America is a wonderland of sandwiches. Every region, every city, every family, has its favorites, and it is rare indeed to find any two that are exactly alike. Some are austere, like the plain, perfect fried fish sandwich Coleman’s sells in the old market of Wheeling, West Virginia; others are baroque, like the goopy, soupy hot brown of Louisville, Kentucky. There are rich ones served in tumbledown shacks: the crab roll at Red’s Eats on the Maine shore. And there are plebeian ones made by cutting-edge chefs: liver ’n’ onions with firecracker sauce at the Old Post Office on Edisto Island, South Carolina. Sandwiches with ethnic roots abound: Italian roast pork in Philadelphia, the ubiquitous diner souvlaki, the multiple-meats, high-protein Uruguayan chivito, Nebraska’s Russian/German meal in a pastry known as a bierock. Many sandwiches are only-in-America delights: pimento cheese throughout the South, New Mexico’s roast green chile wrap, New Orleans’ oyster loaf, Great Lakes walleye (with beer on the side, of course).
You can travel coast to coast eating nothing but sandwiches, never having the same kind twice, and discover some of the most enjoyable one-of-a-kind restaurants along the way. This book’s sandwich sources are as varied as the landscape, from the film noir sawdust floors of Philippe the Original in Los Angeles (home of the French dip) to the al fresco picnic tables of the Clam Box on Massachusetts’ North Shore. A few of our favorite recipes come from quite civilized dining establishments: chicken Vesuvio at Harry Caray’s in Chicago; sardines on rye at the Pine Club in Dayton, Ohio; spiedini of beef at Louie’s Backyard in Key West. A lot hail from diners (Becky’s of Portland, Maine), street carts (Roque’s Carnitas of Santa Fe), butcher shops (In’t Veld Meat Market of Pella, Iowa), and bars (McBob’s of Milwaukee).
For so many Americans, sandwiches are a vital part of our culinary selves, an identity marker nearly as distinct as DNA. Tell us what you call a sandwich of warm roast beef with gravy, and we will tell you where you’re from. If you call it Italian beef, you are from Chicago. If it’s beef on weck, you are a Buffalonian. If you ask for it with debris (succulent scraps from the roasting pan or cutting board), you are from New Orleans. Call it wet beef or beef Manhattan, and we’d bet you live in Kansas or the western plains. Hot beef is strictly an Upper Midwest term. French dip used to be southern Californian but is now more generally western.
The tubular segment of bread that is sliced lengthwise and filled with cold cuts or hot meats has enough variations and aliases to make a book: hero and submarine throughout the East (except in Westchester County, New York, where—inexplicably— it is known as a wedge, and in much of Connecticut, where it’s a grinder). It is nowhere more popular (or better) than in the Delaware River Valley, where the term “hoagie” supposedly began as “hoggie” because during World War I, Italian ship workers in Philadelphia’s Hog Island became known for the gigantic sandwiches they brought for lunch. “Hoagie” usually is applied only to cold variations (although we’ve seen hot hoagies, too). Midwestern state fairs offer a hot or cold variation of the theme as an Italian sandwich, or by its politically incorrect name, Guinea sandwich. In Portland, Maine, the word “sandwich” is redundant. Step up to the counter and order an Italian.
Similarly, throughout Florida, as well as in New York City, the term “Cuban” refers not only to a person from Cuba or a Havana cigar, but also to a layered sandwich that contains two kinds of pork, white cheese, pickle, and mustard inside a tube of fluffy-centered Cuban bread. Louisiana Acadians call their multilevel variant a pirogue, after the old-time bayou canoe, and in New Orleans it is a po’ boy, because back in 1929 the sandwiches were offered by French Quarter restaurateurs to striking streetcar workers, who were “poor boys.” Egalitarian-minded readers will notice that this book’s contents are not equally balanced among states and regions. Rather than include two recipes from each of the fifty states, we have focused on what we know and love and can recommend wholeheartedly: the best sandwiches we have eaten in our travels around the country, as served at our favorite restaurants. It has long been our belief that a dish, or a sandwich, is far more interesting when you know who makes it, who invented it, who eats it, and where and how it’s served.
You’ll notice that there are no hamburgers, barbecue sandwiches, or hot dogs in this book. The omission is not because we disrespect them; on the contrary, each deserves a book of its own. The question is: are they sandwiches? They fit the most basic meaning of the term—ingredients enclosed by or supported by bread—but they are defined less by tttttheir sandwichness than by other, more important measures. Hamburgers are a matter of meat and condiments, and while the quality of the bun can surely make a huge difference, a great hamburger satisfies a different facet of human hunger from a great sandwich. The same goes for barbecue and hot dogs. To think of these three as sandwiches is like thinking of handguns, shotguns, and rifles as tools. Yes, they are, but if we were writing a book on the subject, we wouldn’t think to include them along with hammers and saws.
Sandwiches are not uniquely American. Many of the world’s fine cuisines have ways of neatly pocketing meat or vegetables inside breadstuffs (what would we moderns do without the Mideast’s pita bread?). The sandwich as we know it was actually invented in England, when, two centuries ago, the fourth Earl of Sandwich ordered meat brought to him on bread so his meal wouldn’t divert him from the gambling tables, but it’s this country that’s gone hog wild with the concept. Perhaps that’s because sandwiches are, by their very nature, casual food. They are at home on a picnic table, perfect for snacks, easy to eat as well as to make at any time of day. What could be more truly, democratically American than a meal at which you don’t have to worry about which fork to use or what wine to serve?
Sandwichcraft Is there anyone who cannot make a sandwich? Most of us admit to at least a few self-doubts when we have to engage in serious cooking (mixing, souffléing, grilling, and the like), but when it comes to sandwiches, who does not consider himself or herself a master? We all have our own version of the classics—tuna, PB&J, BLT, and the ever-popular what’s-in-the-refrigerator?- on-white. But there is more to sandwichery than these comfortable fundamentals. Sandwiches can be the world’s easiest way to create novel meals without producing a lot of unwanted kitchen heat.
After all, the only things you need to construct a great one are some interesting ingredients and a condiment or two. If you’ve got the supplies, you can put a great sandwich together nearly as quickly as shuffling a deck of cards.
Here are a few basic guidelines for happier sandwich making and eating.
BREAD The exoskeleton of a sandwich can be almost any kind of bread that doesn’t crumble too easily. The importance of the bread ranges from a plain vehicle whose purpose is little more than transporting ingredients from plate to mouth—as in, say, a BLT—to the raison d’etre for a sandwich in which the ingredients play second fiddle. A good example of the latter is the traditional Cuban morning bread: a