Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vegemite Sandwich in Philadelphia?

The 'Ex-Pat' is the first sandwich on the list at the new Wedge + Fig in Old City and at first I didn't get it. Ingredients: Quicke's cheddar, Marmite, Avocado, Watercress on a Sesame baguette.

What is marmite? I asked the girl behind the counter. She started to say something about salty yeast extract, and then stopped, said, it's an acquired taste, maybe you'd like a try? At this point the owner stepped out of the kitchen and drew the parallel between Australia's famous Vegemite, which is illegal in the United States, saying Marmite is the America-safe version of this concept, which is, literally, yeast extract only with government-mandated processing for sensitive American gastronomy.

Then an ice cream sample spoon was offered over the counter with a dab of thick, dark syrup on the tip. So this is Marmite? It was opaque, not quite tacky, about as viscous as molasses. The taste was bracingly salty but with a familiar organic tang to it. After processing, I compared it to distilled soy sauce, like the heroin to soy sauce's morphine.

True to stereotype, Australians are apparently, actually crazy about vegemite and as word has spread of the marmite sandwich at Wedge and Fig, the owner has reported Aussies making pilgrimage from around the Philly area to snag a sando with the flavors of home. Now the 'Ex-Pat' part was making sense.

And I was intrigued enough to order one. True to assurances from the staff, the marmite wasn't overwhelming and added delicious saltiness next to the smooth avocado. It was a delicious sandwich.

Most of all it's good to see Wedge + Fig stepping up the game in this promising space. The former tenant and concept-proving, Old City Cheese Shop was decidedly un-cheesy for a cheese shop and a little too laissez faire in terms of knowledge, service and overall business-savvy. The best recommendation I ever got out of the OCCS was 'cheddar.' The Wedge + Fig has outfitted the fridges with a properly exotic roster of cheeses and sent me home with an excellent sheeps-milk cheese called 'ewephoria' in addition to the sandwich that helped me finally understand the Men at Work.

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