A pair of grab and go sandwiches from Prager Brothers Artisan Breads: perfect for a picnic
Spring wouldn’t technically arrive for another few weeks, but the sun was out. After what has nearly been a full, cooped-up year of covid, that was all the encouragement we needed to have a picnic. So we grabbed a blanket, and headed out the door for Balboa Park. We might have brought our own victuals, except there’s a new place in nearby Hillcrest that looked ideal for grab-and-go sandwiches.
5611 Palmer Way C, Carlsbad
1252 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103, San Diego
Actually, it’s the newly opened shop of a North County bakery. Prager Brothers Artisan Breads bakes its goods in Carlsbad, just off El Camino Real. It provides breads for local restaurants, but also operates a retail counter. There customers may choose from a selection of pastries, cookies, and sourdough loaves ranging from raisin walnut to kalamata olive rosemary.
One of the first things you learn trying to pick up bread from Prager Brothers, is that it matters which day of the week you go in. Olive rosemary is only baked on Wednesday and Saturday, for example. Country and multigrain loaves sell every day, but for my preferred, sesame-seed encrusted sourdough, it’s got to be Monday, Thursday, or Sunday.
The newly opened Hillcrest location of the Carlsbad bakery
The same is true in the Hillcrest shop. Located on University Avenue, a couple blocks east of the 163, the shop isn’t its own bakery location. It takes daily deliveries from Carlsbad.
Which presented a minor setback when I showed up first thing in the morning looking for breakfast pastries. The Hillcrest shop’s first daily delivery arrives prior to its 8 am opening time, filling most of its shelves with loaves, and some of its glass counter with pastries. But not all. A second delivery doesn’t show up til a couple hours later. As the folks working behind the counter told me, most of the sweet pastries show up first, but those looking for savory goods will have to wait for the driver to navigate that freeway commute north and back.
A sesame-crusted sourdough loaf, just $7
So, while I was able to nab both almond ($3.50) and chocolate croissants ($3.50), there were no ham and cheese croissants at 8 am. Some of the heavier pastries were on that second truck as well. There were plenty of morning buns in the counter at 8, but not yet any of the custard-filled morning buns, nor glazed cinnamon rolls.
Back to that picnic, though. If timing counts for those shopping pastries and loaves, sandwiches are for the spontaneous. You may order all of the above ahead of time for pick-up, but if you’re looking for a sandwich, they won’t even let you phone in an order ahead of time.
Inside, the shop is filled (or half-filled) with bread and pastries, depending on the time of day.
That’s because all the sandwiches (arriving later in the morning) are pre-made. They sit inside the counter, ready to go in as little time as it takes to order and pay. For our picnic, I grabbed a turkey chimichurri ($6), spicy Italian ($7), and ham & gruyere ($6).
This day at least, the turkey was served on a ciabatta-like roll topped by baked cheese and sunflower seeds, made with anti-biotic-free turkey, cheddar, and arugula, then finished with an herbal and quite nutty chimichurri. Better was the spicy salami, a similar sandwich with Calabrese salami, aged provolone, pickled red onion, and a house made Romesco (roasted tomato) sauce.
Sometimes the best sandwiches are simple: ham, gruyere, butter, and mustard on a baguette.
But tops for me was the ham and gruyere, dressed only with butter and homemade mustard. It wasn’t so much that the toppings outshone the others, but this sandwich was made on a small length of baguette. The chewy crustiness of the baguette proved satisfying with every bite, reminding me why Prager is a trusted source of bread around the county.