2041 University Avenue, North Park
Fusion's not a difficult a culinary concept to embrace. Combining the flavor profiles of unrelated global cuisines makes for a great narrative — just as appealing to bored young chefs as to bored young foodies. However, while it shows up in subtler ways on happy hour menus, you rarely see fusion as driving force behind a restaurant these days, especially one specializing in grilled sandwiches and wings.
North Park's recent addition, Twist Sandwiches and More, attempts to do so, putting a proverbial twist on American pub fare. There's not much to the tiny storefront location; just some no-frills counter seating and a couple of sidewalk two-tops facing that unfortunate section of University that's a few blocks too far west to be hip, and on the wrong side of the Georgia Bridge to be trendy. But the place manages to keep busy with an exceptionally friendly vibe and well-appointed take-out menu.
The fusion begins with owners' cultural backgrounds, which clearly brings their respective Thai and Moroccan roots to bear. However, a quick scan of the menu reveals a lot more going on here. Twist burgers, steak and pulled-pork sandwiches boast toppings including Hoisin syrup, pickled papaya, guava cream and chipotle labne (strained yogurt). Because we live in southern California, there's also a fair amount of bacon, guacamole, cilantro and – for good measure – smoked gouda. The mind reels at all the possible permutations. Adding to the intrigue, Twist's proprietors proudly source their ingredients fresh each morning, which means they're a solid step up from heat and serve frozen patties, bland iceberg lettuce or mostly-tendon chicken legs.
I started with some wings and found them beautifully fried, with the batter crisped just about to the brink of perfection and surprising me with seasoning I truly never saw coming, and found a touch too sweet. A healthy dose of house made chipotle Buffalo sauce added a welcome, tangy kick, though I couldn't overcome the expectation this would be a savory dish, and craved a little salt.
Cue the fries. Seasoned fries are offered as a side with most orders — at Twist and around the universe in general. Like the wings, the thick, long-cut fries looked home-made as opposed to flash-frozen by a corporate foodstuffs distributor. Also like the wings, they were fried to an ideal, with a crispy outside and surprisingly light, almost fluffy interior. I refrained from salting them so as to better appreciate the seasoning, and admittedly ate a good couple of handfuls before I realized that, while unique among all potato seasonings, this herb blend skewed significantly sweeter than I wanted or expected. So, cue the ketchup and salt.
Finally, I turned my attention to the sandwiches. In the interest of variety, and general gluttony, I tried both the Asian Swine, Twist's take on a pulled pork sandwich, and the Thai Spice, which one Yelp reviewer rightly termed "banh mi on steroids."
The Swine features the aforementioned Hoisin syrup and smoked gouda. Served on a grilled Telera roll, it looked every bit the part of this meal's savory savior, with tender chunks of pork amid the shreds giving it a nice tooth. The Thai Spice topped lemongrass steak with plenty of julienned cucumber, papaya and carrots, also on grilled Telera. Each featured "spicy aioli" and well-cooked meat.
I could call these well-made sandwiches, and in terms of sheer construction, they are. I can call them flavorful sandwiches, and in both cases I'd be accurate. I could label them complex, innovative and several other hallmarks of the fusion experience. But once the napkins have been wadded and soaked with sauce, what lingers after eating at Twist is the sweetness. A fusion of flavors done right can reveal undiscovered top notes of your favorite ingredients, shining through inventive combinations of ingredients kept apart for centuries by xenophobia and geography. Here, the prevalent flavors often baffle each other, and almost universally hide beneath a sweetness that fails to bring worlds together.
There's a lot going right at Twist, and anyone with an insatiable sweet-tooth should probably try their signature Moroccan steak fries. Just maybe don't try to wash them down, as I did, with a Mexican Coke.