Say the word "sandwich" and it seems to come with the notion of "serviceable" trailing close behind. Perhaps, as the legend goes, the "sandwich" was invented when the Fourth Earl of Sandwich in England demanded his valet bring him meat between two slices of bread so he wouldn't soil the cards during his cribbage game. But just because it involves a protein between two slices of bread stuffed for portability doesn't mean it has to be ordinary. Big Front Door (4135 Park Boulevard) in Hillcrest proves that point.
BFD's co-owner and chef, Steve "Sheep" Riley comes from a fine dining background. His résumé highlights include Tracy Borkham's Chive, Cucina Urbana and Kensington Grill along with Indigo Grill, Kemo Sabe, Firehouse and more, going back to his days in Prescott, Arizona. Riley, however, left his heart in the kitchen of his first food industry home: a sandwich shop. And BFD appears to be his effort to get it back.
BFD's best sandwich may be its Loins of Fire, with chile-roasted pork loin, roast poblano peppers, pickled onion and jalapeño, cilantro, lettuce, Fresno chile sauce and aioli on a torpedo roll. With a name that might intimidate more than a few, and chile peppers making multiple appearances in the menu description, one might expect a powerhouse that only a Chilehead could love. But that doesn't appear to be Sheep's game. A layered étude in the key of chile, this would be a thrilling dish inside or outside of bread. Roasted, rubbed, pickled and featured in a sauce, this dish uses different techniques to treat different chiles and brings out their flavors as much, if not more, than its heat.
Another great choice is BFD's Cali Cubano sandwich, one of San Diego's best takes on the Cubano. Sheep cures his pork loin for three days in a ham-style brine before a low-and-slow smoke. Jack cheese, a pickle, red onion, avocado, mustard and a jalapeño aioli join the cured and smoked loin in the party in a torpedo roll.
Not everything at BFD rises to the same level, but its less successful efforts don't bore. The hoisin-ginger pulled pork sandwich, for example, veered too far into the sweet danger zone. Even so, the pork itself was tasty and the cilantro and cabbage did their best to pull it back from the brink.
At the core of much of what BFD does is Sheep's meat smoking program. Pork—for the cured and smoked loin as well as the pulled pork and ribs—turkey, meatloaf and more are all smoked on premises. And it is almost like cheating. Even a simple turkey sandwich is made extraordinary. Of course, the turkey and cheddar mousse sandwich isn't quite "simple." The house-smoked turkey is accompanied by a smoked cheddar mousse, arugula, tomato, red onion, aioli and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette on whole grain bread.
Utilitarian, be damned. Sheep Riley makes sandwiches like he was putting out plates at a fine dining restaurant. As a result the the soul of the sandwich is elevated.