Our latest Quick Bites brings us to Brooklyn for some Bunk sandwiches.
There are five Bunk Sandwich shops in Portland, Oregon, and a quick tour around the Blogs of the Great Northwest quickly reveals that people out there love them, tossing about accolades like "best breakfast sandwich", "most iconic Portland sandwich", and "launched a sandwich revolution" with abandon.
So, excellent news that they're bringing all that sweet sandwich magic to Brooklyn, right? And to Williamsburg, which now more than ever could use a dose of what the Portland press calls their "keep-it-real" attitude?
In theory, yes. But hold on...
Bunk seems to be a nice fit for this more laid-back stretch of Driggs Avenue. You order at the counter, get your numbered sign, and await your food at one of the half-dozen or so tables—mostly small two-tops, with a larger communal table up front—or on a stool at the counter. Help yourself to plastic cups of water, silverware if applicable (sometimes they forget to bring it with your food), and a solid collection of hot sauces. Sandwiches and accompanying chips are served on a sheet of Bunk-branded wax paper.
The atmosphere bodes well for a casual lunch, quick dinner, or satisfying late-night snack. Unfortunately, for now at least, the food doesn't come close to delivering.
I tried six of Bunk's sandwiches over the weekend, and could only muster the enthusiasm to finish one, the Oregon Albacore Tuna Melt.
Why "Oregon"? I asked the same thing, and it's not because the tuna salad is prepared in an interesting, regional manner; it's that the fishery is based in the Northwest. Also, as Bunk's owner admitted, it's more of a branding thing. Anyway, it was decent, appropriately cheesy, with nice usage of pickles. The dried-up crusty bits were slightly off-putting, but I was starving that day and soldiered through.
There's a curious sort of inattention, or lack of caring, that was evident throughout my three visits. The Marinated Garbanzo Bean sandwich seemed promising—served with feta, arugula, and hot peppers, like a zippy Greek salad between bread—but the soggy beans had been soaking way too long, and the astringent marinade completely overwhelmed everything else. And there's no way anyone tasted a prototype for the special dessert sandwich I had on Sunday. Billed as grilled brie and peach on pound cake, the cheese was off-the-charts overripe, more like a stinky blue (complete with vomit undertones), and the miserly smear of jelly didn't stand a chance. If you want dessert, get one of the Bunk Chocolate Chip Cookies instead, which at least are sweet though, as a friend said, little better than standard mall-kiosk issue.
The Pork Belly Cubano is apparently something of a signature dish at the Portland Bunks, and it wasn't available my first visit because, I was told, they ran out of pork belly. But the next day, there it was on the menu again... only thing is, that's not pork belly, guys. "Yes, that's pork belly," said one of the friendly staffers when I showed her the thin slice of gray tenderloin on my sandwich. I didn't argue the point further, but the following day another worker told me that they don't use actual pork belly for their Pork Belly Cubano, because it's too fatty, so instead they take a little bit of belly, meat glue it onto some pork shoulder, roll it up and then slice it for a sandwich. Personally? I'd stick a slab of regular ol' pork belly on this thing just to create some excitement. As it stands, it's really more grilled ham and cheese than anything else.
The Meatball Parmigiano Hero is fine—not the novelty it seems to be in Oregon, but an acceptable sandwich—and the Peanut Butter and Nutella suffers from too little filling between too much white bread.
As far as cold sides go, skip them all and stick with the free potato chips. The Burnt Broccoli, the Potato Salad with bacon and egg, the House Pickles: none of these are worth the extra two bucks, as you'll only be inspired to eat a bite or two. My boat of Debris Fries, Bunk's version of poutine, looked decadent but had almost literally no flavor, and so was not worth the calories. Better are the Mole Tater Tots, which at least come with some kick and crunch, though they forgot to put the promised cotija cheese on mine. Finally, the Tomato Soup... is ok.
The ideas are solid here, the menu appealing, the prices reasonable, and Bunk could become a go-to neighborhood spot. But they can't just coast on whatever legend they might be back in Portland. Someone needs to wake up back there in the kitchen, and start spreading some love to the folks out front. It is, after all, the Brooklyn way.
Bunk Sandwiches is located on the corner of Driggs Avenue and South 2nd Street, and is open Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., on Fridays until 12:00 midnight, on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to midnight, and on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (347-763-0434; bunksandwiches.com)