First Look: Sando Shack in Tower Grove South
The brick-and-mortar opening is a milestone for a business that launched as a food truck six months into the pandemic. Co-owners Amy Guo and Dan Jensen, who also own Hello Poke at the food hall at City Foundry, are happy about the home they’ve found for Sando Shack. “I’m super excited for the neighborhood,” Jensen said. “It's a very, very cool neighborhood.”
As with The Dam before it, Sando Shack’s counter-service restaurant doesn’t have room for tables, but about five to eight diners can perch along the perimeter walls and in the windows. Customers can also take their food next door to soccer pub Amsterdam Tavern.
Sando Shack’s menu takes its lead from Japanese katsu sandwiches, or “katsu sando” as they’re nicknamed in Japan. The standard sando is a panko-breaded pork or chicken cutlet placed between two slices of white bread and dressed with red cabbage and tangy tonkatsu sauce. Guo said she often recommends the chicken katsu, which also comes in a sweet and spicy option, to first-time visitors. “The only difference between those two are the sauces,” Guo said. “The regular chicken katsu sando comes with a katsu sauce drizzle over it – that's going to be like a tangy, sweet flavor – and then the sweet and spicy one has more of a kick to it, so that has a chile paste, Sriracha flavor to it.”
In Japan, sandos are made using shokupan, or Japanese milk bread. Guo said they haven’t yet been able to find a local supplier capable of producing shokupan at the scale they need, so for now Sando Shack is sticking with regular white bread.
A chicken karaage sando uses chicken thigh brined in sake then coated with potato starch. The potato starch results in a crisp, crunchy texture that’s smoother than panko breadcrumbs, and the sandwich is topped with pickled Fresno peppers, yuzu aioli, sliced tomato and slaw. Guo and Jensen said this item has been particularly popular with customers. It’s not available every day at present, but Jensen said that it will soon become a permanent fixture of the menu. In addition to the sandos, Sando Shack also offers a katsu burger, breaded, deep-fried then served on a burger bun.
All orders come with a side of fries: choose from sea salt fries or fries seasoned with togarashi or curry powder. Other snacks include teriyaki pork wings, and there’s also a cucumber salad brined in Mirin, sesame oil and salt, then topped with chile oil and sesame seeds. Customers can order a Japanese Ramune soda to enjoy with their sandos.
Guo said the restaurant will eventually be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. However, Sando Shack is currently taking a break from 2 to 5 p.m. to prep for dinner service. That arrangement allows the team to adjust to the demands of brick-and-mortar operations, as well as accounting for the staff shortages that are so familiar in the industry right now. “I think that's a pretty good way to go into it for the first week … just to allow ourselves to get used to things,” Guo said. “It's new labor, new space, new equipment, new systems, and we need to have that little bit of a break time to regroup.”
Jensen said the past few days have been an exciting reward for two years of hard work. “It’s been a process,” he said. “We started off with just a stock pot, a burner and tongs, and built it up into a food truck and now finally a brick-and-mortar.”