You know, I really don’t “do” guilty pleasure: pleasure is pleasure – I have shed my quasi-Catholic upbringing to at least that extent.
And yet I always feel I shouldn’t enjoy Pret A Manger quite as much as I do. It is by many accounts a generic and soulless chain. Yet at the one I always go to when I’m in London you get served quickly, you can always get a table, and they have a toilet you can use. When you’re looking for a sandwich in London this is as good as it gets. I usually go for the crayfish and arugula sandwich.
Obviously I’m not alone in enjoying Pret – the shops are always busy – but most of the customers don’t look like gourmets, much less fans of molecular gastronomy, but if the New York Times Style section is to be believed - Wylie Dufresne – he of the now defunct New York restaurant WD50 - is also a fan.
I’ve always had a lot of time for Mr. Dufresne. He seems like a genuine original which I suppose is why he hasn’t gone the predictable and profitable path of the typical “celebrity chef,” a fact rather proven by his appearance in a column called Rituals, in which he says he goes to Pret pretty much every day and buys a balsamic chicken and avocado sandwich.
“‘It’s smartly engineered,’ he says, explaining that the grilled chicken, not the mesclun, is dressed in the balsamic vinaigrette and sits between the dry lettuce and the avocado, so the bread doesn’t ‘sog out.’”
Things get even more interesting in the Dufresne sandwich universe when you realize
that his father is in the sandwich business. He used to used to operate a sandwich shop with the vaguely ironic name (I think) Joe’s Old Abandoned Grocery Store, in Providence Rhode Island.
And he’s about to open a sandwich place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan named BIGGYZ. Here are father and son bonding over a “Tuna SOF tuna,” (at least I think that's what is is) "extra-virgin olive oil, black-olive spread, marinated artichokes, tomato, capers, red onion and hard-boiled egg slices, on sesame bread from Chinatown’s Prosperity Dumpling."
“He’s got a great sandwich palate,” says Wylie of Dewey.
And a finally a bit of historic sandwich lore, this picture appeared on a Facebook group called london in the 60s & 70s:
I not only remember sandwiches like that – I actually used to eat them for my lunch when I was a working stiff in the West End. They were never very good, and some of them were just horrible, but we thought that was the way commercial sandwiches had to be. We could imagine better but it seemed that nobody was ever going to put the necessary care and effort into making an improvement. Lovers of Pret have very little to feel guilty about.