I'm pretty sure An Dong is gone. The space was slowly taken over by a cell phone business. An An Dong child opened Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches in the East Village, but I know it won't be the same so I haven't ventured over yet. (6/6/05)
They really only do one thing, and that one thing surely deserves four shovels. Bânh mí (I swear, I'll never go crazy with the accents again–allow me this one annoying indulgence) at its best, at least in my book. I've been obsessed with the unlikely amalgam that is the Vietnamese sandwich for some time now.
One of the good parts about living in Sunset Park (believe me, there's not many) is being able to walk (though it's not really a jaunt at 27 blocks–the neighborhood's large and spread out now that I think about it) to this little gem that many would refer to as a hole-in-the-wall. Actually, it's been remodled recently, creating an even smaller space, but a more inviting one that includes a table and chairs (you could wait a good 10 minutes for your sandwich). For better or worse, the video games surrounded by a constant gaggle of smoking teenage boys is still intact.
Every bnh m joint I've ever been to is similar to this (I've never been able to find the carts that are supposedly near the Manhattan Bridge), from my first experience in Portland to the Chinatowns here in NYC. Small, employing an aged toaster oven and furnished with little more than a counter covered with those green and yellow gelatinous goodies, shrimp crackers and assorted madness that I'm cautious asking about yet purchase anyway (case in point: Shrimp muffins. Odd, fried mung beans molded into muffin shapes with a prawn sticking out of the top, accompanied by a sweet, vinegary dipping sauce.) and filled with mini, square sausage patties with a garlic clove embedded in the top and basil seed drinks. Usually, I'm the only person in one of these places actually ordering food–the video game hooligans and lingering family members are given peripherals.
The biggest deviance I've witnessed was in Toronto where the treats were called Saigon Subs and lines snaked out the door. These places were rapid-fire assembly lines–French rolls were flying and a good handful of women manned the counters.
There's very little spoken interaction. In fact, my first visit to An Dong the woman at the counter appeared to speak almost no English. She held a calculator up to indicate the price of my two bnh ms and bottled water. I shook my head yes when she asked, "no hot?" but meant I did want it hot and couldn't explain properly. Unfortunately the damage was already done–I got a chile-less sandwich. Ouch.
I don't know if it's under new management, but on my last visit there was the aforementioned remodel and the man behind the counter was attempting to be customer service oriented (not something I've experienced, not that anyone's been rude either) and kept telling me I should sit down (I kept standing, I don't know…I was antsy. It's the growing New Yorker in me–you start to feel like if you're not in someone's direct line of vision, they're going to ignore or forget your request).
When my sandwich was ready he said, "French baguette" emphatically and pointed at it. I was like "yeah." And he started going on in a mildly hard to follow way about the French being in Vietnam and that's how the sandwich came to be and then started talking excitedly about Vietnamese coffee. I was happy to have someone who seemed passionate about their bnh m and could express it in fair enough English. I think he thought that I didn't know what I was ordering (this amused me since I can't imagine any non-Asian ever accidentally stumbling into An Dong, having the wherewithal to decode the handwritten poster board menu and order a Vietnamese sandwich.) so he was explaining, but I do know my stuff, and think this is the best rendition of the Vietnamese sandwich I've ever had and told him as much.
I was grasping at some sort of qualifier beyond, "I love these sandwiches" and came up with "these are much better than the ones in Manhattan" which seemed to win his approval. Now I'm primed to return.
And to be honest, I'm not 100% sure what is in a Vietnamese sandwich. I hate to stare, but maybe if I befriend this guy he'll show me specifically what they use. There are different fillings, but the standard seems to consist of roast pork, weird lunch meat, one that's gray (chicken?) and one that might be ham, pate/liver spread (the part that usually trips people up), mayonnaise (the part that trips me up), cucumbers, cilantro, marinated shredded carrots and radish and the optional hot (no joke) chile rings all on a toasted French roll. I've read that Vietnamese baguettes are made with a combination of rice and wheat flour, but I think generally people use French rolls. It's not the sort of thing you want to scrutinize because it can be kind of scary. Have faith, and jeez, if you hate the thing you're only out $2.50.
An Dong * 5424 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn, NY