Ham and Cheese War

Two popular DC lunchtime eateries that I've mentioned and touted before: The Breadline and Cafe Phillips. One sandwich, the classic ham and cheese – one of my absolute favorites. Who wins the ham and cheese war? We shall see.

In general, both places can be fantastic, but both definitely have their down days, so this is not a battle of the establishments. That would have to be a longer discussion.

The Ham: Breadline's is Madrange French ham, a thinly-sliced, deli-style ham with a lot of smoky, savory flavor. However, once or twice the the ham tasted old, and that's a real turn off. Usually it's moist and very flavorful though. Phillips' ham is made in-house, fresh-daily along with their turkey and roast beef, and is carved thickly and generously as you order it. It is moist and very flavorful but is not sweet at all and still has that deli smokiness. This is a must. ADVANTAGE? Phillips.

The Cheese: A deep, pungent and high-quality Swiss cheese is the only option they give you for this sandwich at the Breadline, and it is a very nice one. The powerful flavor of the cheese works well with the tang and smoke of the ham. At Phillips, the cheese is your choice of a menagerie of pre-sliced, deli varieties including Swiss, Provolone and Muenster. None are too exciting, flavorful or memorable. ADVANTAGE? Breadline.

The Bread: The most underrated portion of a great sandwich, Breadline realizes this, and true to its namesake bakes a great assortment of breads fresh each day. The ham sandwich comes on half of a French baguette. Crusty and flavorful outside with a moist, fresh inside, it is a great bread. It's never stale and plays well as a house for the rest of the sandwich. You have to be ready for a lot of bread though, as the bread-to-innards ratio is pretty high. At Phillips, the bread is not baked fresh there, but it is usually fresh and not packaged-tasting if you choose the right one. The hoagie roll, sub roll and Ciabatta are a sampling of the good bets. I get it on the Ciabatta, and it was surprisingly good bread, crusty and tasty. Plus it packs its punch while still being only a thin layer compared to the rest of the sandwich. ADVANTAGE? Breadline.

The Condiments: The Breadline keeps it simple and French and serves it to you with a small amount of some high quality butter. And that's all. This is certainly a tasty and rich addition, but not something I look to eat all the time. At Phillips, they offer to cover your sandwich with any of probably 20 toppings, but only a few usually look that enticing. I like the hot, whole-grain mustard. Theirs isn't that hot, but it’s a nice calorie-free complement to the ham. ADVANTAGE? Phillips.

The Cost: Breadline's notoriously high prices do not bypass the ham and cheese. At roughly $9, that can be a little steep for a sandwich, no matter how good. Phillips' ham and cheese runs around $7, which seems like an overall more reasonable price for a sandwich, especially considering they do their own ham. ADVANTAGE? Phillips.

The Size: Both sandwiches are huge. Big enough for two lunches, and I'm not just saying that. I almost always save the other half of either for another meal. ADVANTAGE? Push, but with a slight lean toward Phillips due to theirs costing less.

The Verdict: While both are terrific sandwiches that do the ham and cheese proud, Breadline's occasional dud (due to non-fresh ham) and higher cost despite overall slightly higher quality is enough for Phillips the Underdog to pull ahead and squeak out a win in the Ham and Cheese war. Ham & Cheese ADVANTAGE? Café Phillips over The Breadline for the title.

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