Open Face, Rochester, N.Y.

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Lots of people give me dining recommendations. When it’s family, I take a deep breath and try not to laugh. When it’s friends, I consider the source before accepting their words. When it’s the owner of a successful food-related business, I Google the directions and get their as quickly as possible.

Friday’s trip to F. Oliver’s led to a conversation with its owner, Penelope Pankow. During our lengthy chat on the floor of her Rochester location, she suggested a trip to the South Wedge neighborhood for stops at a couple of local shops and lunch at Open Face. We were going to play the stops by ear, but the rave reviews from Penelope and her staff were enough endorsement for two hungry people in search of lunch.

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The sign says “Please do not lick the pastry case.”

Open Face has been around since 2004, located on what Penelope described as an up and coming area of Rochester. Now, when people tell me that a neighborhood is up and coming, I tend to worry about my car being ransacked. The South Wedge is a little nicer than that. More reminiscent of Syracuse‘s Westcott neighborhood than a nearly gentrified slum, the South Wedge has an eclectic mix of restaurants, businesses and shops. Actually, the South Wedge is what Westcott should aspire to be if it could take control of itself and get out of the grips of city planners, economic development types and the grip of Syracuse’s municipal mess. Digressing…

Situated on South Avenue, we walked by Open Face twice before noticing its front door (cut me some slack…it was raining). A small dining area precedes the counter, inviting guests to order for takeout or dine in.

The menu is primarily sandwiches, many of which are served open face. Selections are available on sourdough, rye, wheat or over a bed of greens, and served with baguette chips, ginger carrots or beet salad. More than half are vegetarian or have a vegetarian option. Daily soups complement the menu and can be ordered as a side or as part of a combination plate.

IMG_2637The soup/sandwich/side is one of three combinations available for $8.95. Diners can swap out the sandwich for a salad, or try a sandwich tasting with two halves instead of one whole. I opted for the latter, choosing a mashed pea (above) and roast beef. The Wife opted for the toasted cheese.

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Her toasted cheese (above) came on rye with a generous layer of havarti melted in between. French-fried onions adorned the sandwich adding flavor and crunch. The hulking sandwich filled her metal camp-style plate, which was crowded with baguette chips. My mashed pea sandwich came open face on a piece of sourdough with melted gorgonzola cheese and bacon crumbles. F. Oliver’s pomegranate balsamic vinegar was drizzled across the top, offering a sweetness to the flavor profile. The peas were wonderfully fresh with a farm-fresh — not canned or defrosted — flavor. The mashed pea has a vegan option, eliminating the cheese and bacon from the plate.

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The roast beef half sandwich (above) was served on wheat with mixed greens and havarti cheese. The horseradish mustard was the dominant flavor here, packing all of the bite one would expect from the root vegetable without the heat.

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The drink menu is as eclectic as the decor with Moxie soda — a 19th century elixir turned soda — leading the list that includes two pages of teas from its tea pharmacy. I opted for a can of Polar-brand seltzer, while The Wife had water served in a prison-style steel cup (below).

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Desserts include the store’s specialty: splits. The split takes the half-moon cookie to a new level. Get rid of the frosting. Sugar or chocolate chip cookies are halved and married to half of a chocolate or chocolate chocolate chip cookie.

Unique. Kitschy. Funky. All words that crossed paths in the conversation between The Wife and I about our lunchtime destination. It’s the type of place that I would aspire to open in Syracuse if I had the wherewithal to run my own business. Instead, I’ll have to wait for my intermittent trips to Rochester for a fix and try my hardest to replicate the mashed pea in my own food processor.

Open Face Sandwich Eatery is located at 651 South Ave. in Rochester’s South Wedge. Lunch for two was $20 with tip.

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