I’ve known people who hate tomatoes. I’ve watched them pick pale pink slices off their burgers and complain that they taste like “bags of water.” That’s not a genuine summer tomato! A real homegrown tomato is delicious, fruity, pungent and complex. Its flesh tastes like the sun-warmed heart of the garden. Not to go all Mr. T(omato) on you, but I pity the fool who doesn’t appreciate a good tomato.
So I was thinking about a taste-test for summer, and since we’ve done ice cream already, why not BLTs? Somebody must have a BLT that showcases ruby-red summer tomatoes! So I set off on foot to gather sandwiches. It was a hot day, so I didn’t go far. The good news is that I found six decent BLTs within a quick stroll of Fountain Square. There wasn’t a bad sandwich in the bunch. Lots of variety, though.
We started with Red Fox Grill (232 E. Sixth St., 513-621-7924), over by Proctor and Gamble. People say it’s P&G’s lunchroom. The service was super fast. I walked in, ordered at the counter, paid and was out the door before you could say Pantene, Pampers and Pringles. The Fox’s BLT is no-frills, and the price is right. For $4.60 you get a double-decker on white toast. Bacon is on the lower layer with plenty of shaved iceberg lettuce
At The Sports Page (626 Vine St., 513-721-0067), you get a choice of single or double-decker. I was advised by the cashier to “get the double. It’s got a lot more bacon.” It did have a lot of bacon, and a lot of mayo. Our testers used up a pile of napkins on this sandwich, even before they got to the dill pickle in its own zipper baggie. Comes with a bag of Husman’s chips; a real steal at $4.40.
I’m a big fan of Fred & Gari’s (629 Vine St., 513-784-9000), but their BLT was a little bit of a letdown. The single decker wasn’t served on toasted bread, and as a taster said, “Ya gotta toast it!” The bacon had been cooked so thoroughly that all of the fat had been cooked out, leaving it crumbly. You could either look at this as healthy, or complain, like one taster, that it “seemed like a sandwich of bacon bits.” The romaine lettuce was nice and fresh, and the tomato a little better than average. It did come with two side dishes, so the price was perfectly reasonable at $5.
The meat-lover’s special in our test was definitely Mayberry’s (915 Vine St., 513-381-5999) grilled Panini BLT. Totally unorthodox, the T in this flavor-gasm was a roasted tomato jam and the L is leek and gouda cheese fondue that melt into the bread. Another twist is thick, meaty peppered bacon that was truly delicious. My tasters loved this sandwich, and we agreed that it should receive honorable mention for creativity. It came with a side salad and was the top priced sandwich in our test at $7.99.
First runner-up came from Elm Street Deli (435 Elm St., 513-421-2345), a venue suggested by someone who thinks that BLT is a topping for a burger and not a sandwich on its own. In other words, a tough judge. Elm Street is the place to go if you are ever feeling unloved. Between the time I ordered and the time I paid, the staff called me “honey” more times than I could count. And their warmth extended to the sandwich — they were the only ones who heated up the bacon, giving it a lot of olfactory appeal. The bread was toasted, and the price was right — $4.50, with a bag of chips.
But the title for Best BLT in our slightly unscientific, probably subjective and certainly geographically selective sampling was (drumroll, please) Paula’s Deli (41 E. Fourth St., 513-381-3354). At $7.50, it was pricey, but I was smitten but from the first bite. Every ingredient was top-notch. The bacon was thick, smoky and so abundant that I watched the cook pile a little extra on top of the bread, like a bacon garnish. The tomato was the best of the bunch we tried — not quite a garden tomato, but fully ripe and tasty. The lettuce was leafy and fresh, but the clincher was the mayo. Genuine Hellman's. A classic BLT.
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: email@example.com