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Sandwiches Demand Some Respect at Black Tree Sandwich Shop

(Photos: Ryan Muir)

Crown Heights just got a whole lot tastier with the addition of Black Tree Sandwich Shop. Don’t let the name fool you – this is more than just a sandwich joint, you won’t find any flimsy PB&J’s here. In fact, you won’t find any flimsy sandwiches period. Black Tree is thinking outside the sandwich box and using quality ingredients to create inventive and well-stuffed sandwiches that you’ll happily eat for dinner too.

Open since the beginning of May, Black Tree is situated in the Crown Inn, a popular watering hole amongst locals. Although Black Tree’s co-owners, Sandy Hall and Macnair Sillick, are looking to eventually relocate and have their own stand-alone set-up, for now they are more than pleased with the relationship, as are the bar-goers and foodies in the neighborhood.

Just after six when we arrived, the bar itself was in full happy hour mode, with great offers on draft beers and a fairly hefty bar crowd, which seemed to be comprised of local regulars lining the bar and seated at tables dotted in dark and cozy alcoves along the wall. In the far back, there was a private party, for which Black Tree had happily catered the food.

Seated at the bar, I glanced down it and saw that, amongst the groups of chatting friends, sat a few parties of one, enjoying a drink, reading a book and working away at a giant sandwich. Which, I think, says a lot about the comfortable and inviting atmosphere and affordable prices. Black Tree is the kind of place where you could easily treat yourself to a solo dinner out and leave feeling full, relaxed and like you haven’t just broken the bank in the process.

I began munching on a grilled cheese sandwich served with a pot of homemade pickles, and it suddenly became difficult to focus on anything else. This isn’t your average grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese at Black Tree comes in the form of two high quality cheeses – a sheep’s milk cheese and a sharp cheddar – pressed between perfectly crisp, buttery bread. If you’re in the mood, you can kick it up a notch by opting for a farm fresh egg on top, an option for any of the sandwiches on the menu. Our grilled cheese and egg sandwich was mouthwatering.  I popped one of the homemade pickled cukes in my mouth and the added tang and crunch really brought the whole cheese and egg sandwich experience together. 

Although they had me at grilled cheese and homemade pickles, I continued to peruse the menu and was immediately impressed by its local and seasonal nature. After chatting with Sandy for a few minutes, I learned that all of their ingredients come from farms within a 300 mile radius and whenever there are ‘holes’ in the menu, Sandy himself hits local greenmarkets to grab whatever looks good. Doing a lot of the cooking and preparation himself, Sandy even makes preserves, having concocted the strawberry-balsamic jam for the sweet and savory Portabello Sandwich with goat cheese ($10) in-house. 

Demonstrating complete flexibility and originality in the kitchen by sourcing seasonally, they also work a lot with the whole animal - meaning Black Tree looks for inventive and tasty ways to highlight lesser-used cuts of meat. This week, Sandy had gotten in whole lambs and featured the chops on the Lamb Chop Sandwich ($11), which is topped with a yogurt mint sauce and local feta cheese. I imagine that lamb liver or tongue sandwiches are a difficult sell for the general population, but Sandy is up to the challenge. Both meats were featured as the special sandwiches last night: Lamb tongue with house made Horseradish Crème ($9) and Lamb Liver with Shallots and Cilantro Pesto ($9). Rather than completely masking the taste of tongue and liver, each sandwich did well to highlight the respective meat, while also balancing their strong flavors. The liver sandwich with shallot and cilantro pesto was one of my favorite sandwiches of the night and one that I would return for again.

Which is one of the obstacles that Sandy and Mac have come against in their quest for a locally and seasonally fueled menu – folks find a sandwich they love and they want to keep coming back for it, but when the season or ingredients change, you might not find your favorite listed. But have no fear, because their menu, although always changing, is well thought out so there is definitely always something for everyone – including house-made pickle pots ($3) and charcuterie and cheese boards (Pick 1 for $4 or 3 for $10), for those not in the mood for a sandwich.

Although we didn’t get a chance to sample it, the Smoked Duck Bahn Mi Sandwich ($11) was tempting – it’s filled with house-smoked duck and duck liver mousse, house pickles and duck cracklins’. Another sandwich that I did get to try, and believe me, I wasn’t sorry about it, was the Short Rib Sandwich ($11) packed to the brim with braised short ribs, house-made blue cheese dressing and local greens.

The list goes on and, when I was there, it even included a sandwich called The Rabe Sandwich ($10), comprised of garlic sautéed broccoli rabe with a homemade sharp cheddar sauce and garlic rosemary chips. No matter what fillings you choose, all of the sandwiches are packed between bread and rolls that Mac and Sandy get from Caputo’s Bakery in Carroll Gardens, which is a great start to any sandwich.

Who knows how long the Crown Inn will be home for Black Tree Sandwich Shop, but for now, as evidenced by the crowd and smiles, local drinkers and eaters are happy to take advantage of these sandwiches for as long as they can. I asked what the most popular sandwich is and Mac said, “As the night goes on, people seem to order more grilled cheeses.” Even the cheerful and welcoming bartender claimed the grilled cheese was her favorite. What can I say? I guess, in the end, classics are always winners – but if you have occasion to stop by Black Tree Sandwich Shop, I would take a chance on one of their more adventurous combos – you won’t be sorry.

Black Tree Sandwich Shop is located at724 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights.

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