“Bánh mìs” are everywhere, and color me skeptical. It’s not that I do not enjoy chefs’ riffs on the classic Vietnamese sandwich. It’s just that rarely do the riffs improve on the original, one of the world’s great sandwiches. Just as a pleasant cover of your favorite song might still make you want to hear the original, sometimes when I try a “bánh mì” riff, even a good one, I find myself thinking: You know what I could go for right now? A bánh mì.
Worse is that riffs can cost several times more than the original. At Asian groceries, strip mall joints, or Vietnamese bakeries, I have bought bánh mìs for as little as $2 each. Sometimes, they would give you a half dozen for $10. Today, it’s hard to find just one for less than that.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the riffs are overpriced. Most restaurants follow a simple formula for pricing dishes relative to cost, and there is no reason to believe that the approach for gussied-up bánh mìs is any different. Nor am I opposed to innovation. Much of cooking involves starting with a time-honored concept and creating something new. That’s how I often cook at home, and make drinks. And, Charlottesville does in fact have several excellent bánh mì riffs, like Tavern & Grocery’s and Ivy Provisions’.
So, it was with both skepticism and an open mind that I tried a bánh mì riff at Bodo’s recommended by one of the owners, Scott Smith. Working at bagel shop every day, Smith keeps things interesting by dreaming up unusual creations, such as lox on an everything, with watercress, corn salad, pesto, lettuce, onion, and EZ mayo. Sometimes his creations draw inspiration from other dishes, like a Cuban sandwich or his “Pad Thai” sandwich made with shrimp salad. Like a cooking show contestant restricted to what’s in the pantry, though, Smith is limited to the toppings on Bodo’s menu and the equipment in its kitchen. There’s no fish sauce for the Pad Thai. Nor a press for the Cuban.
With these limitations, Smith aims not to replicate originals but instead to draw on their ingredients and flavor concepts to create something new. For the bánh mì, Smith combines the sandwich’s signature earthy, sweet, acidic, peppery flavors, using what’s available. There’s no pork liver pate at Bodo’s, but there is chopped liver. And, there’s no cilantro, but there is watercress. Well, you get the idea.
The result? Delicious.
Because of the many ingredients, it does come in at a whopping $7.89. But, that’s still less than many bánh mì riffs. And no less delicious.
Here’s how to order it: ham on sesame, EZ chopped liver, EZ mustard, EZ mayo, horseradish, extra pepper spread, extra lettuce, extra watercress, cucumber, and sprouts.