Earlier this week at Henry’s Sandwich Station in Fort Lauderdale, I got a kick out of seeing a prim and proper woman start to eat her open-faced avocado toast with a fork and knife. She was a healthy blonde, the type who appeared to hit the gym and yoga studio on a regular basis, and she encountered heavy resistance while trying to cut a stubborn piece of crusty Zak the Baker bread. Eventually, she relented and picked up the slab — spread thick with green glop — and shoveled it in her mouth.
I smiled. Sandwiches are finger foods, after all, and the good stuff at Henry’s is meant to be a little messy. Strands of cheese stretch from crunchy, pressed Cuban sandwiches, and bright, green bits of broccoli rabe tumble from the top of a Philadelphia-style roast pork hoagie. I had quibbles with both sandwiches (in my mind, there was a bit too much cheese on the Cubano, and I would rather have had the rabe layered across the bottom of the pork hoagie, worse for the sandwich’s Instagram attractiveness but better for its structure and flavor), but overall the hits outweigh the misses at Henry’s.
Henry’s is a solid sandwich joint, not exactly cheap (lunch sandwiches cost $10 to $15) and not at all flexible (no substitutions, as the operators want customers to stick with creations as they envisioned). There are enough tasty items that diners should be happy enough not to tinker. The Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich on Zak the Baker rye bread ($12.50) approached greatness, with pink, cured, housemade brisket slices that didn’t pack the bold and spicy wallop of pastrami but kissed the mouth with perfumed subtlety. The crispy chicken sandwich ($11.70) was classic and nearly perfect, a deep-fried breast brined and soaked in buttermilk, then battered and spiced with mild heat (Ethiopian berbere) and served on a brioche bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, sweet and spicy pickles and Duke’s mayonnaise. The shaved housemade prime rib with horseradish cream sauce ($14.90), a tribute to the French dip from Philippe’s in Los Angeles, was a marvel of juicy simplicity, served on a chewy semolina baguette from Fort Lauderdale’s Gran Forno bakery.
A tray of crunchy, salt-and-malt-vinegar steak fries ($5.50) were served with garlic aioli that had been emulsified to the sublime side of heaven. A slice of chocolate peanut butter pie ($6) was decadent yet light and balanced, with a layer of semisweet chocolate ganache between cocoa-laced whipped cream and a peanut-butter-and-cream-cheese base.
Henry’s Sandwich Station, which opened in February 2018, is the latest venture from JEY Hospitality, the same outfit behind PizzaCraft, ROK:BRGR, and TacoCraft. Fans of Pizzacraft will recognize the aioli at Henry’s as the same one that accompanies PizzaCraft’s polenta fries. “We’re taking what works from our other restaurants,” Marc Falsetto, CEO of JEY Hospitality, says in a followup interview.
Henry’s is a fast-casual eatery in gentrifying Flagler Village, the pocket north of downtown that teems with new apartments, cafes and galleries. Henry’s is the first restaurant in the FAT Village Arts District, and its name and decor are a nod to Henry Flagler, the 19th century railroad baron who founded the Florida East Coast Railway. The rail tracks run alongside the triangular patio, where patrons can watch new Brightline commuter trains whiz past with horns blaring. I’d say Henry’s is on the right track.
Some meats are prepared in-house, but many products come from top local and national purveyors. Italian meats are from Olympia Provisions of Portland, Ore. Smoked salmon is from Acme Smoked Fish of Brooklyn. The sweet and spicy pickles are from McClure’s of Detroit. Bread is delivered daily from Gran Forno and Miami’s Zak the Baker and Le Macaron (brioche buns). Falsetto says the restaurant is selling an average of 300 sandwiches daily.
Henry’s is attractive, with rolldown, see-through garage doors that are opened in cooler weather, industrial lighting fixtures and wood paneling that resembles railroad ties. Railroad crossing signs adorn the walls and a sign that hangs outside the restrooms reads, “Do not use the toilet while the train is standing in the station.”
Falsetto says he is still feeling his way around his first fast-casual restaurant, where diners place orders at the front register and then place numbers on tables. I wasn’t thrilled that the credit-card terminals are programmed to show tip options at 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent — or no tip. I’m never sure how to navigate the tipping minefield at fast-casual restaurants, where the house is asking customers to do some of the work (picking up silverware and condiments at a stand along the wall). I think 10 or 12 percent is fair. It would be nice if diners could punch in custom tip amounts.
Breakfast sandwiches are served only until 11 a.m., which triggers complaints from the weekend brunch crowd. Falsetto says the limited kitchen space makes all-day breakfast unfeasible at this point.
My biggest complaint about Henry’s were the napkins. They were small and flimsy, and found only at the stand along the wall. After sandwiches were delivered by servers, customers would inevitably look around forlornly and then have to take an extra trip. With sandwiches this robust, bigger and stronger napkins should be de rigueur. And if customers are paying up to 15 bucks for these artisanal delicacies, one would think that Henry’s could afford placing dispensers — or a neat pile of premium paper product — at each table.
Not all the food works at Henry’s, either. The heritage pork shoulder in the Philly roast pork sandwich ($11.50) was tender and juicy but dull and flavorless — it needed more salt and seasoning to stand out. The roasted turkey sandwich ($11.90), with cranberry goat cheese jam, avocado and baby arugula, was creamy but bland. And the Henry’s BLT ($12.90) was a disappointment, with wonderful Nueske’s bacon obscured by two overly thick slices of Zak the Baker country bread and creamy avocado that overwhelms the lettuce and tomato. The sandwich features wimpy field greens and arugula, and a thin, truffle mayo. The BLT has been a big seller, Falsetto says, but I’m partial to a more traditional BLT, with hefty iceberg lettuce and creamy regular mayonnaise.
Pies from pastry chef Anna Davis also veer from the traditional. The banana cream pie is made from roasted bananas and is less sweet than typical, not a bad thing. But the congealed bottom layer didn’t meld with the frothy whipped cream on top. And Davis uses frozen blueberries instead of fresh for her blueberry pie because she prefers the consistency and moisture content of frozen fruit. I wasn’t thrilled with the texture or taste, particularly because it was so heavily spiced with cinnamon. In my mind, blueberry is supposed to be light and summery, not autumnal. Next time, I’ll hop on the express to chocolate peanut butter.
Henry’s Sandwich Station
545 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale
954-616-5538 or HenrysSandwich.com
Cuisine: American sandwich shop
Cost: Inexpensive to moderate. Breakfast sandwiches cost $5 to $13, open-faced toasts $4.70-$12.90, lunch sandwiches $10-$15, soup $5-7, salads $12-$14, desserts $3-$6
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Breakfast items served until 11 a.m.
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Craft beer and wine
Noise level: Conversational, background music and occasional blaring horns from passing trains
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free and metered street