Morgan and York offers a taste of Spanish-style bocatas and Andalusian gazpacho
I understand that in Spain people don't eat to live, they live to eat — pretty much around the clock until they turn in for sleep around 3 or 4 in the morning. In fact, La Merienda is the name they give to their mid-afternoon sustenance between lunch and the 9 p.m. dinner hour. If you go to Spain to live like a Spaniard, you may be tired, but who cares with a bocadillo or a bowl of gazpacho by your side 24/7?
If a trip overseas is not in the cards you can still get a small taste of Spain if you stop by Morgan and York the "fine wines and specialty foods" store turned "bocateria" with delicious Spanish-inspired bocata sandwiches and Andalusian gazpacho.
It makes sense that if you've got a line on Cafe Japon's great baguettes, a deli counter with amazing cheeses and charcuterie from excellent purveyors, along with condiments like piquillo peppers and Italian mostardas, that you might get the idea to put them all together.
1928 Packard, Ann Arbor, MI
- Hours: Mon-Sat: 7:30 a.m. (for coffee), 9 a.m. for everything else. Until 9 p.m. Sun: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
- Plastic: All
- Liquor: Although they sell beer, wine and spirits, you cannot purchase to drink on the premises.
- Prices: Moderate. Sandwiches are $9-$13
- Noise level: Moderate
- Wheelchair access: Yes
So why the "bocata" incarnation of the sandwich? York explains "We choose bocatas because nobody in the Ann Arbor area was making them Jamon and butter is the first sandwich you will encounter when you arrive by plane to Barcelona, Spain. It is simple and delicious, and I fell in love with it on my honeymoon 22 years ago."
York says that at the store, the dry cured jamon serrano sandwich with Calder butter is their most popular bocata option, closely followed by the Caprese with tomatoes, pesto, and house-made mozzarella.
Tasting them makes it easy to see why they are popular. Thin slices of the dry, salty and slightly barnyard-y jamon serrano make the thick layer of butter on the chewy baguette taste extra sweet. As for the Caprese, the generous rounds of mozzarella were top notch, and the pesto was perfectly good. Out of season tomatoes were the weakest link when I tried this sandwich several weeks ago, but with ripe heirloom tomatoes it would shoot right to the top of my list. The classic simplicity and quality of these bocatas in particular reminded me of what you would find in Europe, with nothing hiding the distinct taste of each fine element.
The more complex Alsatian Reuben with garlic sausage, Swiss Emmental, and The Brinery's sauerkraut seemed to stretch the concept of "bocata," but was a Teutonic fusion that totally works.
Likewise, the meatloaf and mostarda bocata with a rustic country-style pate, arugula and sweet and spicy apricot mustard was probably not on many Spanish menus but tasted like what would happen if your mom's meatloaf sandwich went to university and came home from a study-abroad program. The spicy hot Cajun-style Tasso ham with the Brinery's Storm Cloud Zapper pickled beets was another study of cross-cultural genius made possible by the sandwich.
Among the only sandwiches that I probably wouldn't hurry to order again were the bresaola artichoke and fontina, because even though the description of "air-dried beef" and "long-stemmed Violetta artichokes" sounded amazing, the flavors were too muddled for me. I would also hold off on the cheesy ones — the comte and tomato and the gloucester and chutney. And not because they weren't good, but because of the distraction; it was hard to taste the flavor of the cheese with all the bread and condiments.
And speaking of cheese, it was Morgan and York's new single-serving cheese plates that gave me the idea to do a review of their prepared food options in the first place. It's a great idea to offer individual tastings of cheeses and charcuterie — also available for take-out or paired with their free Saturday and Thursday wine tastings.
However, I was a little disappointed. The cheeses, including small samples of Roquefort, Comte, Ulivio and Brie, were some of the more pedestrian examples from their cheese cave, in my opinion. They were served cold, no substitutions are allowed, and the portion was pretty tiny for the $10 price tag. I hope they might consider fixing those things because being able to have an in-store sampling of their cheeses and accompaniments is a great idea - especially with the wine tastings.
Their pumpkin-orange Andalusian gazpacho has a creamy color that I suspect comes from the traditional inclusion of soaked bread. The first time we ordered it had a seriously mouth-puckering vinegar punch that was almost too much for me, who used to beg my mother to let me drink the pickle juice when I was little. And my husband (who is admittedly a vinegar-phobe) said it was over the top for him.
However, on a second try the vinegar had been tamed, the texture was silky smooth and the flavor of garlic, cucumber, and tomato was appealing complimented by a garnish of tiny cubes of crunchy sweet green apple. Tommy York says their secret is using the traditional family recipe of a Spanish friend which is "real gazpacho, not Mexican salsa." He says "there is a whole lot of delicious olive oil in that recipe.. that is the other secret."
With the excellent Sweet Gem chocolate shop housed inside and slowly gentrifying environs on south Packard, the "Cheese, cheese, cheese" shop has been considerably spiffed up since its days as the Big 10 Party Store. There are now pendant lights and little tables and stools scattered around for seating amongst the wine bottles, cooler cases and specialty foods. You can linger with your laptop over pastry with coffee, or stop by for a soup and sandwich lunch. Tommy York says that in January they'll be installing a full commercial kitchen and are currently gathering ideas for how they'll expand the menu.
The number of restaurant options in the southeast Packard neighborhood is limited, so ordering some bocata sandwiches and gazpacho is a great way to have a tasty lunch in-house, or on the patio for La Merienda. I'm guessing it could only be better if you happened to pick up a chilled bottle of wine, and took a cue from the French for a little dejeuner sur l'herbe.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.