What do Funyuns, soft-shell crabs, bananas and grilled cheese sandwiches have in common? They're all ingredients in one or another of Phat Sammich's 60 selections, a mishmash of retro and stylin'-five-years-ago sandwiches with a decided tilt toward the calories-be-damned. Yes, grilled cheese sandwiches are an ingredient — two of them encase a hamburger patty with bacon in No. 56, the "Heart Attack." And don't forget the Funyuns.
Open since Aug. 17, the day before the Dream Cruise, as the staff fondly remembers, Phat Sammich is the brainchild of Jeffrey McArthur, owner of Farmington Hills' Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup.
It's a small and simple spot with a cheerful staff, an exposed kitchen, counter stools for seating, and everything served in plastic; most business seems to be take-out. Peace signs and stylized flowers decorate the walls, a daisy dots the "i" in Sammich, and the slogan is "Groovalicious, Baby!"
But the menu choices aren't geared toward the heirs of hippiedom. Retro options include fried bologna with an egg, meatloaf, Philly cheese steak, Reuben, club, BLT, the Elvis (that's where the bananas come in), burgers and dogs. Offerings made popular in the '90s or '00s include roasted vegetables with Gruyère, buffalo mozzarella with pesto and aioli, Cuban and various roll-ups, even in a lettuce leaf.
McArthur's biggest seller, the Phat Sammich, or No. 1, will give an idea of his "more is more" philosophy. It's your choice of meat on Italian bread, with Swiss cheese, cole slaw, Russian dressing — and the French fries inside the sandwich. If you're going to be eating fries anyway, why waste the opportunity to exercise your jaw hinges? These sandwiches are tall.
Googling will net you mixed reviews for Phat Sammich, and mine is too. I found several of the sandwiches too dominated by a single flavor despite their plethora of ingredients, and there was too much sweetness where it didn't belong. But I also found a sandwich I loved and a guilty-pleasure salad.
One big seller is based on pulled pork, barbecued beef or chicken, with cole slaw, barbecue sauce, cheddar and Funyuns on an onion roll. I sampled that at the same time as a "Cuban panini" — ham, shredded pork, pickle, red onion, aioli and Swiss. They tasted pretty much the same — like barbecue sauce. There was no aioli or cheese flavor discernible in the Cuban, but lots of onion. (Note that a traditional Cuban sandwich would use yellow mustard, which you could taste, and no onion. McArthur does hew to tradition on his Philly cheesesteak, though — the cheese is Cheez Whiz.)
I tried four soups and found none to rave about. Their best quality may be that you can get a large amount (called a "cup") for $2.95 when you buy a sandwich.
Tomato bisque — apparently very popular at the Farmington Hills location — and "loaded chili" are available every day, with three other soups rotating. I found the "crab and clam chowder" fairly good, definitely redolent of the sea, salty and quite thick. Vidalia onion is a thick soup, not a French onion broth, very sweet with a touch of heat. Blue-cheese crumbles provide a good contrast — the sweetness really is cloying. The chili is just a normal non-cook-off-winning chili. And the tomato bisque was a disappointment: too sweet for me, with no tomato flavor, though I did like the spiciness.
My companion was happy with his turkey-bacon-avocado (though the avocado was a spread, not slices), and I raved about my "wild mushroom." I wouldn't testify to the wildness of the fungi, but they were a dream with caramelized onions (not too sweet), spinach and aioli on perfectly grilled French bread. The mushrooms were so juicy they were squirting and the spinach so fresh I could pretend I was eating healthfully.
The cheap-thrills salad was spinach with hot bacon dressing, which no amount of greenery could disguise as a low-fat choice. Though the chicken bits were processed and the dressing was who-knows-what (it's supposed to be made with hot bacon drippings), the salad retained enough of its retro character to gratify.
Side orders include Tater Tots, onion rings, chili cheese fries and house-made potato chips. A $2.50 order of sweet potato fries was big enough for four, and they were decent if somewhat limp.
My advice to Phat Sammich customers? Add a fried egg to your BLT.
Phat Sammich is open every day and delivers in Birmingham at lunch time on weekdays. There's a patio for watching the Dream Cruise and other traffic.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.