100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee

Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Cured meats and melty cheese...what's not to like?
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I make a conscious effort not to go to restaurants, bars or cafes right after they open, especially if I'm planning to write about them. I like to give them time to get their bearings. No matter how much you prepare, that first wave of customers will always teach you a thing or two. It seems unfair to judge a place when it's not yet accustomed to the crowds.

And yet I found myself at Siphon Coffee on opening day, laptop in hand and starving. Amanda McGraw, the consulting chef at the new cafe, apparently recognized me immediately, and I felt bad.

"I'm not here to write about anything!" I wanted to tell the staff. "I'm just going to settle in a chair, eat a sandwich and get some work done. Carry on!"

But then I took a bite of the finocchiona sandwich, and I changed my tune.

"Crap," I thought to myself. "I'm definitely going to write about this."

McGraw has a great pedigree, so it's no surprise I fell instantly in love with her food at Siphon. She served as executive chef at Brasserie 19 and is also developing the menu for The Honeymoon, the upcoming bar/cafe from Brad Moore. At Siphon, she's developed a menu of breakfast baked goods and paninis and charcuterie boards to keep you full into the evening.

Of course, the main draw at Siphon is supposed to be the fancy coffee, but I was very taken with my finocchiona panini. Finocchiona is an Italian fennel salami made with ground pork and pork fat interspersed with fennel seeds. It's more often found on charcuterie platters than in sandwiches, but it lends itself surprisingly well to the melty, cheesy sandwich.

Oh yeah, the cheese. It's scamorza, an Italian cheese similar to mozzarella, but slightly tangier, which blends well with the intense flavor of the finocchiona and the acidic giardiniera tapenade and the smooth strips of roasted red bell pepper. It's all sandwiched between two thin panini buns, crisp and toasted on the outside and still soft in the middle.

When you bite into the sandwich, long strings of cheese stretch from your mouth back to the plate. The giardiniera takes a second to come forward, but when it does, the rush of vinegar and slightly spicy peppers is addictive.

The sandwich is served with regular old potato chips, something I've noticed other places too. At 13 Celsius, one of my favorite sandwiches, the mortadella on a pretzel is served with a side of potato chips. I don't know about you, but I like the juxtaposition of gourmet and junky.

Of course, if I'm being perfectly honest, I didn't have room for those chips anyway after I downed that sandwich in three minutes flat.

The list so far:
No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant
No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe
No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot
No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho
No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo
No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao
No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette

Location Info

Siphon Coffee

701 W Alabama St, Houston, TX

Category: General

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My Voice Nation Help

Can we just rename this column "stuff I ate this week and liked" because the countdown list format it currently uses seems silly. Obviously you ate there 3 days ago, you have many more months left in the year, who's to say you won't eat 100 things you like better between now and then and this wouldn't have even made the list? Or perhaps in 6 months you'll end up thinking this was the 8th best thing you ate all year, in which case 93 is a poor representation of your true opinion. It just seems odd to use this format when you're clearly adding to the list as you go rather than looking back towards the end of the year in reflection, but maybe that's just me.

KaitlinS topcommenter

@richard.stubbe Sigh. I don't drink coffee. The tea was good though...?

I know, I'm useless.

Bruce_Are topcommenter


I agree. I'm guessing that KS goes to restaurants saying to herself "This better be good because I have until noon to add one more to my Top 100 list."

But I still like the column and look forward to it. And I'm sure not everything she eats makes the cut.


@KaitlinS I'm sure I'll get there, as long as I don't get distracted by Common Bond, Blacksmith, Inversion, the Mercantile or Black Hole along the way. 

KaitlinS topcommenter

@Bruce_Are That's not at all how I do it, but amusing. I have them mostly planned out in advance, but if I eat something I consider excellent, I work it in.

@Nojusticenopiece I think I have a pretty good handle on where things fall on my personal scale in terms of excellence. I can eat something and know that even comparatively, it's pretty damn good, not just mediocre. I've made no secret of the fact that the top 50 are sort of arbitrarily ordered though. The next 30 are even better, and the top 20 are in a specific order. 

If this is really something that bugs you so much though, I'm happy for you. You must have very few legitimate worries in life, and that's awesome!

KaitlinS topcommenter

@Nojusticenopiece haha oh that wasn't me flying off the handle! IT GETS WORSE.

Just kidding, I've had caffeine now. We're good.


Hang on to that handle, you're flying off Ms. Steinberg ;)

My only point is the title is a misnomer given the arbitrary nature of the rankings, and would hate to see a dish get short changed because you ate it earlier in the year than others. Carry on!


P.S. I am NOT behind the EOW fake twitter. I mostly keep my cynicism to myself save for the occasional comment here or there.

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