Originally created 12/04/96

Wrap n' roll - the sandwich does a quick revolution

It looks like a giant egg roll and weighs about a pound and a half. It's usually made with a tortilla, but it's not Mexican food.

It's called a wrap, or a twister, or a high roller, and it's the latest food craze from California.

These sandwiches are made with tortillas or other flat breads, such as pita and lahvosh. They're filled with hip food like ginger coleslaw, roasted vegetables, couscous and sun-dried tomatoes. And they're bundled on one end with foil or paper to make them easier to hold. "What it is is a new way of packaging," said Sean Connolly, owner of Wrapp Factory, the first wrap-sandwich shop in New York City. "The wrap is another name for burrito. These are gourmet burritos."

The wrap frenzy is the latest outgrowth of America's love affair with the tortilla. Sales of the Mexican flat bread last year totaled $2.5 billion, exceeding those of all other ethnic and specialty breads combined - including bagels, croissants, muffins and pita bread - according to the Tortilla Industry Association.

The restaurant Turtle Crossing in East Hampton, N.Y., is wrapping shrimp with pineapple, corn and coconut salsa in a flour tortilla for $7.50. The TGI Friday's chain makes a hot Philly Cheesesteak Wrapper rolled in wheat flat bread. At Sutton Place Gourmet, a new food emporium on Long Island, the sandwich board touts a tortilla-wrapped California Starz, filled with avocado, cheese, sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled vegetables and lettuce; and a Wild Turkey Burrollo.

The wrap craze was dreamed up by four friends - two of them graduates of Harvard and Stanford's business schools - who had vacationed in the Mexican resort of Cancun and figured they could do for the burrito what Ben and Jerry did for ice cream and what Starbucks did for coffee.

"We believed we could take a product that people liked and do something different with it - gourmandize it," said Matthew Blair, one of the original partners of World Wrapps, all of whom were under 30.

They brought in chef Aaron Noveshen, who developed a menu with burrito fillings that were definitely un-Mexican: roast duck, couscous, hoisin sauce and sauteed tofu. He combined Thai chicken with jasmine rice, ginger coleslaw and peanut sauce, and red snapper with rice, avocado, ginger coleslaw and mango salsa and wrapped them in spinach tortillas.

The group opened its first shop in San Francisco in February 1995 to rave reviews, catering to a young and hip crowd. A legion of imitators followed, opening fast-food joints called Daily Wrap, Rocket Wraps and California Wrap.

Today, World Wrapps operates eight stores, five in the Bay Area and three in Seattle. There are hints the chain will move east soon, to Washington, D.C.

But Dennis Richardson, owner of the Green Cactus Grill, a Long Island restaurant, casts a wary eye on the California phenomenon. "I don't do those wrap sandwiches," he said. "I just want to stay with the steak and the chicken."

Mr. Richardson said he recently ate at Tavern on the Green and was surprised when the pork sandwich he ordered arrived. "It had spices, red peppers, sliced pork and potatoes all wrapped in a tortilla," he said. "I said to my wife, `What the hell kind of sandwich is this?' I should have ordered the turkey club."

The rap on eating a wrap

New food presents new problems. Confronted by our first wrap, a Thai chicken sandwich that was the size of a brick and weighed about as much, we wondered, "How do you eat this?"

We picked the wrap up by the end bundled in foil and ate it like a hot dog until we got down to the foil and then dug out the rest with a knife and fork. But we felt funny about it, so we asked some experts about the etiquette of eating wraps.

Will Weisman, a founder of World Wrapps in San Francisco, advised holding the sandwich in one hand and working your way down until you get to the foil and then peeling it back as you eat.

"A knife and fork is absolutely unnecessary," he said. "It's a waste of plastic, and we try to discourage it."

Sean Connolly of the Wrap Factory in New York City said the wrap is "holdable food" but that you wouldn't be considered gauche using a knife and fork. "We wouldn't laugh at you if you did," he said.

Leslie Liberatore, marketing director for the Wrap Works chain, agreed that you could use a knife and fork but that eating with utensils defeats the purpose of a wrap. "The idea is that you can hold a whole meal in your hands," she said. She suggested eating it like a candy bar, peeling the wrapper as you move down.

That probably should not be attempted while driving, although Weisman disagreed. "It's a little dangerous," he said, "but I've done it many a time. Yes, with a stick shift in the hills of San Francisco."

Wrap it up: Recipes

Homemade wrapped sandwiches often make something special out of leftovers. Roasted chicken, for instance, can be rolled in a tortilla with hoisin sauce and sliced green onion. In the following recipes, the main ingredient could be leftover grilled chicken or roasted pork and potatoes or grilled vegetables. Use your imagination.


1 whole chicken breast

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

2 large flour tortillas

1 cup cooked Jasmine rice flavored with turmeric, cumin and chili powder in equal portions

1 cup black beans

1/2 cup mango salsa (recipe below)

Thai sauce to taste (recipe below)

Sour cream

Mango Salsa:

1 mango, diced

2 jalapenos, finely diced

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 red pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chipotle pepper sauce or Tabasco sauce

1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper

Thai Sauce:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons chipotle sauce or Tabasco sauce to taste

To assemble sandwiches, grill chicken breast and coarsely chop. Place all salsa ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place Thai sauce ingredients in a bowl and blend thoroughly. Saute spinach one minute on high heat. Heat flour tortillas on grill or in a large skillet until pliable. Place all ingredients on the half of tortilla closest to you and wrap, tucking in sides on first roll then finish rolling. Makes 2 servings.


The following sandwich is from Patrick Clark, executive chef of Tavern on the Green in New York City. Because raw eggs may contain salmonella, many people prefer commercially prepared sauces to homemade mayonnaise. Mr. Clark said store-bought Dijon mustard-mayonnaise mixtures can be substituted for his garlic aioli.

1 lahvosh bread

1/2 cup roasted garlic aioli (recipe below) or commercially prepared Dijon-mayonnaise spread

1/4 cup roasted red onions, sliced (see note)

1/4 cup roasted potatoes, diced

1/4 cup oven-dried Roma tomatoes, chopped (see note)

1/4 cup Romaine lettuce, julienned

1/4 pound smoked roasted pork loin, sliced thinly

Roasted Garlic Aioli:

2 egg yolks

8 roasted garlic cloves

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups olive oil

2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped

For aioli: Blend egg yolks and garlic into a paste in a blender. Add mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly blend in a steady stream of olive oil until mixture develops mayonnaise consistency. Stir in rosemary.

To assemble sandwich, lay out lahvosh bread. Spread roasted garlic aioli or commercially prepared Dijon-mayonnaise spread on bread, leaving a half-inch margin across the top. Layer onions, potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce on top of aioli, always leaving top 1/2-inch margin empty. Top vegetables with pork in one layer. From bottom roll tightly and evenly toward top. Use empty margin to seal by pressing it firmly against the roll. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least a 30 minutes so roll is firm for cutting. Makes one serving.

Note: To roast onions, place very thin slices on baking sheet, drizzle with virgin olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and roast in 350-degree oven 3 to 5 minutes, until tender, with no color. To roast garlic, toss cloves with olive oil and bake in a 350-degree oven 25 minutes, or until soft. To roast tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and place skin side down on baking sheet. Drizzle with virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fresh thyme, kosher salt, fresh black pepper and sugar and bake in 250-degree oven 4« hours, or until tomatoes shrink. Store in olive oil.

COBB SALAD SANDWICH (Adapted From a Comfort Diner Recipe)

1 piece flat peasant bread or one large flour tortilla

Grilled, sliced chicken breast

2 slices thick slab bacon

1/2 diced tomato

1/2 avocado, thinly sliced

Chopped Romaine lettuce

Chopped iceberg lettuce

4 thin slices red onion

2 tablespoons chunky blue-cheese dressing

Layer ingredients in the middle of bread or tortilla. Roll tightly and slice on bias. Makes one large sandwich.


1 9-inch flour tortilla

Lettuce leaves

2 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 avocado, sliced thinly

4 ounces grilled marinated vegetables

3 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated

2 tablespoons herb dressing

Place lettuce leaves evenly across inner 6 inches of the middle of the tortilla. Top with cheese, avocado, grilled vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes. Apply dressing liberally. Fold egg-roll style, tucking in sides as you roll. Makes one serving.

TORTILLA ROLL-UPS (From Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

4 ounces soft-style cream cheese with chives and onion

1/4 cup chopped, drained marinated artichoke hearts

2 tablespoons diced pimiento

2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano or half-teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

2 10-inch flour tortillas

6 ounces thinly sliced, fully cooked ham or prosciutto

4 ounces sliced Swiss or provolone cheese

1 large romaine lettuce leaf, rib removed

In a bowl stir together cream cheese, artichoke hearts, pimiento and oregano. Spread cream cheese mixture on the tortillas. Divide remaining ingredients between tortillas. Roll up tortillas. Cover and chill, seam sides down, 2 to 24 hours. If using as an appetizer, cut roll-ups into 1-inch-thick slices, if using as a main dish, cut each one in half. Makes four main-dish servings or eight appetizer servings.


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