It’s never been just a bologna sandwich. Bologna is pork’s inexpensive canvas upon which you pour your memory. You know the aroma of it — tangy and sharp and so uniquely bologna. Maybe a memory emerges, for some of us, when squishy white bread fuses with a lot of mayo and that weird and wet Oscar Meyer circle. You know the kind — it’s the plastic package with the back that tears off and you have to pinch bologna slices like a loaded tissue dispenser. So it’s never been bologna — especially when it’s mortadella.
Mortadella is savage, spiritual evil. Even the name sounds like a 7-foot-tall vampire, blood gleaming on fangs, entrancing humans from afar. Mortadella has found you. In Rome, you’ll find Italy’s famous bologna watching, waiting, from salumeria windows. Italians stud mortadella with pistachios or, even better, truffles. An unfolded slice can have the diameter of a bus wheel. In São Paulo, the mortadella sandwich — stacks of thin slices, grilled, coddled by cheese, then electrified by yellow mustard and peppers — is market food that could destroy Achilles with one spear throw.
It’s precisely what’s on the menu at Shoals in Deep Ellum. It’s not bologna; it’s a damn mortadella sandwich.
“We started with the idea of just white bread and bologna, but when we started to tinker with it — it was staring us in the face,” says Shoals owner Omar Yeefoon. “I wanted it to be nice, thin slice, yet thickly layered sandwich. It’s all really traditional South American street food.”
Ten months after Shoals opened, a bologna sandwich is, unpredictably, one of the best damn bar foods in the city. It’s also the flagship sandwich at this subtly hip Deep Ellum spot. On a sweltering day, Otis Redding croons over vinyl from the record player behind the bar. Yeefoon slices thin slivers of oranges for cocktails. His cook heats the flat-top for the half-pound of imported Italian mortadella . Buttery, tender pork and steaming mozzarella are forever a combo that’ll knock stars into your eyes. Giardiniera (an Italian pickle relish), chopped jalapeños and a mix of salty, sweet and spicy sauces are added to match the sheer fattiness of the mortadella.
“The sandwich is so simple," Yeefoon says. "We didn’t want to mess it up.”
The wax paper under the sandwich is transparent from beautiful oil. Everything is how it should be.
Bologna wasn’t an arbitrary pick for the menu. Shoals hired chef Pablo Urueña, who hails from Argentina, to consult on the menu. He brought family recipes, soul-stirring stuff that Urueña doesn’t just give to anyone, for their beef picadillo and chorizo-cheese empanadas. His bologna sandwich, straight from the heart of Brazil, came from the same place.
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Sure, customers are skeptical about paying 10 bucks for a bologna sandwich. It’s hard to picture when the phrase conjures thoughts of flabby bologna and weird-ass Miracle Whip. Shoals is so much more — the sandwich harmonizes heat and fat, salty and pepper-sweet. Yeefoon says some people laugh when they see it on the menu.
“They ask why the bologna sandwich is $10,” he says. “Well, OK — let’s just agree to disagree that I know more about bologna then you do.”
After a bite of the soft roll, glistening inside with neat stacks of mortadella and the sun yellow of mustard, you’ll tend to agree.
Shoals, 2614 Elm St. (Deep Ellum)