Bánh mì in Louisville (part 13 of an onging series): Four Sisters

I’ve fallen a bit behind, and I really oughtn’t. A few months ago a friend tipped me off to a new place in Clifton, and about a month ago I went to see a guy in Clifton who was rumored to have a lot of mechanical devices, possibly including calculators (did you know I have a blog about mechanical calculators?), so on a hot, blistering day, sweaty from manhandling a Monroe KA-161 out to my car, I swung by Four Sisters.

[Photo of sandwich from Four Sisters]Four Sisters on UrbanspoonFour Sisters (2246 Frankfort Avenue) opened quietly in the spring in the space formerly occupied by the Zen Tea House. The decor has been changed but it still has a pleasingly simple feel, with a newly added touch of funk. The eponymous four sisters who co-operate the business are Vietnamese immigrants, who wanted to create a fusion of Vietnamese and French influences: thus, this humble establishment serves coffee, crêpes, and bành mí. Disappointingly, their drinks menu is short on authentic Vietnamese concoctions; I’d think a Viet flair on a coffeehouse would have a focus on Vietnamese coffee concoctions, and possibly other traditional beverages, but the closest I could find were smoothies in fairly Westernized flavors. Bánh mì are available with four different fillings: pork, beef, chicken, and tofu, at $7.00 apiece plus tax. I opted for the pork as the most traditional.

I should probably preface my review by pointing out that this price, while the norm for the Clifton/Highlands region, is well above what I pay for a sandwich down in Iroquois, and I don’t cut much slack for geography. A $7 bánh mì should be superior either in craft or size to a $3 one. On balance, this has mostly not been the case (with the exception of BMH’s fully loaded and well-crafted monsters), and it makes it hard to offer an unqualified endorsement of the upscale sandwiches. Certainly, however, Four Sisters’s sandwich has much to recommend it. The carrot-and-daikon is fantastic, and the pork exquisitely spiced and thin-sliced. In particular the thin slicing makes for a neater, more elegant ssandwich. They also use lettuce in good quantities, which accentuates the crunchiness of the slaw.

But there are sticking points here which are hard to square with the ideals in sandwichcraft. One point, not to harp on the bành mí as a value proposition, is the skimpiness of the meat. The thin slicing is good as a textural and presentation aspect, but it also makes it awfully eawsy to go rather light on the meat. I don’t demand meat-heaviness, which would in fact detract from the authenicity, but they could use a bit more here. But my more serious criticism is of the issue where so many places fall down: bread. A good bành mí roll should be a blending of many aspects: a frangible crust, a light and soft interior, and enough robustness not too suffer structural failure. Four Sisters has the light interior down, but that crisp exterior isn’t in evidence yet.

Like most businesses having bành mí as a primary menu item, Four Sisters is an institution I intrinsically approve of, and on many of their fundamentals they are in the right place, so I hope they can fix those minor issues and become a first-class sandwich joint.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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