More than a few folks were noticeably verklempt when Delish New York Bakery abruptly closed its doors in Phillips Crossing, denying patrons the opportunity to enjoy bagels made with water from the Big Apple. But ever since Hot Krust Panini Kitchen moved into the space, owner Evan Dimov has helped those folks (myself included) forget the old bakery and refocus their attentions on his fast-casual sandwich shop. For what it's worth, Dimov sources his bread from a well-respected bagel establishment in Orlando; he's sworn me to secrecy, but there's no doubting the bread's quality. And he's further easing the transition from bakery to sandwichery by offering "bagelninis" – pressed bagels (also from the unnamed establishment) with eggs and meats – for breakfast.
Dimov is clearly accomplished in unlocking the secrets to a good sandwich, and Hot Krust's meats are the key. Chicken, turkey and steak are all freshly roasted in-house, which pretty much ensures an exceptionally succulent sandwich. I happily gazed at the cross-section of the "Viva La Salsa" sandwich ($6.99), noting the glistening strips of beef, colorful MexiCorn, cheddar cheese and salsa in between 134 calories' worth of sesame-specked toasted bread. Biting into it made me even happier. If you like all the ingredients in your sandwich to be warm, as one of our guests did, consider the Florentine ($5.99), with its melty blend of roasted chicken, havarti, spinach, pesto and tangy sun-dried tomato. Even with bacon, avocado and havarti, the "Yummy Turkey" ($5.99) was the most ordinary of the sandwiches we sampled, and that suited us just fine. Simplicity has its place in sandwichdom.But, of the four we sampled, the "Alibaba" ($6.99), a Mediterranean-style veggie sandwich with hummus, fresh mozzarella, lettuce, tomatoes and snappy red onions, may have been our overall favorite.
Sides shouldn't be overlooked either, and all can be added to combo specials. Of note is the signature cactus chili ($2.99), which appears to have hooked many customers. Simultaneously sweet and spicy, the hearty broth is textured with Northern beans, ground beef, corn and cactus. A large bowl ($3.99) in itself would suffice as a lunchtime meal. Baked sweet potato waffle fries ($2.49) also made an impression, as did the house garden salad ($2.99), with its refreshing sprigs of cilantro and flecks of flaxseed. Regular waffle fries ($1.99) weren't greasy in the least – hardly surprising, considering no grease or butter is used in the kitchen.
I guess that means the dough for their "freshly baked cookies" ($1) is made off-site. Sure, the chocolate chip cookie was fine – better than the other sweet option, Sienna Bakery brownies ($2.59). But it was during the conclusion of our meal that my thoughts veered back to the days of Delish – days when cupcakes, cream puffs and cannolis beckoned from glass-encased display cases, and meals were capped with chocolatey éclairs, German chocolate cake and cookies imported by Long Island's Silver Lake Cookie Company.
So yes, dessert options could be improved upon (along with the uninspired decor), but a cookie, cake or cannoli does not a panini kitchen make. As far as sandwiches are concerned, Hot Krust has all the right ingredients.
Hot Krust Panini Kitchen
8015 Turkey Lake Road