FvF Friday: Where's the beef?

Alright, I know at last week's Food versus Food, I said something about dueling bagels. Well... I changed my mind.  Fortunately my super readership (that's you... and maybe my mom) is very adaptable.

Just to review, Food versus Food drives me out into the wilds of Howard County (hocoblogs@@@ ... and maybe, sometimes, beyond...) to pit food or drink items against one another.  This week, my constant search for cheap, delicious eats brought me to two local establishments.

I give you...

Contender #1: The Bulgogi Panini from Riverside Coffee (8865 Stanford Blvd. #127, Columbia, MD 21045)
Half a Bulgogi Panini at Riverside Coffee in Columbia.
A while ago I saw a post on HowChow about the bulgogi panini at Riverside, and it sounded awesome.  I realized I'd never actually gotten anything but coffee and breakfast sandwiches there.  (They pour a great cup of coffee, by the way.)  With new resolve, I decided to try the bulgogi!

...and then I forgot about it.  Until this week, when I drove past Riverside, hung a U-turn, and stopped for a bite.

I won't claim to be an expert on bulgogi, but I do know that I like it.  The basic marinade is a guaranteed win for me, and I heart the grill.  I liked that Riverside offered the option for a half-sandwich (for 4.50, pictured above, with a pickle. The full is 7.50).  My grand total (included a can of diet cola) came to just under $6.00.

The sandwich came out a few minutes later.  The bread was crispy on the outside and soft where it had sopped up bulgogi flavor on the inside.  It was really unique - sort of Italian bread, I guess, in terms of texture.  The lettuce was crunchy and the tomato fresh.  When I bit into the sandwich, the meat was tender - about the same way the meat in a steak sub is tender.  It's thinly sliced and a little chopped-at.  I suspect it had been reheated in the microwave because I saw no grill, but that was fine.  No toughness at all.

The biggest letdown about the sandwich was actually the flavor.  The bulgogi tasted very nice, but I felt like I was missing something.  And actually, going back to HowChow, I was. There was no cheese on mine, and he describes cheese.  But that wasn't it.  I wanted something tangy or spicy because the bulgogi was actually somewhat sweet.  

And by the end I wanted kimchi, but that's probably another issue.

The panini was a great pick-me-up at the end of an afternoon where I'd missed lunch and still had some hours to go before dinner - just enough food, but not so much that I couldn't eat later.  I really enjoyed it, even though it could have used some kick.  Which brings us to... 

Contender #2: The London Broil sandwich at Bon Fresco. (6945 Oakland Mills Road Columbia MD 21045)  
The London Broil sandwich at Bon Fresco in Columbia.
Bon Fresco is a relatively new find (for me), but they've been around for a few years serving baked goods, salads, soups, and sandwiches on their fresh, house-made bread.  I think the word is still getting out. When I walked in and told the guy it was my first time there, he asked me which site had referred me. (I had read about Bon Fresco in both HowChow and the Baltimore Sun.)  

This is the first sandwich I had there, and it's not on regular rotation on the menu.  At least, it was written on a small card by the register and so I said... "I want that."  

The sandwich, pictured above, came with a choice of side (lentils, couscous, pictured, or chips).   I chose ciabatta, but could have had the sandwich on focaccia if I'd been so inclined.  Together with a drink (they had iced green tea), my total was $8.48.

The sandwich came out warm and looking pretty.  It was a big portion (not a big portion 'for me'.  It was a big sandwich).  When I took a bite, I was struck by two things: first, the crunch and give of the bread; second, the absolute tenderness of the beef.

The bread was amazing.  It had a great flavor, and reminded me of rolls right out of a hot oven.  After the initial crunch, the inside of the bread was soft and pleasant.  The London Broil was thinly sliced, cooked perfectly for the sandwich, and was both tender and juicy. A moment after these initial impressions, I got the perfect tang of horseradish mayo.

The couscous salad was good, mixed with little bits of vegetable and olive and a mild dressing.  I'd never had this type (I believe it's Israeli couscous, whereas I'm used to the smaller pasta).  The texture was cool.  It was nice to have a different choice than the traditional 'side' options.

The Decision:  This week was really hard.  Both sandwiches were tasty, and they made for a quick, cheap meal.  I like the service at both places.  

When it comes down to it, though, Bon Fresco offers a sandwich with unique side choices that looks awesome and tastes even better.  The bulgogi panini was pleasant, but in the end it left me looking.  The winner is.... Bon Fresco's London Broil Sandwich!

Have you been to either Bon Fresco or Riverside Coffee, or do you plan to go now?  Have thoughts on the contenders or recommendations for other menu items?  Leave a comment below!


  1. The lentil salad at Bon Fresco is my favorite side there. If I have a really bad day and tell my husband about it, there is often a Bon Fresco Venice sandwich with lentil salad waiting for me at home.

    And yes-- the sandwiches are huge. It's usually two meals for me.

  2. Bon Fresco's sandwiches are too big for me to finish, and I'm a 6'4" guy with a bad McDonalds habit. But they're soooo good. Comparing Bon Fresco to Riverside is just not fair to Riverside. I've never been too pleased with Riverside's prices. Compare Riverside to The Classic Cup in Reiverside; indie strip mall cafe vs. indie strip mall cafe. Classic Cup also serves paninis. I suspect Classic Cup will win though. It's either in Howard or Baltimore county. Right on that border.

  3. @ Sarah - Yum! Also, agreed, I tried the lentils another time with a roasted veg sandwich, and they were great.

    @ Mediaprophet - I found a Classic Cup in Woodstock with some quick google-fu, does that sound right? Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out for a later FvF. Do you have a recommendation for what to order there?