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Tucked in an old brick storefront on Commerce Street, nestled between the Pawcatuck River and the Washington Trust Community Skating Rink, Ten Sandwiches executes a simple concept brilliantly: 10 sandwiches, local ingredients, funky charm, and a beer and wine license.
Our first visit was on a Wednesday around lunch time, and the place was hopping. All the tables inside (two that seat four and one that seats two) plus one out on the sidewalk were full.
There was a line but it moved quickly, and waiting in it gave us a chance to study the colorful and beautifully lettered chalkboards that detail the sandwiches of the day, the beer, wine and smoothy offerings, and the Rhode Island pedigree of all the ingredients being used - Rhody Fresh dairy, produce from Schartner's Farm in Exeter, chicken and eggs from Buffoni Farm in Johnston, fresh mozzarella from Narragansett Creamery in Providence, and coffee from Dave's and bread from Vesta bakery, both right here in Westerly.
There were two young men behind the counter, one manning the grill and the other taking orders and running the cash register. They were handling the rush very well. They were charming and helpful in answering their customers' questions, and when the cashier had to go into a side storage room to retrieve a beverage (the cooler in the dining room was broken), the cook stepped in and kept things moving along.
It's a tiny place, maybe 12-by-40-feet, including the open kitchen, but it doesn't feel crowded inside. The high ceilings are covered in what looks to be the original tin, now painted white, and the walls are a nice green. The concrete floor, the photos of Westerly throughout and those fabulous chalkboards complete the funky vibe.
We settled on a No. 1, roasted turkey, bacon, Granny Smith apples, brie, red onion and cranberry mayo on a ciabatta roll ($8.50), and a No. 8, a vegan sweet potato-quinoa burger, mixed fruit salsa, avocado and house-made vegan herb mayo on a vegan bun ($9.50).
While we waited, we enjoyed a Dave's coffee. Hot, full-bodied, delicious. The location makes waiting a pleasure. You can stroll next door and browse the offerings in Mary D's antiques. You can amble across the street and watch the skaters, or you can walk back through the dirt parking lot next door and get a fine view of the river as it runs by.
Both sandwiches were a homerun. The sweet potato-quinoa burger was served on a soft, yeasty sesame seed roll and featured spicy Indian flavors, garlicky with a slight heat that was instantly cooled by the crunchy fruit salsa and the creamy avocado.
In the No. 1, the turkey was thinly sliced and the bacon was crumbled and crunchy, its smokiness offset by the tart apples and the creamy brie. The cranberry mayo had a hint of orange, and the roll, the crispy, chewy ciabatta, was perfect.
We next went on a Saturday. The ice rink was packed but, perhaps because we were later than lunchtime, Ten Sandwiches was not as busy as it had been during the week.
This time we chose a No. 3, roast beef, sharp cheddar, cocoa chipotle sauce, crispy shallots on a "weck" roll ($8.50), and a No. 7, Genoa salami, capicola, prosciutto, provolone and marinated spicy slaw on a baguette ($8.50).
And we thought the first two sandwiches were good.
The No. 7 is an homage to the Italian cold cut. The meats were salty, fatty and spicy, just like they're supposed to be, and the vinegary slaw was a good complement. This was my husband's favorite.
But the No. 3 really won me over: tender roast beef with melty cheese and just the right amount of smokey, spicy mayo, topped with fried, crunchy shallots. The weck roll, as in "beef on weck," short for kummelweck, was topped with its characteristic pretzel salt and caraway seeds. It was a work of art.
In fact, all the bread from Vesta Bakery, 47 Railroad Ave., Westerly, really makes these sandwiches sing. They are sometimes soft, sometimes chewy and crunchy. The yeasty handmade flavor really elevates these sandwiches, making them something special indeed.
Like Capriotti's in Las Vegas, Grumm's in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Wasses Hot Dogs in Rockland, Maine, Ten Sandwiches in Westerly just may be a sandwich joint that's worth traveling for.
7 Commerce St., Westerly
Cuisine: Sandwiches, 10 of them, and soups, specializing in the use of fresh, locally sourced products and seasonal ingredients; organic fair trade coffees and teas, and craft beer and wine.
Service: Check out the colorful chalkboards, then step to the counter and order. Eat in - there are two four-top tables and one two-top - or take out. They also do catering.
Prices: Sandwiches are big, good for sharing, and range from $7 to $9.50.
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday.
Handicapped access: The sidewalk out front is narrow, and there is a step up at the entrance.