Monday, April 11, 2011

On Perfection, Zankou Chicken, & Sunday Night Baseball

Small is the number of things I consider perfect in life. Oh so small. The first side of Astral Weeks. The opening 90 seconds of Goodfellas. The way Elizabeth looks in her watermelon-colored dress. A 5PM start time at Dodger Stadium on a weekend in July.

And a few others I selfishly do not wish to share.

There are very few things I enjoy more than winding down the weekend by watching Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. I would not go so far as to call it perfect, but it is a routine I could not imagine my life without. Some Sundays I may fire up the grill and drink a couple beers during the game; if it's a warm evening I may just pour a cold glass of lemonade and skip dinner altogether. Joining 75,000 screaming fans in the Rose Bowl on an autumn Saturday is wonderful. Watching baseball on the couch on summer Sundays is even better.

Do I miss the broadcasting team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan this season? I sure do; Miller's easygoing tone seemed especially tailor-made for end-of-the-weekend evenings. But baseball is still baseball, no matter who's calling the game, and yesterday's game was a wonderful matchup: Yankees vs. Red Sox.

A couple weeks ago a reader asked me what I think the best sandwiches are in the area. I gave a short list and offered that, if we could include a wrap in that, the Zankou Chicken chicken tarna wrap is perhaps my favorite sandwich in Pasadena. A few days later he emailed me to say that he'd grabbed one and it was "fantastic."

I started thinking about it, and realized I haven't had one of those wraps in months. I needed to change that. I headed over to Zankou and ordered the chicken tarna wrap: marinated, roasted chicken, carved and thrown into pita bread with garlic sauce and tomatoes.

Of course, I ordered it without the tomatoes. Some people complain that Zankou isn't as good as it used to be, that the portions are smaller and the prices have gone up too much. I have never thought that about the Pasadena location: the ($4.99) wraps are always bursting with chicken.

The container of pickled turnips and hot peppers used to disgust me. Now I find them indispensable.

I always purchase an 8-ounce container of Zankou's garlic sauce, a fluffy white paste with a flavor unlike almost anything I have ever eaten. I add a not-small amount of the sauce and a few of the pickled vegetables to the wrap before I begin eating.

 Much better.

And here it is: my perfect meal. I've had Langer's pastrami and Geno's cheesesteaks. I've had the muffaletta from Central Grocery and I've had a pulled pork sandwich on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi on a 100-degree day in May, washed down with ice-cold beer and melting in my mouth like cotton candy in the rain. And I think I might take this chicken tarna over any of them.

When you load it with toppings in such a manner, it falls apart as you eat it, the only way it could be. You may have your perfect sandwich but it will not last. As soon as you touch it, it will lose its perfection.

But well worth it every time.


Mikey said...

Damn now I know what I'm doing for lunch today!

Liz said...

This was really good! It can get messy though, it definitely falls apart.

Anonymous said...

is the watermelon colored dress green, red, or green and red?

JustinM said...

A light red. I would post a picture but then I wouldn't be allowed home tonight.

Emily said...


Anonymous said...

The Zankou sauce is really easy to make. It's just garlic, oil, lemon juice, and salt.

Q said...

The turnips are just "meh" for me, I don't hate 'em but I don't like 'em either.

Anonymous said...

What a great post, man. It's entries like this that are why I check your page every day. I'll even forgive you being a Dodgers fan.

JustinM said...

Thanks for the compliments, but... I'm not a Dodgers fan. I'm a Vin Scully fan, but I'm not a Dodgers fan at all.

vartkes said...

Justin, thank you for the amazing compliments! I'm really glad that you enjoy the Tarna Wrap as much as we do. Funny, I sometimes eat my Tarna Wraps with pickles and chili inside. By the way, you can also ask us to prepare it like this for you. Thanks again.

JustinM said...

Thanks, Vartkes, my pleasure. It sounds good your way... but why mess with perfection, eh?

Unknown said...

Oooo! I've never had the balls to ask them to leave the tomatoes off. I usually feel bad when I make special requests ... Buuuut I'll try it :)

Anonymous said...

I moved to Pasadena a couple of years ago (mind you, once I realized I was, I was too excited to try all the places you've recommended and experienced. And you are right, Tops chili cheese fries are my delicious guilty pleasure now.)

I've been going to Zankou for YEARS. Love the food. However, the Pasadena location is just okay now. Prices have increased (understandable) but the portions have decreased, and it's not just the same anymore. Thankfully, the recipes haven't changed much and most items do still taste great.

Justin, have you tried the beef shawarma? (Same as the chicken, but just beef)

Also, if anyone else is reading this, I suggest you do NOT get the kabobs from Zankou. The prices are not worth it and the flavors aren't anything exciting. Go to Haig's Kabob in North Hollywood -- arguably, the best kabobs/barbecue in all of Los Angeles.

Justin, if you and Elizabeth come back to Pasadena any time, I will treat you both to kabobs/barbecue from Haig's.

JustinM said...

Hi Manouela. I actually ate a chicken tarna wrap from Zankou in Pasadena two weeks ago - my first one in a long time. It was definitely not as good as I remembered it. It was more expensive and, though the portion size seemed the same, it was not nearly as good as it used to be. Not enough sauce, and too much chewy, inedible meat. They were packing up a large catering order for someone, and the whole place seemed disorganized. It took at least three minutes of me standing at the register before anyone acknowledged me. I was not impressed. It's a shame, but that's the way of the world.

I almost never eat beef anymore unless I'm cooking it myself, so I won't be trying that at Zankou.

I have never been to Haig's. Next time I return to the area, I'll put it on my list.