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For what's basically a pile of stuff smashed between two pieces of bread, sandwiches sure are a huge part of our lives. And why not? They're compact, manageable, easy to eat and offer endless variations for a quick lunchtime grab.

But something's been happening to sandwiches lately. There's been a rush of innovation between the bread that nobody, not even John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich himself, could have expected. Especially here in the North Bay, where fresh, local ingredients are simply grace notes in a chef's sonata, sandwiches have undergone a makeover that's caused the rest of the country to put down their PB&Js and take notice.

For this year's Food & Wine issue, we've rounded up some of our favorites out of the literally thousands of sandwiches in the North Bay. You'll notice we haven't forgotten the turkey-and-swiss corner store creations, but we're glad to share plenty of new discoveries, too, geared to inspire special out-of-the-way detours with friends.

The funny thing about all this is that once we got going, we could have written about five times as many sandwiches, easily. All for a pile of stuff smashed between two pieces of bread!

—Gabe Meline

Ray's Deli
The Chickabacon; $7.50

A sandwich really becomes a sandwich when sliced in half to reveal its layers of hidden goodness. This cross-section view should always be a visually stunning work of art, and Ray's Deli in Petaluma showcases that ideal. There are many reasons to visit this off-the-strip deli and tavern, but the sandwiches could be number one. A variety of staples created by a couple of Cotati foodies who took their culinary curiosity out of the kitchen and into the storefront continuously elevates the sandwich to the level of gourmet cuisine. Take, for example, the Chickabacon. Seemingly simple: diced chicken breast, bacon, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and cheese. But when each ingredient is pushed to its best, the results are phenomenal. Free-range chicken, real, thick-cut bacon, red pepper aioli, fresh lettuce, ripe tomato and fresh-sliced cheese. The Ray's roll, baked each morning, is soft and light, highlighting the flavors it is sworn to protect. This is no five-dolla footlong, because unlike a certain corporate chain deli's flavorless dreck, it actually tastes like something (and it's a little more than $5). These sandwiches are a treat, a reward for a job well done or just a congratulations for making it halfway through the workday. Isn't that what a sandwich should do? Ray's Deli, 900 Western Ave., Petaluma. 707.762.9492.—Nicolas Grizzle

Redd Wood
Pork Belly BLT; $15

Redd Wood in Yountville is the new restaurant from Richard Reddington, owner of Redd, also in Y-Town. The restaurant serves wood-fired pizzas and other Italian-inspired dishes, but on a recent visit, it was the pork belly BLT that caught my eye. Bacon, as I'm sure you know, is made from sliced pork belly. Reddington cranks up the pig factor by stacking well-crisped chunks of wonderfully fatty pork belly along with a tart-sweet tomato marmalade and a buttery, crunchy handful of pale green inner romaine leaves between a perfectly toasted ciabatta roll amply covered with mayonnaise. Now that's a BLT. Redd Wood, 6755 Washington St., Yountville. 707.299.5030.—Stett Holbrook

Noodle Bowl
Banh Mi; $4.95

Where do legends live? Tucked next to a Laundromat in the back of a grimy strip mall on an awkward side street near the family courthouse? If you're talking about the legend that is Noodle Bowl's banh mi, then look no further. There are plenty of Cambodian dishes at play here, but the banh mi's the thing. A staple of Vietnamese street food, banh mi are compact and filling, and Noodle Bowl's version hosts carrots, cilantro, cucumber, daikon, mayonnaise and your choice of BBQ pork, beef, chicken or tofu. A Cousteaux Bakery roll is the perfect finishing touch, and even as we've watched its price rise from $3 to $4, and now $5, it's still a worthy lunchtime detour. Bring your friends who've never heard of banh mi, and blow their minds. Noodle Bowl, 821 Russell Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.843.5256.—Gabe Meline

Willow Wood Market
Roasted Eggplant; $11.95

The hot eggplant sandwich at the Willow Wood looks like a veritable vegetarian's delight. After all, it's made with eggplant, skinned and roasted red peppers, feta, walnut pesto and homemade roasted-garlic mayonnaise. The kicker is the anchovy. Still, it's the eggplant that makes this sandwich a legend beyond Graton. Sliced and tossed with olive oil, it's roasted on a cookie sheet in a hot oven until caramelized. The bread, from the Village Bakery in Sebastopol, is fresh and thinly sliced. The chef spreads pesto on one slice, the garlic mayonnaise on the other, with the eggplant and red peppers layered one on top of another with French feta as the final addition. Then it's roasted in the oven on a pizza stone until the cheese melts and the flavors combine. Matthew Greenbaum, its creator, says, "I usually don't like eggplant, but I love this sandwich." Potato salad, olives and pickles come with the plate. Willow Wood Market, 9020 Graton Road, Graton. 707.823.0233.—Jonah Raskin

Lombardi's Deli
Killer Joe's; $7.99

Lombardi's is set 50 yards back from the road, but that doesn't stop the Petaluma institution's pungent BBQ aroma from wafting into the fast lane and causing near-misses as drivers yank their steering wheels westward toward the source. Inside, the small deli oozes old-world Petaluma; flyers for livestock dot the bulletin board, and tractors are sometimes even parked out front. The menu peers down over an always-busy counter, and though the Mama Lil's sandwich with peppers is a solid second choice, those who want some serious slop should go for the Killer Joe's. A full half-pound of tri-tip hot from the front-porch smoker would be enough to justify the eight-dollar price tag, but add not only melted horseradish cheddar but horseradish mayonnaise, and you've got a sandwich that bites back. Comes with tomatoes, onions, and 245 napkins—you'll need 'em.Lombardi's Deli, 3413 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.773.1271.—Gabe Meline

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The Farmer's Wife
Farm Egg, Bacon & Cheese Lyonnaise; $10

The absolute best part of the 2012 Battle of Brews, held recently in Santa Rosa, was the thrill of getting to discover the farm fried egg, bacon and blue lyonnaise grilled cheese sandwich from the Farmer's Wife. Made on perfectly grilled Full Circle organic sourdough bread, this French-inspired sandwich features an addictive mix of organic egg and craft bacon stacked on a rich, melted blend of Point Reyes Farmstead toma cheese, Irish Dubliner and Strauss cheddar. (Not surprisingly, the sandwich ended up being voted "Best in Show" by a panel of judges out of 21 entries at the Battle of the Brews "'Wich Hunt.") Owner Kendra Kolling says that her catering and food business started as an offspring of Nana Mae's Organics, the well-loved Sonoma County heirloom apple juice company that she runs with her husband. But this year, the Farmer's Wife has started making a name for itself, successful enough to be asked to cater a family birthday party for Tyler Florence at his Mill Valley home, where the farm egg sandwich, naturally, was a huge hit. For now, folks can pick up the award-winning grilled cheese along with a rotating cast of seven to nine sandwiches at the Sonoma farmers market, the San Rafael Civic Center Farm Market and the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur. "I'm making sandwiches in parking lots to help finance my dream," says Kolling, who has been working steadily to secure a spot for a craft cannery and kitchen in Sebastopol's new food and wine center, the Barlow.—Leilani Clark

Mac's Deli
Sardine; $6.45

There's a customer at Mac's who is on a mission to eat all 49 sandwiches on the menu, which sounds like an easy feat until one considers sandwich No. 24, made with tongue, chopped chicken liver and onions. "The other weird one is the sardine sandwich," says waitress Courtney Carretta on a recent weekday, "but I won't make you eat that one." Oh, really? I take this as a challenge, and order it. Carretta visibly winces, but five minutes later plops the plate in front of me, offering Pepto-Bismol if needed. But when I heave a mighty bite into my mouth, I'm surprised when the sardine sandwich is in fact completely delicious. Its construction is simple—just fish on bread, no fixin's—and the soft roll balances any salty or oily features of the sardines. After a second bite, owner Toraj Soltani sidles up. "Can you take it?!" he asks. Take it? I devour the whole thing, and, heck, I might even order it again. Here's to adventure! Mac's Deli, 630 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.545.3785.—Gabe Meline

Fourth Street Market

You can't get much more central in downtown Santa Rosa than the intersection of Fourth and Mendocino, which makes Pete Mogannam's Fourth Street Market a cultural hub of the city. While waiting in line at the always-busy sandwich counter, I've witnessed political rivals engaged in debate; business deals being negotiated; reporters talking about tomorrow's front-page story; policemen complaining about downtown's homeless population; downtown's homeless population complaining about the police; and everybody complaining about parking. If downtown is Santa Rosa's heart, Fourth Street Market is its aortic valve.

In the midst of all this hustle and flow are Lisa Mogannam, Katie Smith and Marissa Morabe, three familiar faces behind the deli counter who manage the fast-paced balancing act of chatting with regulars, executing evasive dance steps around each other and making roughly 300 sandwiches a day for the lunchtime crowd.

"When I first started, I freaked out," says Morabe, who sees so many sandwiches a day she's even had dreams about them. At the height of the lunch hour, staying calm is key. Mogannam has been here since her father opened on the corner in 1996, and "the newbies always have to be broken in," she says.

But with the bustle comes rewards. Going through ingredients so quickly means they're always fresh, and there are the notably unusual orders that break up the day—tuna and egg salad mixed together, maybe, or the guy who orders just pickles, cheese and Dijon on dark rye. But the best part, all agree, is getting to personally know the customers, from all walks of life. "We see everybody," Mogannam says. "We hear what's going on in their lives."

"Sometimes we hear a little more than that," Morabe adds, but stops there, honoring the sandwich maker's unspoken confidentiality agreement. "A lot of them, I know their sandwiches and not their names. It's like, 'Hi, how are you? Tuna on light rye?'" Fourth Street Market, Fourth and Mendocino, Santa Rosa, 707.573.9832.—Gabe Meline

Model Bakery
Breakfast Sandwich; $6.25–$7.25

Say the words "English muffin" and for most, images of plastic-sack, grocery-bought Thomas' muffins come readily to mind. Model Bakery threatens to redefine the category. This particular take is no ordinary muffin, starting at the roots of this buttery delight. It's concocted from focaccia dough riddled with olive oil, yeast, flour and even a pinch of vitamin C to rouse the health-conscious crowd. The dough drops are plopped on a cornmeal-lined tray and griddled on a stovetop, delivering a muffin that's airy and butter-soft. Michael Chiarello went as far as bowing down to this muffin on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and dubbed it "super airy and as light as a cloud," and we can't disagree. The goodness keeps on rolling, with fluffy scrambled eggs sandwiched between layers of Canadian bacon and sealed with cheddar cheese. For those looking to overindulge, avocado and tomato are available as add-ons. And, yes, maybe the vitamin C doesn't exactly counter some of the more gluttonous aspects of this not-so-innocent sandwich, once you chomp your first bite you'll no longer care. Model Bakery, 1357 Main St., St. Helena, 707.963.8192. Also at 644-B First St., Napa. 707.259.1128.—Christina Julian

Underwood Bar & Bistro
Moroccan Lamb; $12.75

The elegant Underwood Bar and Bistro, across the street from Willow Wood Market, features a hefty Moroccan lamb sandwich served on homemade flatbread. In part inspired by the popular Greek gyros, it's also made with harissa, a hot chili sauce that originated in North Africa. Hence, it's a Moroccan-style lamb sandwich, and it's spicier than any gyros this side of Athens. Matthew Greenbaum created it after visiting the Greek island of Tilos, then tweaked it to suit his own taste buds. Lamb sirloin is sliced, marinated and grilled until crispy and tender, then placed in warm flatbread that's as easy to fold and hold as a slice of pizza. Juicy tomatoes, arugula and red onion are added, along with tzatziki, the traditional Greek mix of yogurt and cucumber that provides a clean, fresh taste. Bite into this sandwich and you think you're eating in a cafe in Tangier or Marrakesh. It's been on the menu since the day the Underwood opened, and customers won't let the restaurant retire it. Underwood, 9113 Graton Road, Graton. 707.823.7023.—Jonah Raskin

CHRISTINA JULIAN
  • Christina Julian

Village Bakery
Calistoga Turkey & Red Pepper Panini; $7.95

Turkey could be accused of being one of the most overexposed sandwich meats in the country, the rise of bacon aside. So not just any turkey sandwich could make the cut, but this one does, and here's why—the confluence of ingredients. Start with the focaccia bread. While buttery in flavor, it's not oozing with olive oil. Bread should be bread, after all, not a soggy alter-ego of its former self. This light, slightly crisp bread has just a touch of salt on top, which really works to its advantage. Add to that a roasted red pepper aioli spread, and then comes what we think is the heart of this sandwich: a layer of fresh, roasted poblano chilies packing a flavorful punch. Melted together with roasted turkey and a hefty dose of provolone cheese, this baby dances down the throat. In case you're feeling guilty over eating a not-so-square meal, the sandwich comes with organic greens and an heirloom tomato slice topped with asiago, or you can glam it up with your pick of gourmet salads (pictured with the Calistoga couscous). "This panini-styled sandwich is a locals' favorite. Enjoy it in our bakery, or as a delicious 'to go' meal at one of our neighboring wineries," says manager Jason Theobal. Village Bakery, 1353 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga. 707.942.1443.—Christina Julian

Hopmonk Tavern
Grilled Cheese & Ham; $11.50

Few things are better than the childhood delicacy that is grilled cheese and ham. Mom probably made it with a couple of Kraft American Singles and pre-packaged deli meat, but Hopmonk Tavern does the grilled cheese and ham one better. Their version, which comes with tomato soup, has a Sonoma County edge—meaning it has some seriously upgraded ingredients. The sandwich starts on a high note with toasted, Parmesan-crusted sourdough. Inside, the eater discovers yellow cheddar, white cheddar and Gruyère, melted together in a rich, balanced cheese combination. (Not that anyone's counting, but that's four cheeses right there.) Ham, not always the favorite of the meat family, can lean toward dry or overly salty, but this grilled ham intends to change that, with the grill marks to prove it. The sandwich is finished with a dijonaisse, once a lesser-known condiment that's now a staple among gourmet sandwiches of the area. "The people who know about the grilled cheese and ham come back for it all the time," says Hopmonk manager Bill DeCarli. While DeCarli says the hamburger still wins the popularity contest, the grilled cheese and ham is a close second. Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. 707.829.7300. Also in Sonoma at 691 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.935.9100.—Holly Abrahams

The Fremont Diner
Reuben; $11.99

Sonoma's Fremont Diner has perfected a retro, Southern-inspired menu sourced from literally backyard ingredients and sustainably minded local purveyors. Close your eyes and point, and you'll pick a winner, but the top choice in the sandwich category is the Reuben. I challenge you to find thicker, juicier corned beef anywhere. The restaurant layers on the in-house sliced meat, tangy sauerkraut and a generous smear of remoulade sauce (just fancy mayo, really) between two slices of well-griddled rye bread. A ramekin of spicy whole grain mustard completes the deal. Fremont Diner, 2660 Fremont Drive, Sonoma. 707.938.7370.—Stett Holbrook

Sol Food
Bistec; $8.45–$10.45

It seems that every week I discover a new person who regularly crosses county lines for Sol Food along with someone who has never had the pleasure of San Rafael's addictive Puerto Rican culinary phenomenon. Whenever I send the latter directly to the lime green building at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln, I urge him to order the Bistec sandwich. Thin, succulent slices of all-natural steak mingle with avocado, sautéed onions, garlic mayo and swiss on a mildly toasted French roll that's flat-pressed to tasty perfection. Before I stopped eating beef, I enjoyed my Bistecs (way too many of them each month) without the onions and with a generous drizzle of Sol Food's famous hot sauce. These days, I usually settle on the Veggie Deluxe or the Nine Pobre sandwich, which are both excellent alternatives. But the Bistec is the one. The season of neighborhood barbecues is always hard on me, with the permeating smells of burgers and ribs and all types of other treats I no longer eat. But that small torture is nothing compared to watching everyone besides me enjoy the best sandwich in all of Marin County. My willpower has gotten me through so far, but it's a struggle every single time. Carnivores, enjoy. Vegetarians, beware. Sol Food, 901 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael. 415.451.4765.—David Sason

East West Restaurant
Falafel Pita, $11.50

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, here's the token vegan sandwich, I guess they had to throw one in here for inclusion's sake." Well, there would've been more on our list if any of the other vegan sandwiches I've tried were half as good as the falafel pita—this thing made the cut on its own merit. If you've ever dissed sandwiches that didn't satisfy for want of meat and cheese, then this is the vegan's revenge. Ditch soggy bread; forget those kinda-but-not-really-filling veggie sandwiches from the deli. The falafel pita is a crispy, hearty, colorful Mediterranean dream that adding a dead animal to would only screw up. Overflowing with toasty falafel patties, lettuce and tomatoes and dripping with tangy tahini sauce, this sandwich is portioned enough to fill a hiker hungry after romping around nearby Spring Lake or Annadel. Eat it outside on a sunny day—enjoy its Mediterranean taste in our Mediterranean climate—and get fries on the side instead of the salad. A heads up, though: this thing's served in a bowl for a reason; i.e., it would prefer to fall apart and become falafel salad. East West Restaurant, 557 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.546.6142.—Jay Scherf

Ike's Place

"I rememeber when I first realized that I needed to hire more employees," says Ike Shehadeh, founder of the hugely popular sandwich shop Ike's Place. "I had five people, and we were serving 200 people a day, and the line was two hours out the door."

To afford a larger staff, Shehadeh didn't pay himself for 19 months, but adding more employees only solved part of the problem. "We went from 200 sandwiches a day with a two-hour wait," he remembers, "to 600 sandwiches a day with a two-hour wait."

Thankfully, the wait isn't quite that long at Ike's new Santa Rosa location. But even for Ike's first day on Mendocino Avenue, with only a Facebook post as an announcement, the line was out the door.

What's the secret? "I always say what works best for me is layering flavors," Shehadeh explains. "When you're able to add different types of flavors that touch different areas of the tongue—and also with texture, when you get crunchy or squishy or chewy—the more you can distract the brain and the tongue, the deeper you're getting in the experience."

So what's new at the Santa Rosa spot? Customers will notice the local touches on the menu—the "Luther Burbank" sandwich, the "Charles Schulz," the "Deep Throat," the "Natalie Wood." A good, simple starter with roast beef, salami, turkey and provolone is the "Matt Cain" (the Giants have a heavy presence at Ike's), and there are copious vegan options, as well.

But for the truly adventurous, there's the five-pound Kryptonite ($19.91), one half of which is pictured on this week's cover of the Bohemian: roast beef, turkey, pastrami, ham, salami, bacon, avocado, pesto, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and banana peppers. At this week's grand opening party on July 25, the person who downs it the fastest gets free sandwiches for a year—provided they're still standing.

Ike's Place, 1780 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.293.9814.—Gabe Meline

Zazu on the River
The 'U-Pick' BLT; $10

When Duskie Estes and John Stewart closed their Bovolo restaurant in the back of Copperfield's Books and opened Zazu on the River, it did wonders for the restaurant's ambiance: it's a pork-themed snack shack on the grounds of Davis Family Winery, overlooking a wide bend of the Russian River. As for the sandwiches, there's a pulled-pork sandwich on a soft bun, recommended, and the "World's Greatest BLT." The boast is a bit much—I'd toast the bread and swap out the romaine lettuce for the retro crunch of iceberg, personally—but the housemade Black Pig bacon, thick, ripe tomato and outstanding surroundings (river, bocce ball, outdoor seating) still make this a sandwich that's hard to resist. Even better, once the tomatoes in the adjacent tomato garden are ripe, the restaurant plans to offer "U-pick" BLTs, where diners can actually pick the tomato for their sandwich. Hands-on, dining, indeed! Zazu on the River, 52 Front St., Healdsburg. 707.569.0171.—Stett Holbrook

KC's Downtown Grill
Crispy Buffalo Chicken; $11.50.

Buffalo wings can be such a mess, such a hassle. Who can really be bothered? If only they could take the same principles—spicy sauce, hot chicken and cool blue cheese dressing—and apply them to a sandwich. But wait a minute! KC's Downtown Grill makes a crispy buffalo chicken sandwich that will satiate your need for wings and then some, without the need for 13 wet-naps. Almost as large as two sandwiches, it contains a helping of crispy fried chicken breast bathed in spicy buffalo sauce. But there's more. Served on a big "fluffy French roll" with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo, the sandwich is big on flavor and comes with a chilled cup of blue cheese or ranch—your preference—to quell the spiciness. Of course, the sandwich is served with fries—it wouldn't be right to eat a crispy chicken sandwich with anything else. The only other recommended component to this meal might be one of KC's ice cream milkshakes, but you may want to consult your physician first. KC's Downtown Grill, 9501 DuVander Lane, Windsor. 707.838.7800.—Holly Abrahams

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Michael's Sourdough
Basically any sandwich on a sourdough roll; $7.49–$7.79

There's a moment when you're waiting in line for sandwiches at Michael's when you realize you're about to experience something special. Yes, Michael's sourdough rolls are so fresh, warm, sweet and crispy that they put any French bakery to shame. Perhaps the tastiest this side of the Seine, Michael's incredible rolls perfectly complement the ingredients of their nearly 30 specialty sandwiches. Standards like the tuna salad are given new life with every bite, while creations like the basil cream chicken have made it difficult for the lunchtime crowd to spend their precious 30-minute break on any other local bite. How many delis have to put up signs saying that they've sold out of their bread for the day? It's unheard of, but thankfully it's also a reproducible formula, with locations now in Rohnert Park and Petaluma exposing Sonoma citizens to the wondrous addiction that is Michael's Sourdough bread. If Jean Valjean really existed, he'd be stealing from Michael's right now. Michael's Sourdough, locations in Novato, San Rafael, Petaluma and Rohnert Park. www.michaelssourdough.com.—David Sason

Jimtown Store
The Jimtown; $8.75

There's no such thing as a simple sandwich anymore, and maybe that's a good thing. The "Jimtown" looks unassuming on the outside, yet it's anything but on the inside. Start with the baguette bread. In the wrong hands, baguette can slice open the roof of your mouth in a jiff, but not this diddy, soft and chewy on the inside, lightly crisp on the out. As you sink down further, you'll come tongue-to-mouth with prosciutto from Zoe's Meats. It's flavorful with just the right amount of salt—no gamey aftertaste here. The bread is swathed in Jimtown's own figgy-olive spread that'll cause your taste buds to roar. No sandwich would be complete without cheese, and this one delivers with just the right touch of Point Reyes blue, ever so slightly melted. "The Jimtown is one of our most requested sandwiches to eat on the patio or take on a picnic for winetasting," says owner Carrie Brown. Jimtown packs people in on weekends, many who are vying for this deceptive delight with the deliciously daffy flavor profile, but trust us, every finger-licking bite is worth the wait. Jimtown Store, 6706 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. 707.433.1212.—Christina Julian

Big John's Market
The Grove Street; $6.99.

Turkey sandwiches can be pretty ho-hum. Turkey, mayo, lettuce, bread and cheese—they often lack the emulsion of flavors we crave in a sandwich. However, there's an exception to every rule, and that's Big John's Market and their Grove Street sandwich, a turkey sandwich with elevated ingredients that are both simple and tasty. The first standout is the garlic-herb turkey, a pleasant departure from the all-too-abundant mesquite or honey-smoked turkeys. This herbaceous meat is juxtaposed with light, creamy Havarti cheese and garlic aioli. Holy aioli, this stuff is good! It adds a needed richness and at the same time builds the already present garlic flavor. Finally, the Grove Street is topped with tomato and spring mix greens, which adds a fresh, crisp element, and Big John's has a nice selection of fresh breads to customize the perfect sandwich. Big John's Market, 1345 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.7151.—Holly Abrahams

Big Bottom Market
The Independent; $9.50

Guerneville's Big Bottom Market has been a big boon to this small Russian River town, and the market's picnic fare tops the list. The deli offers a menu of regular sandwiches, but the changing "celebrity sandwich," an edible ode to local personalities of note, is different each month. For July, however, the sandwich celebrates our nation's birth with the "the Independent." You know, like Independence Day? Named chiefly in honor of Becoming Independent, the local organization helping those with disabilities live on their own, it's a firecracker of a combo featuring Black Forest ham, Point Reyes blue-cheese spread and cherry-shallot chutney with mixed greens on a soft French roll. Mmm. Big Bottom Market, 16228 Main St., Guerneville. 707.604.7295.—Stett Holbrook

Oakville Grocery

Aubrey McMinn was raised in Healdsburg, so she's seen a lot of changes in its once-sleepy downtown. Now with more Lexuses than pickup trucks, the streets around the plaza will soon see the dive bar John & Zeke's sold to new owners and a foundation for Seghesio Vineyards' pizzeria and salumeria poured on the site of the old post office before the end of the year. "It's changed quite a bit," she says.

McMinn is the catering manager at Oakville Grocery, which itself supplanted the old Healdsburg City Hall and police station on the plaza, and where the sandwich menu is on the cusp of changing, too—10 brand-new sandwiches already on the menu in the original Oakville location will come to Healdsburg this fall.

"We have our core sandwiches. The turkey pesto, the Mediterranean grilled chicken, the smoked turkey cranberry—those are always our staples," says McMinn. "And then we've added a couple over the years, taken some off, and changed them seasonally."

But one thing won't change, and that's the Mezzaluna, a glorious cult favorite that inspires long drives from faraway towns. Essentially a thin pizza crust baked on-site folded over a baby spinach or club salad, the Mezzaluna is prepared with such precision and freshness that there'd probably be a riot were it ever taken off the menu.

Everything is made in-house at Oakville Grocery, excluding the breads, which come from Cousteaux Bakery just down the street. For McMinn, the perfect sandwich is all about proper layering ("Start with the meat, then put the tomatoes on it so it's not soggy, then cheese, make sure you have enough greens on there, salt and pepper"), and she confesses that, yes, it's hard not to simply eat all day at her job.

Keeping busy with out-of-towners helps. "All day long, questions!" McMinn reports—everything from giving directions to consulting on which winery to visit. "In the off season," she says, "we have to keep our consistency and try to cater to the locals. The tourists leave, and it's just us. Our town."

Oakville Grocery, 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.4333200. 7856 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, 707.944.8802.—Gabe Meline

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