Panini, or pressed sandwiches, are a lunchtime staple. The sandwiches, featuring thick, crusty white bread pressed on the grill, had their heyday in the 1990s, and though they may not seem as ubiquitous, their popularity endures. A new downtown cafe specializes in the hot sandwiches, adds creative twists and offers some lighter versions.
Husband-and-wife team Artis and Lesley Turner opened Pressed in a bright and airy space on the ground floor of the Greater New Orleans Foundation's Center for Philanthropy at St. Charles and Howard avenues. Wide floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Lee Circle and a shady, plant-lined rear courtyard, and inspirational quotes dot the tabletops ("You are so much stronger than you think"), fostering an upbeat and welcoming ambience.
The couple spearheaded their culinary careers with the food truck Dirty Dishes, which for a while maintained a stand at St. Roch Market. It was known for crepes and macaroni and cheese, many loaded with extras such as bacon. The Turners say they launched the Pressed concept with a more health-conscious focus in mind. All dishes are made to order, and though not all sandwiches are light, ingredients such as apple slices lend a fresh bite to some items. All sandwiches also are available as wraps.
At breakfast and lunch, the cafe buzzes with people from the Warehouse District, while an espresso machine or smoothie blender whirrs in the background. At lunchtime, a rush can cause longer wait times.
In the morning, there are grilled bagel breakfast sandwiches oozing with eggs, cheese, spinach, tomatoes and a choice of ham or bacon.
In a supremely satisfying take on a classic turkey and cheese sandwich, the MiMi combines thick, juicy slices of Cajun-spiced roasted turkey breast, spinach, tomatoes, melted provolone cheese, avocado and a creamy peach-poppy seed spread. The medley feels healthy enough without sacrificing hearty elements.
The team wields bold flavors in subtle and controlled doses. A pungent Dijonnaise ties together a sandwich of Black Forest ham, roast beef, bacon, melted Swiss cheese and sweet and spicy bread and butter pickles.
The Blake also features a sweet and savory blend, with a fat stack of honey-roasted turkey, Muenster cheese, Granny Smith apple slices and a sweet and spicy pecan pepper jelly, which balances the acid from the apples while providing a soft heat.
On the decadent side, there is the Munchie, which seems like a pizza and Italian hoagie hybrid. It is filled to the brim with pepperoni, ham, bacon and melted mozzarella cheese and dressed with zesty basil pesto and a slather of marinara, giving the sandwich a hearty East Coast Italian feel.
A selection of salads and smoothies seem more health focused. Of the smoothies, the Greenie — a combination of spinach, kale, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries and almond milk — was especially good.
At Dirty Dishes, the Turners' approach was creative, but mostly in an indulgent way. At Pressed, they're still creative but employ a more balanced approach, making many of the dishes lighter and using more fresh ingredients.