In the mood for something out of the ordinary? Try one of our favorite local sandwiches the next time you’re out and about.
We’re a country of sandwich eaters. In fact, Americans eat more than 300 million sandwiches every day.
On any given day, nearly half the population (49 percent) eats a sandwich, so if Americans are packing away more than 300 million a day, a lot of us are eating more than one. I count myself among them—at least while I was on my sandwich-finding mission for this article.
But for the record, although Americans polish off a huge number of sandwiches, we can’t take responsibility for inventing this lunch and dinner staple. That credit goes to John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it that in 1762, the good earl was deep into a 24-hour gambling venture when he decided he needed sustenance. Rather than stop the game to use a knife and fork, he requested his meat be served between two slices of bread, allowing him to eat one-handed and continue playing. Smart man.
Next time you’re craving a meal in sandwich form—whether you’re in the midst of a hot card game or not—here’s hoping my diligent research will guide you to a tasty and satisfying meal.
Turkey Breast & Cranberry Panini
After my first lunch at Good4You Cafe, my only question was, why haven’t I been here before?
Twin sisters Liza Ryan and Liz Owens were raised by parents who were ahead of their time when it came to healthy eating. Born in Southern California but raised in England, the twins grew up thinking it was totally normal to drink carrot and beet juice.
“Our dad put out a health magazine in the ‘70s and was doing bone broth decades ago, long before it was trendy,” says Lisa.
Lisa and Liz launched their downtown eatery in 2014 in response to local demand for a healthy alternative to fast food. A steady flow of satisfied customers has made Good4You Cafe a favorite lunch spot.
The sisters make everything on the menu themselves, using the freshest ingredients, many of which are organic and, whenever possible, locally grown. The dressings and mayo are dairy- and gluten-free, and you can get dairy-free cheese upon request. Gluten-free bread is also available. They also offer fresh-squeezed juices and make amazing smoothies.
My friend, Jan, and I stopped in recently for lunch, and by the time we left, both of us were making plans for our next visit. Yes, the food is that good.
It was extremely hard to pick a favorite sandwich, but we finally decided the Turkey Breast & Cranberry Panini ticks all the boxes: It’s hearty, packed with flavor and pretty, to boot!
Thinly sliced roasted turkey breast is piled on a ciabatta roll, along with Swiss cheese, sliced tomato, homemade cranberry chutney with nuts, mayo, lettuce and sunflower seeds. The roll is brushed with virgin olive oil and then pressed and toasted. The tang and texture of the cranberry chutney really set this sandwich apart, elevating it from simple to sublime.
Sandwiches are accompanied by blue corn tortilla chips and a side, which was a small salad of organic spring greens and shredded carrots with homemade dressing on the day we stopped in.
The menu at Good4you Cafe isn’t extensive, but this allows Lisa and Liz to create different daily specials. Be sure to ask about them; if you’re lucky, the Lobster Salad Sandwich will be featured that day.
Jan and I both loved the cozy dining area with its appealing artwork and decor. We were also delighted to discover the “secret garden” at the back of the narrow cafe where 20 seats are situated in a tucked-away outdoor patio, perfect for parties or special events.
The Lobster Salad Sandwich, made with the freshest lobster in a light dressing and piled on your choice of bread (or as a salad), is a special served at least twice a week. Let me just say, if this delicious sandwich was on the regular menu, it would have been featured!
Good4You Café › 304-C SW Broadway Street, Ocala › (352) 867-5557 › good4youcafe.com
Editor’s Note: In mid-May, after this feature was already written, Liza and Liz announced via their Facebook page that they would be temporarily closing their doors to return to England for a family emergency. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for updates on when they will be re-opening: facebook.com/good4youcafe.
Chicken Rustico Panini
Blue Highway Pizzeria
So you’ve already made Blue Highway your go-to spot for terrific pizza, but did you realize this local hot spot also features an array of great sandwiches?
When the original Blue Highway opened in historic Micanopy in 2004, owners Frank and Winny Ruffino focused on five-star food and personable service in a flip-flop casual atmosphere. The tiny eatery exploded in popularity, resulting in the opening of a second Blue Highway in Tioga Town Center (just west of Gainesville) in 2009 and a third in the heart of Ocala in 2013.
Marion County residents no longer have to hit the highway and drive up to Micanopy, and the Ocala spot also features a much larger dining area.
Cealia Athanason, a fellow Ocala Style writer, joined me for a sandwich fest that left both of us in a happy food daze. Our super-friendly and efficient server, Robert, definitely added to the experience.
“We’re a ‘from-scratch’ restaurant,” says manager Reynolds Fielder, “and everyone who works here is passionate about food.”
Even though we came for sandwiches, we figured Blue Highway’s famous bruschetta was a mandatory appetizer. Their house-made toasted focaccia is piled with vine ripe plum tomatoes, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and then topped with shaved Grana Padano.
It wasn’t easy, but after trying several different sandwiches, we settled on the popular Chicken Rustico Panini as our top choice. Tender, roasted chicken breast (hormone and antibiotic-free) is topped with provolone and spinach and served with sun-dried tomato mayo on grilled, pressed focaccia—unique and delicious.
Sandwiches come with Blue Highway’s house-made potato chips and a pickle. The chips are wonderful, but take our advice and pay the small up-charge for the Tuscan Herb Fries. These skinny fries are sprinkled with fresh herbs and come with lemon aioli and peppadew jam (our favorite) for dipping—totally addictive. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
You can also enjoy local craft beers on tap, such as West Floridian by Infinite Ale Works here in Ocala and Big Nose by Swamphead brewery in Gainesville.
Not many people make it to dessert, which is understandable when you see the hearty sandwich portion sizes, but we were game and shared a chocolate chip cannoli. Richly satisfying but not overly sweet, it’s the perfect ending to the perfect lunch.
The Incredible Hot Tuna, featuring classic albacore tuna salad with melted provolone cheese, tomato and honey dill mayo, served on toasted focaccia and piled high with crispy fried onions.
Blue Highway Pizzeria › 2130 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala › (352) 629-5555 › bluehighwaypizza.com
Ocala Fresh Rachel
Ocala Fresh Produce & Deli
Now I understand the buzz about Ocala Fresh Produce & Deli. This indoor produce shop and deli is so popular for lunch, many patrons call ahead or order delivery.
Owners Chris and Nina Schweers previously had a produce tent on Highway 200 (which they still operate), but customers were thrilled when they bought their current location, a former auto repair shop that sat vacant for two years. (Don’t worry, the total renovation—complete with charming wall mural by local artist Lisa Fitzpatrick—will make you forget tires were ever changed in this spot.)
Since opening here in September 2015, Ocala Fresh has gained a reputation for serving up incredibly tasty breakfasts and lunches, in addition to a great selection of fresh produce.
Cealia again joined me for a sampling of delectable sandwiches, but choosing a favorite wasn’t easy. I’m not a huge meat-eater, so I was surprised I couldn’t get enough of the Ocala Fresh Rachel. As a counterpoint to the traditional Reuben, most Rachels are made with turkey. While you can order it with turkey, take our advice and let them make it for you as they recommend—with corned beef.
Ultra-tender thin slices of corned beef are topped with Swiss cheese and sweet slaw, along with their signature Kickin’ Russian spread, and served pressed on marbled rye bread. There’s a quarter-pound of meat, so this is a hearty sandwich.
Maybe it’s the fact that sandwiches feature Amish-made meats from Ohio. Maybe it’s the bread that comes fresh daily from a South Florida bakery. Maybe it’s the kick from the horseradish in the secret homemade sauce. Maybe all of these are the reasons the Rachel is Nina’s own favorite sandwich.
Now it’s mine.
“One of our regulars told me, ‘Don’t let your customers order the Rachel first or they’ll never order anything else!’” laughs Nina.
Make sure you get a side of trio potato salad, made with white, red and sweet potatoes. The hint of sweetness adds a great twist over traditional potato salad.
We would be remiss if we didn’t remind you to order dessert, as in Nina’s own banana pudding. I thought I was full, but one bite of this rich, creamy, made-from-scratch goodness convinced me otherwise.
Be sure to ask about their First Responders Program, where you show your support by buying a meal.
The King Kong, a sandwich that eats like dessert, thanks to sliced, grilled bananas, peanut (or almond) butter topped with honey and then pressed and grilled on sourdough or wheat bread. Warm, gooey and irresistible!
Ocala Fresh Produce & Deli › 1010 SW 1st Avenue, Ocala › (352) 620-4711, (352) 299-8011, (352) 789-6354 › ocalafreshproduce.com
The Young Turk
The Marion Cafe
I’m in good company. In 1963, Elvis happened to be in the area filming a movie and ate a grilled cheese sandwich in the very spot where I’m enjoying lunch at The Marion Cafe.
This cozy—and very popular—lunch spot is tucked away in the lobby of the historic Marion Hotel, just one block north of Ocala’s downtown square. The Marion Cafe opened on November 3, 2016, which happens to be National Sandwich Day, but this location has been an eatery ever since the building opened in 1927.
Bryan Caracciolo and Dan “Sandstorm” co-own the cafe, which serves lunch Monday through Friday. They have craft beer on tap and offer catering, as well. They even have an event room for rent.
You might think the typical customer would be someone who works downtown, but patrons are from all walks of life, and one very good reason is The Young Turk.
Not your standard turkey sandwich, it’s bold but not overpowering with a just-right combination of spicy and sweet. A generous pile of thinly sliced Boar’s Head turkey is layered with slices of homegrown tomato, seasonal lettuce mix, crisp bacon, avocado, honey and a spicy chipotle aioli. The sandwich comes lightly toasted, so choose from white, wheat, hoagie roll or Texas toast. (All sandwiches can be made as a wrap or as a salad, too.)
All those super fresh ingredients make for a beautiful sandwich, but “pretty is as pretty does”—or, in this case, tastes. One bite and I understand why this is one of the cafe’s best sellers. The chipotle aioli has just the right kick of spice and balances perfectly with the honey.
Who puts honey on a turkey sandwich, anyway? Dan does.
“People told me honey wouldn’t work on a sandwich,” laughs Dan, who proved them wrong in the tastiest way. He created the menu based on classic American sandwiches with his own spin, often using produce grown on his own urban farm lots.
All sandwiches come with a side. I recommend the pasta salad made with penne pasta, homegrown tomatoes, Thai basil, Feta cheese and homemade dressing.
The cafe also serves locally made soups by Butter & Broth. The day I stopped in they were serving crab bisque and Thai chicken coconut curry. There’s always a sup of the day and sandwich special.
The Marion Cafe offers free downtown delivery; Dan says at least half their business is take-out and delivery.
Delightful Dill, featuring turkey, dill spread, cucumber, seasonal lettuce mix and avocado served on your choice of white or wheat.
The Marion Café › 108 N Magnolia Avenue, #104, Ocala (Located in the lobby of the old Marion Hotel) › (352) 362-5300 › facebook.com/themarionocala
Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad Croissant
When Earth Fare opened its 40th store in Ocala on April 19, you were no doubt excited to finally have this fabulous shopping opportunity for natural and organic food in our town. You probably weren’t thinking lunch.
Well, you should.
Until my first visit, I didn’t realize I could “do lunch” at a grocery store. I was wrong. Recently I met up there with my friend, Jennifer. We decided this should be a regular pre-shopping stop, particularly on Thursdays when any sandwich is just $6.
Adjacent to the full-service deli and bakery is an eating area that seats 60. There are even tables with umbrellas on an outdoor patio, but I’m saving that for cooler weather.
Earth Fare makes five different versions of chicken salad; we chose the best-selling Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad Croissant. It’s made fresh each day in small batches using oven-roasted, American humane-certified chicken, which means the meat is free of antibiotics, hormones and steroids. The mayo in their signature dressing is made with cage-free eggs and non-GMO canola oil.
You can taste the butter in the rich, flaky, European-style croissants, which are baked fresh each day. Unlike some chicken salads, which are heavy on the “salad” ingredients, this one is heavy on the actual chicken, so it’s a hearty sandwich. I liked the crunch of the pecans and the bit of sweetness added by the cranberries. Whenever possible, produce used in sandwiches is certified organic, so this is a sandwich you can feel good about.
All sandwiches come with tortilla chips, but ordering an extra side really makes it a meal. We opted for the popular Roasted Corn Salad and loved the faint smoky roasted flavor. Another tasty side is the Italian Tomato and Caper Orzo Salad, which happens to be vegan.
Don’t let anyone tell you a “healthy” store doesn’t have delectable sweets in their bakery. We shared a vanilla raspberry cream cupcake and a vanilla sandwich cookie. The shaved white chocolate on the cupcake and real raspberry are ideal finishing touches, and you don’t have to be a kid to love a thick sugar cookie filled with frosting and sprinkles!
The folks at Earth Fare like to say, “We make it easier to live a healthy lifestyle.”
To that I’d like to add, “and enjoy a healthy alternative to the typical fast-food lunch!”
The Caprese, featuring thick slices of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, plus pesto sauce, served on Earth Fare’s signature organic made-from-scratch sourdough, toasted.
Earth Fare › 2405 SW 27th Ave, Ocala (Shady Oaks Shopping Center) › (352) 291-2733 › earthfare.com/ocala
Molly’s Dirty Bird
So, what’s a nice Spanish guy doing with a pub and an eatery with Irish names?
“Spanish bars are pretty lonely on St. Patrick’s Day,” quips a smiling George Carrasco, owner of Molly Maguire’s, the downtown eatery that opened almost three years ago and moved to its current location on March 16 this year.
You’ll find George waiting tables and greeting customers by name in his friendly breakfast and lunch spot. If he looks familiar, that may be because you recognize him from nearby O’Malley’s Alley, the pub on the downtown square, which he’s owned for 20 years.
My friend, Jennifer, and I met at Molly Maguire’s and found this busy spot was hopping with lunch regulars. We snagged a high-top table, but there were also a couple open spots at the counter. The eatery recently expanded into a second room, allowing room to seat more customers.
A Tampa native, George buys his bread from La Segunda Central, a 100-year-old bakery located in Ybor City, and this authentic Cuban bread is featured in every sandwich.
One of the most popular items on the menu is Molly’s Dirty Bird,
featuring slices of hand-carved applewood smoked chicken breast, caramelized onions, melted provolone cheese and mayo on pressed Cuban-style bread. The chicken is smoked in-house, adding to the flavor and tenderness.
You can turn a “dirty bird” into a “filthy bird” by adding bacon to your sandwich. For a slight upcharge, they’ll pile on two thick slices of Molly’s hearty Applewood-smoked bacon.
Soup is made fresh daily and is always gluten free. The day we came for lunch, it was garbanzo bean.
Molly’s Pick Two is a popular choice with the lunch crowd and features half a Cuban or bacon sandwich, along with a cup of soup or half a salad.
Molly King Cuban, featuring ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles served on pressed Cuban-style bread.
Molly Maguire’s › 17 SW 1st Avenue, Ocala › (352) 509-3999
It’s not possible to include every great sandwich in one story, but here are a few more worth the trip.
Reuben at Southside Deli
I-95 Inter-Steak at Turnpike Mike’s
Croque Monsieur at La Cuisine
Steak-n-Cheese at Brooklyn’s Backyard
The Smitty at Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar
Cuban at Cafe Havana
Krispy Chicken Sandwich at The Ivy House