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May 29, 2008

The Sandwich of My Dreams

My sammy soul mate.

by Mollie Chen

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Some people think back to their college years and remember the endless cups of coffee or Solo cups of warm beer or perhaps dining hall chickwiches. I'll admit, when I go back to Boston I do get a bit misty-eyed over the stately redbrick buildings and the good old Charles. But it's a sandwich that does me in.

There's a specific type of coffee shop that seems to flourish in college towns. Haphazard, vaguely folksy decor with worn, cushy armchairs and too-small tables, indie rock in the background and scruffy, friendly servers. Darwin's Ltd., just outside Harvard Square, fits the mold perfectly. The first time I dragged my parents there, promising them a transcendent experience, my father took one look at the earnest undergrads highlighting away, and sighed. "Oh, so it's a Friends place," he said. Fair. Darwin's looks as if it's a movie set left over from With Honors. But it also has--and I am not exaggerating--the best sandwiches in the world. I know ex-Bostonians living in every far corner of the globe who would happily trade a perfect banh mi or croque monsieur for a single overstuffed Darwin's creation.

There's a long menu of options, all named after the surrounding streets (another mark of the college coffee shop: clever, tongue-in-cheek names), all with their own loyal followings. I have one friend who will only order the Story, a garlicky combination of tissue-thin prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, and pesto, and a health-freak buddy who recovers from long runs with the hummus and green apple Hubbard Park. For me, it has always been and always will be the Mt. Auburn. Thick seven-grain bread, smoked turkey, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and Swiss, plus liberal amounts of mayo and Darwin's special balsamic vinaigrette. There are plenty of great (and overpriced) sandwiches in Manhattan--I'm a regular at Grey Dog and 'wichcraft--but I have yet to find one that matches the messy bliss of a Darwin's Mt. Auburn. I'll be back in Boston in two weeks for another fix.

P.S. For the full nostalgia eating tour, begin with iced coffee and a vanilla bean loaf at Hi-Rise Bakery, shop until you get hungry, proceed to Darwin's for a Mt. Auburn, then power walk to J.P. Licks in Davis Square for a sugar cone of peppermint-stick ice cream. Don't forget the rainbow sprinkles.


I have many fond memories of slow Sundays at Darwins with the amazing ham, Brie, asparagus and egg breakfast sandwich. Get there early, since the tables go awfully fast. And for sandwiches, I agree, the Mt. Auburn is sandwich heaven!

Afterwards, the best ice cream can always be found at Christina's in Inman Square. I'd recommend the carrot cake flavor!

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