays so much attention to even the smallest of details, the desserts are no mere accommodation to the end of the meal. They are reason on their own to visit. Choose the Nutelle Press with fresh banana and ice cream for two (the price is only $7.50 and remember, that’s for two). The ingredients are seared together between country white bread, where is it grilled and charred as it is with the sister confection, the Banana Bread Press, which combines fresh fruit, maple syrup and walnuts wrapped up by wonderfully fresh baked banana bread. Ice cream is added to the hot blend and you are ready for your delectable sugar fix, crunchy and sweet and oh so satisfying. Oh yes, other options include the Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie sundae.

Before we leave you, while this is a review of the food, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that Press 195 is just as popular for those looking for a liquid lunch or dinner or for those wishing to combine these two worlds. As starters, they offer six draft beers (all from boutique breweries like Harpoon UFO, Outrage IRA and Stone Levitation) and another 10 bottled beers. They are also well known for their house made sangria.

There is a full bar, plus a very diverse array of white and red wines, specialty bourbons (10 different) and eight martini concoctions.

As for catering and our final word, I will quote from their own verbiage, which I could not state better myself: “Tired of lousy subs, tasteless chicken marsala and flavorless ziti? Experience Press 195 catering.” The next party I give? The food will be coming from this kitchen.

Press 195
195 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, between Union and Sackett streets; 718-857-1950

Hours: The kitchen is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday, Thursday-Saturday until 1 am. The bar is open until midnight Sunday-Wednesday and until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Happy hour is 4-7 p.m., seven days, with $3.50 tap beers and sangria.

Most major credit cards are accepted.Live music on most weekends; call for specifics.

Private parties up to 20 accommodated; outside catering is a specialty.

There is free delivery within a two mile radius, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days.

When in Queens, visit their second location at 40-11 Bell Boulevard in Bayside; 718-281-1950.


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