Best Banh Mi In A Garland Parking Lot

A while back, I read an article from the Dallas Observer called, “Two of Texas’ Best Vietnamese Sandwich Shops Share a Garland Parking Lot.” It told the story of Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli.

From the story:

Two of the best banh mi shops in the region — arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States — make their homes in Garland, where they stare each other down across a shared parking lot. Just one suburban stretch of asphalt apart, Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli compete for the title of best banh mi in metro Dallas.

But I wanted to know: Which one is better?

The answer is not so simple, of course. Quoc Bao and Saigon Deli are equally great but for different reasons, and any diner’s preference will depend on taste. It all boils down to the fundamental question which professors in Dijon-stained tweed jackets ask on the first day of Sandwich Philosophy 101: Which is more important to the sandwich, really great bread or really great filling?

A quick check of the map confirmed what I had already suspected – the aforementioned parking lot was at Jupiter and Walnut – three miles of residential streets including two miles of dedicated bike lanes. Perfect bicycle riding distance.

Now I am already a fan of banh mi and already have two go-to spots. One is the branch of Lee’s Sandwiches in Cali Saigon at Jupiter and Beltline – a half-mile from my house. The other is the Nammi Food truck (which now has a brick-n-mortar location in the Dallas Farmer’s Market). But hey, how am I going to turn down “The Best?”

So I rigged my folding bike for hot summer riding (the temperature was flirting with triple digits) which means I filled a half-gallon Nalgene bottle with ice and water, enclosed it in an insulated cooler that fit it tightly, and clipped it to the crossrack on the back of the bike.

Despite the heat, the ride down wasn’t unpleasant at all. I had been tracking all my rides with a phone app and keeping my average miles on a spreadsheet I devised. However, recently, I have been studying a short book The Bicycle Effect: Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer. It has me thinking more and more of cycling as a mindfulness exercise as well as a means of transportation. I have embraced being the world’s slowest cyclist and putting aside goals of distance and speed – other than the obvious need to make sure it is possible to get where I want to go.

I chose Saigon Deli for my first visit, for no particular reason. Will have to go for the bread at Quoc Bao Bakery next time.

Banh Mi sandwich, Mango Smoothie, and Bicycle Helmet at Saigon Deli, Garland, Texas

Sandwich Menu at Saigon Deli, Garland, Texas

The store was bright, cheery, and clean. I ordered a #1 combination sandwich ($3.50) and a Mango Smoothie (also $3.50). It was very good. Best in the world? Best in Garland? Best in the parking lot?

We’ll see. It was worth the bike ride in the heat though, and that’s all that’s important.

Verti Marte

“I always tell my kids to cut a sandwich in half right when you get it, and the first thought you should have is somebody else. You only ever need half a burger.”
― Louis C.K.

For a week in New Orleans I was walking back and forth from the Writing Marathon location in the French Quarter to my son’s house in Treme. I noticed a little place on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Street called the Verti Marte. It wasn’t much to write home about, a tiny little bodega, but I thought it might be a good place to pick up groceries on the way home. My son, Lee, used to live near there so I asked him about it.

Verti Marte, Royal and Governor Nicholls, French Quarter, New Orleans

“Verti Marte? Oh hell yes. We have to go eat there.”

That’s good enough for me – when he had some time off of work, we drove down, parked in Faubourg Marigny and walked back to the place.

Verti Marte is a tiny spot, crammed with stuff – there is barely room to walk and no room to pass another person in the narrow aisles. It is open 24/7 and, although unknown and ignored by tourists, is an oasis of delicious usefulness to the people that live in the French Quarter.

Plywood from Katrina, Verti Marte, Royal and Governor Nicholls, French Quarter, New Orleans

On one wall are two large pieces of plywood that protected the windows after Katrina, covered with spray painted messages begging the Verti Marte to reopen.

Menu, Verti Marte, Royal and Governor Nicholls, French Quarter, New Orleans

The entire back wall, behind a long glass counter, is occupied by the extensive menu. I have never seen so much offered by such a small spot. I ignored the long lists of salads, soups, entrees, and wraps and concentrated on the sandwiches.

Sandwiches – French Bun
Roast Beef
B.B.Q. Beef
Grilled Chic.
Fried Chic.
Ham
Ham & Ch.
Turkey
Hamburger
Cheeseburger
Chicken Salad
Tuna Salad
Smoked Saus.
Hot Saus.
B.L.T.
Meatloaf
Meatball
Fried Shirmp
Oysters
Cat Fish
Shrimp & Oyster
Club
Grilled Cheese
Ruben
Tam’s French Fri
All That Jazz
Royal Feast
Philly Cheese Steak
Muffeletta
Turkey Croissant
Turkey Burger
Talapia
Green Giant
Mushroom Mt.
Veggie Burger
Shrimp Philly
Country Fried Stk
Creole Chicken
Parmesan Chicken
Ernies Powboy – Thanks Ernie

One day, at the Writing Marathon, someone had read a piece that they had written on the eternal question, “Can one person eat an entire Muffaletta in one sitting?” Ever since I heard that, I wanted one.

I didn’t want to answer the question that day, so Lee and I split one – and it was enough.

Muffaletta, enough for two, Verti Marte, Royal and Governor Nicholls, French Quarter, New Orleans

What I learned this week, June 18, 2017

David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”

When I asked David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, to discuss a favorite passage for this series, I was initially surprised by his choice: a plain-stated, rustic poem by James Wright. “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” bears no overt similarity to Mitchell’s maximalist, genre-busting epics. But, he explained, the poem’s pure sensory engagement inspires him to strive to be more present, attentive, and alert—an ongoing struggle with implications for his work habits, his craft, and the art of writing about the future.


The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds in the best of all possible times. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Two of Texas’ Best Vietnamese Sandwich Shops Share a Garland Parking Lot

Two of the best tennis players to pick up rackets are sisters who learned the game together on a public court in Compton. For decades, America’s confused letter-writers got help from two advice columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, who were, in fact, identical twin sisters named Pauline Esther Friedman and Esther Pauline Friedman. And 85 percent of Hollywood blockbusters from the past seven years star at least one blond Australian named Hemsworth.

The Dallas culinary scene has its own version of the Williams sisters, and our outstanding coincidence involves Vietnamese bakeries. Two of the best banh mi shops in the region — arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States — make their homes in Garland, where they stare each other down across a shared parking lot. Just one suburban stretch of asphalt apart, Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli compete for the title of best banh mi in metro Dallas.

For banh mi – I go to Lee’s Sandwiches near my house (it’s also, technically, in Garland) or the Nammi Food Truck. These two are very close, however, maybe two miles… perfect bicycling distance. Sounds like a plan.

Banh Mi from the Nammi Food Truck. Giant sandwich with rooster sauce and cucumber sauce.


Welcome to the Korean Ramen Noodles Antitrust Litigation Website

This is the official website In re Korean Noodles Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 3:13-CV-4115-WHO-DMR (N.D. Cal.). This is a class action lawsuit involving the price of Korean Noodles purchased directly or indirectly from the Defendants Nong Shim Co., Ltd., Nongshim America, Inc., Ottogi Co., Ltd., and Ottogi America, Inc. (“Defendants”) that is pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Defendants engaged in illegal price fixing with respect to the sale of Korean Noodles and that as a result, any person or entity that purchased Korean Noodles directly or indirectly from any Defendant, during the Direct Purchaser Class Period or Indirect Purchaser Class Period paid a higher price than they would have otherwise paid in a competitive market. Defendants deny Plaintiffs’ allegations and the Court has not ruled on the merits of the claims or defenses.

Ok, let me get this straight…. A class-action lawsuit claiming some companies illegally conspired to fix the prices of RAMEN NOODLES???? I have no idea if I have ever consumed Korean Ramen noodles (I doubt it, though). How much money would I get if I did? Maybe a nickel?


How to Read James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Why You Should Avoid “How-to” Guides Like This One)

Ulysses deserves its reputation as one the best books in the English language. It generously overflows with insight into the human experience, and it’s very, very funny. And, most importantly, anyone can read it.

I have actually wanted to read Ulysses.

Maybe I should write a guide on how to read Gravity’s Rainbow. I have read it, really… I have. It only took me twenty five years to get through.


The Nine Best Coffee Shops in the Dallas Suburbs

also (some overlap)

Five New DFW Coffee Shops to Check Out Next Time You Need a Caffeine Fix

Es café macerado en ron, posee todas las propiedades organolépticas del ron, pero tiene grado de alcohol


Mass-Produced or Artisan Bread? Results May Surprise

“The really shocking result was that on everything that we looked at, we didn’t find any difference between the effects of the two breads,” a co-author says, per the Guardian.

I was into home-made bread for awhile – basing a lot of what I did on the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The bread was delicious and the house always smelled wonderful… but I realized that I was pretty much eating a loaf of bread every day. I bought a fifty pound bag of bread flour and ate the whole damn thing in a little over a month (I kept it in a freezer).

That was not good – I had to give the whole thing up.

Chipotle Sourdough

Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.

Opening Bell

From an article That Jerk? C’est Moi in the Wall Street Journal:

The problem with writing in coffee shops is that everyone hates the kind of people who write in coffee shops—especially the kind of people who write in coffee shops. You see the guy in the corner hunched over his laptop and you think (forgetting, for the moment, that you are also hunched over a laptop): “For chrissake, get an office.” As someone who writes in coffee shops for a living, I have wrestled with this paradox for much of my adult life.

One book of essays on writing (I don’t remember exactly which one –  if you know please comment) said that a sure sign of a failure at writing is someone that writes in coffee shops. He took that as a sign of being non-seriousness, of being a hipster doofus, of being twee. I totally understand where he was coming from, but I think he missed an important distinction. I write in coffee shops not because it is cool but because I go to coffee shops sometimes and I write wherever I go. In other words, I go to coffee shops for coffee… well, not really… the coffee I make at home is better than any coffee shop coffee (Fresh ground beans, French Press in the way to go)… I go to coffee shops to get out of the house and I write there because I am there.

The New York Times, of course, has an non-serious, twee, hipster doofus take on the thing… Destination: LAPTOPISTAN

JUST after 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, as a dozen people clicked away on their laptops at the Atlas Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, half of a tree broke off without warning less than a block away. It crashed into the middle of Havemeyer Street, crushing a parked car, setting off alarms and blocking the street. A deafening chorus of horns rose outside Atlas’s window as traffic halted. An 18-wheeler executed a sketchy 10-point turn in the middle of a crowded intersection before a pair of fire trucks made their way through the traffic jam in a blaze of red. Chain saws roared, sawdust flew and the horns built to a peak. It was New York urban pandemonium at its finest.

Inside the warm confines of Atlas, separated from the chaos by only a thin wall of glass, not a soul stirred.

There are dangers, of course. From Coffee shops are ruining creative writers

Fiction writers are using coffee shops as settings within their works because they’re writing in coffee shops. And that’s why coffee shops ruin creative writers.

I am guilty of this – at the Pearl Cup one afternoon, I wrote a short story about a guy (not me, a mob hitman) sitting in the Pearl Cup. I thought I had put it up here as a Sunday Snippet… but I can’t find it. There was a robbery and people died. Only once though; I can live with that.

I live in Dallas – purportedly the un-hippest city in the world (no longer true) – but there are a few nice independent coffee places here tucked in between the barbeque, strip joints, and Baptist Churches. There was even a list – Get your morning buzz: The top 10 indie coffeehouses in Dallas.

The list, with my notes, starting with the ones I’ve been to:

The Pearl Cup  Been there many times – attended some author readings there too. It’s a great place, but often too crowded to get a table. I’m excited because they are about to open a branch in my neck of the woods.

White Rock Coffee Been there many times. Cool place not too far from where I live.

A cool piece of wall art at White Rock Coffee

Espumoso Caffe – Been there a few times, really great place.

Through the door of the Espumoso Caffe, Bishop Arts District, Dallas

Oddfellows – Never had the coffee there, but love the place and the food. Wrote about it here.

The bar dining spot at Oddfellows – a wooden bench, metal pipe for a backrest, and a log for a footrest. Our waitress has my wheat beer and Candy’s wine.

These are the places I haven’t been:

Oak Lawn Coffee

Opening Bell

Drip Coffee Company

Cultivar Coffee & Tea Co.

Crooked Tree Coffeehouse

Murray Street Coffee House

Antonio Ramblés listed a few too – Anywhere but Starbucks – but only one The Corner Market wasn’t on the other list. It’s on Greenville and McCommas, where I used to live (a long, long, long time ago), so I’ll add them.

The Corner Market

So now I have a list, and I need to work my way through it. Today, Opening Bell. It’s in the Southside building in the Cedars, an area I have been getting familiar with for no particular useful reason. It’s right across the street from the fabulous NYLO hotel with its SODA bar – one of my favorite spots in the Metroplex. It’s been on my list for a while.

So I took the DART train down to the Cedars Station and tried out Opening Bell.

It’s in the basement of Southside on Lamar – an urban living complex built inside an enormous old brick building that used to house the Sears offices and warehouse. It’s not surprising then that it has a local feel to it – catering especially to the thousands of folks living overhead. A lot of folks wander in sleepily, getting a fill of their personal cup or thermos. It’s full-service, selling food (I had a huge and excellent chicken salad sandwich), beer, and wine in addition to coffee, chai and tea. There is a little stage for their evenings of live music (have to check that out some time). The refurbished warehouse space is adequately funky and cavernous, the voyage to the restrooms an industrial adventure (and I mean that in a good way). The coffee is good, both espresso and brewed (refills on the latter – yay!). The proper urban doofus artwork adorns the old industrial brick (local art, posters for Hendrix and Townes Van Zandt, an old accordion perched above the barista).

I did drink too much coffee. I knew it was bad when the barista asked me what kind of coffee I wanted and I replied, “I don’t care.”

The music they play is excellent (among the Dallas coffee spots second only to Espumoso… so far, and so, so much better than the crap they spew out over the speakers at Starbucks). Wifi is fast and reliable, service is friendly, and customers are interesting.

So no complaints – another great spot to move from the “going to visit” list to he “got to go back to” list.

Eating Insects in the Rain

Back in the spring, I tracked down a Food Truck sponsored by Dos Equis. Billed as “The Most Interesting Taco in the World” – they had hired a well-known local truck, Rock and Roll Tacos, reskinned the outside, and sent it out to give away interesting tacos. They called it “Feast of the Brave.” I had shark and iguana tacos… and they were so good, it wasn’t even brave to eat them.

Dos Equis is doing the promotion again, this time with the Nammi Truck, which usually serves Banh Mi sandwiches. They’ve made up some sandwiches with Jellyfish, Quail, and Silkworms. The silkworms are billed as “Soy Silkworms” – but that means they were fed on soybeans… they are the real thing. I have always wanted to eat some insects, so I decided to track them down.

Today I had a long bicycle ride planned, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The streets were very wet and the rain spitting down. I’ve done some work and have replaced the spokes on my ancient Raleigh Technium 460 road bike so I took it out around the neighborhood. It worked great, though I was nervous with the narrow tires on the slick tarmac.

So, I had the day and had to make new plans. A quick look at the Internet and I discovered the Nammi/Dos Equis truck was down in the Arts District outside the grand opening of the new City Performance Hall. I grabbed my stuff and rode the DART train downtown.

I didn’t think of an umbrella and by the time I walked up to the truck I was drenched and probably looked like an idiot. Four women and one guy in costumes were huddled outside the truck when I walked up and said, “Can I have a silkworm sandwich?”

“Oh, you want to go for it right off?” said one woman as she handed me a sandwich in a paper tray.

Until the moment that I looked down at the food I never really thought much about actually eating silkworms. They were brownish, obviously segmented bugs, and bigger than I had imagined. I guess it is the pupae stage of the silkworm that is edible… they were almost the size of the last joint on your little finger. There were plenty of them in a sandwich.

I walked over to a little table that had an umbrella (intended for shade… the rain water poured through it) and tucked in. The worms were, not surprisingly, crunchy. They had a bit of a nutty taste… though, really they tasted like… well, bugs.

While I was eating a couple walked up to me. We talked about the various other food trucks lined up. They did a good job of holding a normal conversation with a stranger that was shoveling insect pupae into his mouth. The guy had been to Vietnam and talked about the sandwiches and how they weren’t really sure about what was in them, but they were good.

Now, I was finishing my order. I love the Nammi Banh Mi – they are more expensive than the usual Vietnamese sandwich – but they are very generous with the meat (the pork, of course, is the best). A bunch always falls out into the little tray and you get the extra enjoyment of finishing off the spicy filling along with whatever vegetables have also fallen out.

So now I looked down at the little tray and there, true to form, was a little pile of Silkworm Pupae along with some daikon, cilantro, and shredded carrot. Should I eat the worms?

I did. It was a little harder to eat the little buggers bare like that – without benefit of the sandwich bread concealing the fact that I was eating insects… but I figured if I’m up for it, I’m in. Like most from my generation, I have always felt a compulsion to finish my plate.

Insects consumed, I headed into the performance hall for the opening day festivities. But that’s a story for another day.

The Nammi folks trying to stay dry.

They were all in costume for the Dos Equis “Feast of the Brave” food giveaway.

Here’s my silkworm sandwich.

Proof I ate it – only a bite left.

While I was eating, a rugged group on bicycles, braving the rain, came up for some food.

Green House Food Truck

There were a lot of choices in food trucks down in the Dallas Arts District on Friday. Most of my Favorites Were There – but, as always, when presented with a temptation, I chose one I had never tried before.

I have seen the Green House Truck on several occasions, but, for no good reason, hadn’t tried it yet. It was one of the first trucks in Dallas, it may be the first one – a pioneer from the days that they were highly restricted.

The Green House is known for healthy food. Looking over the menu, I chose a Portobello Mushroom sandwich on Ciabatta bread with walnut/basil pesto, grilled vegetables, and a side order of sweet potato fries.

Makes you hungry just thinkin’ ’bout it, doesn’t it.

My food was really good – I regret not trying the truck before – I’ll definitely look for them again.

Green House Food Truck – Follow them on Facebook – from their home page – Schedule/Location and finally – their Twitter

Dallas Arts District Sets Stage for Food Trucks

Gourmet food truck brings healthy fare to Dallas business districts

Green House Truck Rolls Into Dallas

A lot of trucks and a lot of hungry people.

Ordering from the Green House Truck

Your order is up.

At work in the truck's kitchen. I like the sauce bottles. Sriracha rules.

Portobello on Ciabatta sandwich with sweet potato fries.

Bánh mì!

Oh, and it was food truck heaven in the Dallas Arts District! I was hungry and the trucks were arranged all up and down Flora Street. So much food and so little time.

Mae West said, “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” That always seemed to be good advice to me. So in choosing between six food trucks, I decided to eat one I’ve never tried before (by the end of the day, I had tried three).

The Nammi Food Truck down in the Dallas Arts District

I picked out The Nammi Food Truck. I wanted some Vietnamese food! I wanted some Banh Mi.

No Fried Egg Today

A BBQ pork sandwich and a drink was the ticket.

Waiting for her order.

There were plenty of customers hanging around, but the food came quick.

They had some sauces in squeeze bottles down in the ice in the front compartment – spicy mayo, cucumber (I think), and Sriracha. I filled ramekins with cucumber and rooster sauce.

Banh Mi from the Nammi Food Truck. Giant sandwich with rooster sauce and ... some other sauce.

The sandwich was huge and stuffed with stuff. One woman at another table was gesturing at her sandwich and yelling, “It’s bigger than my arm!” My only complaint was that I didn’t open the paper carefully enough and too much stuff fell out. It was really good. I want to go get another.

A couple sat next to me eating their Banh Mi. The sandwiches are on the messy side. Some of the good stuff spills out and falls on the ground.

Luckily the cleaning crew is right there to hop on things right away and fly away with the leftovers.