What's old is new again: Banh Mi are available at Xeo, but only for a limited time

July 2, 2014 by Mark H. Anbinder

Remember Xeo's Cafe? Owner Sebastian Villa opened the tiny Vietnamese sandwich shop five years ago on Dryden Road in Collegetown, near the Royal Palm Tavern, and after about a year, turned it into Mexeo, offering taquitos and other Tejano-style fare. All along, Sebastian's focus has been on using fresh meats and produce from local farms.

Bánh mì special from Xeo. 14850 Photo.Bánh mì special from Xeo. 14850 Photo.Mexeo moved down the street to larger (but still not very big) quarters on the lower block of Dryden Road, serving breakfast burritos, chicken bowls, and other variations, but the bánh mì never went away for very long. It was a fixture at Mexeo's anniversary event, it made appearances at farmers market booths, and was on the menu for a while at Cafeo, the short-lived coffee shop down a Collegetown alley.

As Sebastian prepares to close Mexeo when his lease expires this August, he's peeled the M and the E off the window and has returned to his Xeo roots, offering a variety of bánh mì sandwiches for lunch weekdays.

The menu includes meaty sandwiches made with Chinese spiced ham, Vietnamese sausage, and liver mousse; or warm or cold roasted chicken; or curry-spiced shredded beef. It also includes vegetarian and vegan options, like Chinese roasted tofu, mushroom-almond pâté, and sliced sesame-ginger portabella mushrooms.

The "special" bánh mì is layered with local pork, including smoked ham, sausage, and homemade pate, plus carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, sliced hot peppers if you like it spicy, a variety of fresh herbs starting with cilantro, and roasted scallion fish sauce. Popular across Vietnam, these sandwiches have taken over the Vietnamese term for French baguettes, and evolved in French colonial days in South Vietnam, when the concept of bread to accompany a meal, instead of rice, arrived from Europe. (Bread started out in Vietnam as peasant or laborer food, a poor man's rice substitute for those who had no means to prepare rice.)

Just about all the food at Xeo comes from places you've heard of like Stick & Stone Farm and Indian Creek Farm, the tofu is from Ithaca Soy, the chicken is from Murray's Chicken, and the beef comes from Shirk's, a Mennonite farm right here in the Finger Lakes.

Sebastian says Xeo is closed this Friday through Sunday for the holiday weekend, but he's open today and tomorrow, and next week. We were hoping to hear this short-attention-span locavore chef would be trying something new in Ithaca after the summer, but he says he's leaving town in August. He's planning to serve until August 7th. Get to Xeo at 111 Dryden Road in Collegetown soon while you still can, or order from Ithaca To Go.

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