Panini a revamped lunch option

By Colleen Seidel

I am a fan of the sandwich. It’s a basic premise, really: two slices of bread, meat, cheese if… I am a fan of the sandwich. It’s a basic premise, really: two slices of bread, meat, cheese if you like it, a couple vegetables, some kind of lubricant.’ Not much you can do to mess it up.’ And yet, within that most basic of formulas lies an astounding array of possibilities. You’ve got vegetarian varieties for the animal-friendly crowd, specialties catered toward those who can’t get enough meat, and even those of the lubricant-only class, the king of which is the staple of any diet when food funds run low. This sandwich, of course, is the PB’amp;J.’ You could eat a sandwich for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the rest of your life and never have to eat the same sandwich twice. No other foodstuff has that kind of astounding statistical potential. That’s why the sandwich is so amazing. Lately, though, I’ve started to notice something. Despite years of being the versatile, trusty staple of my elementary school lunchbox, the sandwich has just now become ‘hellip; trendy. But it’s not just any sandwich that has hit the top of the charts. It’s a particular kind that’s reached dangerously close to Hannah Montana levels of ubiquity: the panini. Meredith Vieira recently declared on The Today Show that the panini is ‘the hottest thing in sandwiches today.’ Wendy’s recently introduced a new breakfast panini ‘mdash; eggs, bacon and cheese on grilled toast ‘mdash; accompanied by a sweepstakes in which one can win $5,000 or a free panini. Even Wolfgang Puck, chef extraordinaire to the celebrities, recommended panini in an article for the Chicago Tribune as the way to go when hosting, say, your average Oscar Party (not that he’s ever hosted an average Oscar party). In area restaurants, it’s no different. Panini are selling faster than flag pins at a Republican convention, and it’s no coincidence that businesses have taken notice by making them more visible on their menus. ‘We try to keep current with the panini. We change one [on the menu] four times a year and always have a vegetarian option,’ says Melissa Kennedy, store manager at Panera on Forbes Avenue in Oakland. Kennedy adds that the tomato mozzarella panini, which the store will be adding to its menu Aug. 27, sold better than any other sandwich in markets outside of Pittsburgh, which is why the Oakland store decided to add it to its menu. At Enrico’s Tazza d’Oro in Highland Park, the cafe’s panini is a favorite among patrons. ‘They are very, very popular with the regulars,’ says barista Emily Jackson. ‘They say, ‘I know a great little place where we can go get panini,’ and people come from all over.’ Part of the reason Jackson thinks the sandwiches are such a hit is because they are better-tasting alternatives to fast food.’ ‘People come here for the panini because it’s pretty fast, but it’s not fast food,’ she adds. ‘They are easy to make. We use the freshest ingredients possible, and every single one is made to order.’ With all this newfound popularity, one would almost think the panini is a novelty item, like those cutesy little bubble teas or oversized lollipops. But it’s actually quite the opposite: Panini were, in fact, the original fast food.’ Historically it’s noted that John Montague, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was the creator of the sandwich in the second half of the 18th century. However, there are certain culinary schools of thought, from the encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique to food bloggers like, that speculate that it was actually farmers and workers who originated the concept of sticking cured meats in a sliced bread roll. With a diet at the time primarily based on bread and work which required them to be outside all day, panini made the perfect lunch for the men because they were portable, compact and could be prepared ahead of time.’ But, according to, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the panini gained widespread acceptance in the scope of Italian cuisine. And while a panini featuring prosciutto or mozzarella would be considered Italian in the States, in Italy you can actually find such specialties as wild boar panini in Milan’s Quadronno or the classic street fare of bread rolls stuffed with cow’s stomach in Florence. Now usually I’m the kind of person who tries to stay away from things that are uber-trendy because, by its very definition, the phrase indicates that the particular ‘it thing’ of the moment won’t be around for very long. It also means that the general masses like this particular item, and I prefer to think, elitist snob that I am, that my tastes are a little more unique than those shared by the same masses who vote for American Idols every year. By the looks of things, though, this ‘trend’ isn’t going anywhere. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not a trend at all. Panini have been around for a long time, bucking criteria No. 1, and they’re pretty darn tasty, even if liked by the same number of people who proclaimed Rueben Studdard to be the next American Idol by call-in vote (Sorry, that’s the last year I followed the show). So as much as I hate to hop on the bandwagon, if I want to continue enjoying my sandwiches, the best strategy for me might just be: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Because there’s really no good way ‘mdash; or reason ‘mdash; to beat the panini.