I’ll put the tl;dr up front here: We got banh mi from Café Au Lait, a nice little eating space tucked into an office building on Ridge Road. The banh mi were tasty, and they’re buy-5-get-1-free. But if we want banh mi again, we’ll call in the order well ahead of time, because it was the longest I’ve ever waited for sandwiches.
So I don’t know if Café Au Lait is usually slammed on Saturdays for lunch hour, but it was certainly slammed this past Saturday. We dropped by to order sandwiches for the family: five banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). Then the nice young man at the counter told us that banh mi were buy-5-get-1-free; would we like to order one more? We were more than happy to do so.
The young man at the counter told us that the kitchen had a lot of orders to deal with and that it would probably be a half-hour wait; would we like to go away and come back?
We were a bit surprised, as our previous experience with banh mi was with the Lee’s Sandwiches chain in southern California, where the time to get a banh mi was roughly comparable to how long it takes to get a sandwich at Subway. Still, we’d wanted to try the local banh mi for a while; we agreed that we would wait for them.
The place wasn’t that full, so they must do a bustling business in takeout orders. We bought a chocolate croissant to snack on (perfectly decent, though not French-bakery-crusty by any means), went over to Home Depot and ran a leisurely errand, and were back in about 40 minutes.
The sandwiches still weren’t ready. The young man was extremely apologetic and offered to throw in some bags of chips. We waited maybe five or ten more minutes, and then the sandwiches finally came out.
On the bright side, they were pretty delicious. We got five flavors: classic, roast pork, grilled pork, meatball, and lemongrass chicken. (We chose roast pork for our sixth baguette.) We were sharing the sandwiches among five adults, so we cut each one into four pieces. The taste varied dramatically depending on whether or not you got a slice of jalapeno pepper in your bite.
Each sandwich came encased in its own Styrofoam container. (I don’t know why they didn’t just wrap them in paper; it would have taken up less room. Maybe they were afraid the sandwiches would get squished?) They were served on a somewhat softer, doughier bun than I’m used to; classic banh mi is served on a baguette, but this was toasted ciabatta. It’s okay; it was still tasty. All of the meats had great flavor, although the grilled pork was somewhat unexpectedly spicy. The pickled sliced vegetables gave just the right sweet-sour crunch. I liked it a lot, although personally I’d go with less jalapeno.
So yeah, the banh mi was pretty good. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it still pretty good, and it’s certainly great to have banh mi right here in Ellicott City. I’m already looking forward to getting a coffee drink or a bubble tea next time I go. I’ll just be sure to call in my order ahead of time.
…we waited 45 minutes for this.