Serious Eats

A Sandwich a Day: Silly Cheesesteak Panaani at Whip In in Austin

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[Photograph: Meredith Bethune]

I roll my eyes at the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan from time to time. Lots of businesses try to capture the city's vibe with focus group–approved logos, brushed stainless steel, reclaimed hardwood, and lots of investor backing. That doesn't seem all that weird to me, and the food quality is usually an afterthought. But there's still hope. You'll have a genuine Austin experience at Whip In, a relaxed hodge-podge convenience store, bar, restaurant, and live music venue. This family-owned operation has been refining its brand of weirdness for over 20 years.

Everyone complaining about Austin traffic these days should wait out rush hour here—the patio practically overlooks Interstate 35. As you enter this converted gas station's kitschy, cave-like interior, it becomes clear that you can't buy beef jerky or Mountain Dew. Instead they stock locally-made artisan food products, gourmet ice creams, and specialty wines and beer. The biggest attraction is the long bar with an extensive draught beer list and menu of Indian-remixed Texas comfort food like Frito pie with cilantro chutney.

Whip In's "panaani" sandwiches, made with homemade naan and a variety of unique fillings, are in the same vein. I selected the Silly Cheesesteak Panaani ($8), filled with slow roasted brisket, American cheese, green pepper, and tomato chutney. But my fluffy naan fantasy was destroyed when the sandwich arrived—it was made with flat roti style bread! It looked more like a quesadilla than the panaani of my dreams.

My spirits were lifted when I bit into it. The pasture-raised beef was the star of the show, while the gently cooked green peppers added some crunch. The tomato chutney, scented with ginger, added some brightness and a little spice. The melted American cheese didn't contribute much flavor, but it was the glue that held everything together inside the chewy flat bread. I was actually thankful the bread wasn't heavy because I didn't feel sick after devouring the entire thing in two seconds. The Silly Cheesesteak Panaani is where the quesadilla, roti roll, and cheesesteak intersect—and how could you go wrong with that?

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