When I first peeled back the paper and got a good look at a Sandella's Café wrap, I thought it looked like one of those rolled sleeping mats you see strapped to campers' backpacks. Yet it's really a high-quality product targeting time-pressured customers in the sophisticated sandwich segment. At least that's what the folks who created Sandella's say in a press release. Developed in 1994 by Michael Stimola in Connecticut, Sandella's is a clean, crisp fast-food spot with trendy black tables and chairs and fake windows with the shutters on the inside. The menu features hot and cold sandwiches sheathed in a proprietary flat-bread wrap, sort of a cross between pita bread and lahvosh. The first such spot in Texas hit a few weeks ago in University Park. The second emerged days ago in San Antonio.
On rare occasions, these sandwiches can be good. The Brazilian beef -- tender, juicy beef slices in brown rice and slathered with sweet-spicy Brazilian mustard sauce -- elegantly balanced sweet and spicy. Plus, the wrap was soft and supple. But the thing was messy as hell. A little grip pressure sent the insides spilling out into a pile of muck.
Which is what the rest of the menu resembles before the oozing begins. Georgetown turkey leaked stuff you might see on a 4-year-old's Thanksgiving dinner plate after the tyke got bored with eating and decided to create new penitentiary recipes. Ostensibly a hot sandwich, it was wrapped in cold flat-bread and stuffed with slices of bird coated in a pinkish, pasty gruel made by tossing herbed stuffing in a bowl with cranberry sauce and mixing it with a weed whacker. At least that's what it looked like, and it didn't taste much better.
Which is where Sandella's food generates a painful grimace. Plugged with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and chicken, the cold chicken California wrap was threaded with sprouts sloughing stale pungency. The bean buds were flirting with putrefaction. Runny guacamole just underscored the dynamic.
The same ghastliness struck the wild tomato chicken wrap at first bite. Not only was this hot sandwich -- grilled chicken with mozzarella, lettuce, and tomato moistened with sun-dried tomato mayonnaise -- wrapped with cold bread instead of hot (this bread simply does not work well cold), but the tomato reeled in sourness, signaling the initial throes of decomposition.
Sandella's has some 12 locations scattered around the country, including stores in Manhattan; Seattle; Tempe, Arizona; and the pair in Texas. The company plans to roll out 36 locations this year, three to five slated for the Dallas area, with 40 projected to hit North Texas over the next three years.
Maybe they should take a breather and pull the weeds out of the wraps.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.