Hobbit sandwich wanderings turn back home to Hong Kong
Deep within both my soul and my tummy, I may not ever fully get over the tragic loss of the longtime Coeur d’Alene sandwich institution the Sunshine Trader, which for decades served enormous, legendary Tolkien-themed sandwiches both in a now-demolished building near City Park and, in its final years, in the Ironwood hospital district.
Since childhood, I’d been hopelessly enamored with the “Hobbit,” which was the finest turkey/cream cheese/cranberry sauce sandwich in the entire history of the universe, period. A couple of years ago, the original owners of the Sunshine Trader sold it to someone who eventually made the fatal mistake of turning it into a fine-dining Italian establishment named Vito’s.
The public was unwilling to forgive them for the merciless murder of the beloved sandwich shop and greeted the new place with about as much enthusiasm as they would an emergency visit to the endodontist. Vito’s didn’t even last as long as most root canals seem to last, shuttering its doors for good after a few short months in business. Enter Tara and Steve Lucas, owners of Brycie’s Cheesesteaks and Subs, who had been increasingly unhappy with the deteriorating state of their North Fourth Street location since their 2004 opening in the time-worn building which had housed the Chelsea bar for many years before the Bruchi’s sandwich chain came and went there.
Acting on a tip from a local food distributor, the couple snatched up the vacant former Sunshine Trader/Vito’s and in only 11 days transformed it back into the bustling sandwich stop it was always meant to be. I avoided Brycie’s until a year or so ago out of bitterness, having pictured it as a cheap knock-off of Bruchi’s, which I loved and missed.
When I finally did pop in to order my first Brycie’s sandwich, I was a little underwhelmed by the noticeably grungy atmosphere of the place but found the food to be an amazing treat. It was my introduction to their Chicken Malibu, a mishmash of grilled chicken, ham, pineapple and Swiss cheese, that immediately got under my skin and into the part of my brain where certain cravings land and rage hard.
The new location retains the wonderfully lush jungle of houseplants in the middle of the room under the skylight, left over from Sunshine Trader days, and renovations have closed off the former lunch-counter area to include a handy take-out window. The interior has been brightened up significantly, with red and yellow stripes on crisp white walls, and the place feels warmer and much more welcoming than the former location.
“Welcoming” seems to be a major key word with Brycie’s, as Tara Lucas is truly the Queen of Welcoming, greeting all incoming customers with terms of endearment like “sweetie” and “honey” and making you feel like you just popped into dear Auntie’s house for a bite to eat and a few laughs. A newly-added wait staff is another improvement, including the Lucas’ daughter Kayla, who served my lunch with an efficient, friendly ease that must run in the Lucas family tree.
I decided to stray from my usual Chicken Malibu and try something new. A traditional cheesesteak sandwich with melted white American cheese sounded delicious, but I was feeling more adventurous than that. The daily special was the Reuben, but the Steak Primo with A-1 Sauce and the Pizza Steak with onions, green peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, provolone and marinara were both similarly tempting. If I was going for quantity and affordability, I’d have definitely ordered the footlong Meatball Marinara sub, a bargain at exactly $5.
I was quite hungry, so pretty much the entire menu made my taste buds go “boom boom” with anticipation, but I decided on a 6-inch Hong Kong Chicken sub, in a combo with Sun Chips and Diet Dr. Pepper.
Brycie’s sandwiches are served on the softest, freshest hoagie rolls imaginable, little white clouds that melt in one’s mouth, and their meats are marinated and grilled in tender, bite-size nibbles. It’s a final product that’s unique among local sandwich joints, and my Hong Kong Chicken was truly a delightful one-off. Crispy lettuce shreds and diced tomato were piled atop a grilled mixture of chicken, onion, broccoli, and zucchini which was doused with spicy peanut sauce and covered with a few slices of Provolone cheese.
The ingredients and combination might seem a little unorthodox in print, but in practice it’s a flavor powerhouse. Like most of their sandwiches, it’s also an enormously sloppy beast, and you’ll want to savor every dropping that lands in your sandwich basket when you’re done with the main event.