Humans always seem to find a way to grind meat, season it, then mold it into a shape that fits their needs. We've come to love meatballs and meatloaf as comfort foods, even though the names of both would come off a bit foul had we not grown up with them. In truth, they sound like some kind of Gilliam-esque, post-apocalyptic mystery slop, containing whatever combination of nuclear fallout-mutated creatures happened to die most recently. But fortunately for us, that future is still a long way off, and we can currently enjoy versions containing things like organic, grass-fed beef instead. The meatloaf sandwich — a case of the leftovers-version sometimes challenging the original — is another edible comfort, and it is the subject of today's food fight.

We're looking at two different takes, this time from two casual marketplace restaurants, Joan's on Third, and Food + Lab. We began at Joan's — which was surprisingly busy for a quarter to twelve on a Wednesday — ordering their turkey meatloaf sandwich with chili aioli on ciabatta. The bread was soft and bouncy, and the meatloaf was very moist. But the thickly sliced tomato and mixed lettuce didn't really complement the meat, awkwardly blurring the line between a turkey burger and turkey deli sandwich. Of course, we're nitpicking here, and the sandwich is perfectly edible, but its greatest flaw was actually the chili aioli, a creamy, bullying force which, along with the tomato and lettuce, left little room for the meatloaf to come through.

Austrian meatloaf sandwich at Food + Lab; Credit: N. Galuten

Austrian meatloaf sandwich at Food + Lab; Credit: N. Galuten

At Food + Lab, we ordered up front, then found some space in their back patio — a small, charming area, enclosed by plants which successfully keep away the feeling that there is a parking lot mere feet away. Theirs is an Austrian meatloaf sandwich (the mother-son ownership team of Esther and Nino Linsmayer are Austrian), using ground beef and containing fried onions, Dijon mustard, sliced cornichons, and dried tomato aioli. As at Joan's, the ciabatta had a soft interior (though it is panini-pressed here), and similarly, it is at times a tad overshadowed by the aioli. The main problem, it seems, is in condiment distribution, as some bites are overwhelmingly aioli-dominant, and wholly devoid of onions and cornichons, while others strike a very good balance. But the mustard and onions do give a rather nice accent to the sandwich, and the meatloaf itself is browned well, with good, crispy edges. All told, if it weren't for the thick dollop of aioli that commandeered our first few bites, it would have been a universally pleasant experience.

Of course, Food + Lab would have won today's food fight either way, despite the odd amount of similarity between the two restaurants. Regardless, it now sounds like we should have gone to try the meatloaf sandwich at Bay Cities instead (how did we not know they had a meatloaf sandwich?). Oh well. We have been going there a lot lately — but then, who hasn't?

Joan's on Third: 8350 W 3rd St., L.A., (323) 655-2285., Food + Lab: 7253 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 851-7120.

LA Weekly