It's not entirely clear why tuna melts are delicious. We enjoy them, despite all the indications that we shouldn't. In theory, hot mayonnaise, fish with cheese, and dry, overcooked seafood from a can should not all combine to make for comfort food. But it does. The greasy delight of sidling up to these crunchy, moist oddities is an excellent thing to return home to--though thanks to the link from Ruth Reichl's Twitter feed, it sounds as though it's time to start curbing our canned tuna consumption. But as much as we would certainly enjoy comparing two greasy spoons back-to-back, this week's food fight takes on a pair of noticeably different, though oft enjoyed editions.
For our far less traditional combatant, we pushed through the crush of sidewalk-lunching hipster/model/actors and into Little Dom's in Los Feliz to try their Sicilian tuna melt with a side of fried potatoes. It is, quite simply, a very well executed sandwich. The olive oil packed tuna makes for a luscious protein, the tuna salad is free of mayonnaise, substituting more olive oil, Italian parsley and a refreshing burst of lemon zest. The Fontina cheese makes for a nice shift as well, allowing for strong and accessible, though not overly aggressive flavors. The bread is pressed and grilled to an audible crunch, resulting in a rather enjoyable combination. Yet while there is nothing at all wrong with this sandwich, the reaction of my dining companion after we finished summed it up best: "I've really been craving a tuna melt, and you know what? I still really want a tuna melt."
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That brought us to Eagle Rock, where the small and locally adored order-at-the-counter sandwich shop, Dave's Chillin' & Grillin', got their turn. Upon our arrival, Dave's was temporarily out of tuna salad, which they said would not be ready for another 20 minutes. Once hearing this, the face of the hurried young man at the front of the line immediately drooped, the color quickly draining as his shoulders sank and he was forced, with great disappointment, to settle for a turkey melt. We took this as a positive sign. And about thirty minutes later we received our hefty, golden-crusted lunch. The two inches of salty, creamy tuna, sliced tomatoes, melted cheese and buttery bread worked in formidable, harmonious union, accented by a surprisingly spicy orange sauce. My dining companion smiled knowingly, his craving satisfied. This thing, wrapped in yellow paper, is a tuna melt. It is the friend you missed, the comfort you were looking for and the winner of our battle. Imagine if tomatoes were in season.