What do smoked baby clams, Spam, kimchi, chow mein noodles, pomegranate boba and crunchy Sriracha peas have in common? They’re all sandwich ingredients at Timmy’s Brown Bag, a compact Placerville lunch joint that surprises and delights customers with some of the most offbeat food combinations ever found between two slices of bread.
Texas native Tim Swischuk taught college architecture courses before making a midcareer shift to cooking, working at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega and other Napa Valley kitchens for seven years. “I opened the sandwich shop in 2016 so I could do my own thing,” he says. Since then, he’s been experimenting with flavors and textures that push the boundaries of what a sandwich can be.
Take Timmy’s Cauliflower 65: fried cauliflower, Indian spiced gravy, pani puri mayo, chutney, arugula, cilantro and crunchy Indian snacks on Texas toast brioche. Or the ham sandwich with balsamic strawberries, lemon chevre, pepper bacon marmalade slaw and Pop Rocks candy. Or the BLT with Tang-laced tomatoes. “There’s nothing on the menu that customers have ever had before,” says Swischuk, and he’s right.
Swischuk’s sources of inspiration aren’t always obvious, and are informed as much by online research of history and geography as they are by a visit to the farmers market or a trip to a local grocery stocked with Russian, Indian or Korean foods. He’s drawn to ingredients he’s never before tried or that derive from complex cultural intersections.
“I don’t treat the local farmers market as the entire milieu or my entire palate,” he explains. “It’s an international kind of world we live in. For me to exclude a small ethnic grocer, well, they are here and that information is here. The products don’t necessarily come from here, but the information is here, so I use it.”
When dreaming up a new creation, Swischuk might start with an ingredient, say a hash brown patty, then read up on variations of fried potatoes across cultures, arriving at the vada pav, a deep-fried potato dumpling popular in India. With that element as the foundation, Swischuk will build upon a concept, adding ingredients according to his unconventional culinary intuition. Somehow it all works.
The menu, which he alters frequently, is an intentionally dense read. “I make the menu hard to read on purpose so that customers have to jump into it,” he says. “That way they become part of the research.”
Customers are willing participants in Swischuk’s grand sandwich experiment, and they don’t shy away from all the zaniness that entails. There’s little room to accommodate picky eaters or fad diet adherents when the ingredients are this unorthodox. As Swischuk puts it, “Most people who come in know what they’re getting into.”