MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Stop calling me that


The "Earl of Sandwich" is a British nobility title, associated with Sandwich, Kent, and first bestowed in the 17th Century. It was John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who legacy we eat for lunch. It is the burden of John Edward Hollister Montagu, the 11th and current Earl of Sandwich, to no doubt deal with all sorts of ensuring sandwich jokes.

John Montagu, the 4th Earl, was said to have had an affinity for gambling so much so, that he rarely paused to eat a proper meal. He ordered his servants to bring him meat between slices of bread to the card table, which prompted the Earl's fellow gamblers to order "the same as Sandwich!" (Montagu's revisionist biographers scoff at the suggestion that the Earl would have gambled, instead offering that he worked such long hours at his desk that the sandwich was no doubt brought there.)

The "Sandwich Islands" was also the former name of our 50th state, bestowed by Captain James Cook in honor of the 4th Earl. Much to the relief of the tourist industry and romantics everywhere, the island chain eventually took on the name of its largest island, Hawai'i.

None of this is to denigrate the sandwich, which has evolved from its humble and slightly scandalous origin to become a food item so versatile and universal, that most people owe their lunch to it. The New York Times recently featured "A Field Guide to the American Sandwich," describing mouth-watering regional delicacies that I never knew existed, like the "New Jersey Sloppy Joe."

The Times laid out five categories of sandwich: those on sliced bread (of course); Kaiser or "hard" rolls; soft buns; long hero or sub rolls, and what they called "singulars" creations outside the other groups but "still vital to the sandwich landscape, like the muffuletta."

Buffalo, New York's "Beef on Weck" is a standout in the Kaiser category. Thin-sliced rare roast beef is piled high on a "kummelweck" roll, a fluffier version of a Kaiser, peppered with caraway seeds and pretzel salt. This is said to encourage the consumption of beer with the sandwich, which is also presented with plenty of horseradish, au jus, and a pickle. The Times once called this "one of the great sandwiches in America."

"Soft buns" are made with butter, egg, and/or milk and often a little sweet. They are the ubiquitous hamburger or hot dog bun, but also the bed of delicacies like Iowa's glorious "pork tenderloin: flattened, battered, deep-fried and served between hamburger buns that cannot hope to contain the protruding porcine goodness."

Soft buns are also the foundation of fish sandwiches, such as Hawai'i's fried Mahi-Mahi, a staple of drive-ins, and criminally omitted from the Times article my hometown of Pittsburgh's tradition of monster fish sandwiches two or three slabs of battered cod, hopelessly overwhelming the bun.

All types of barbeque are served on soft buns, from pulled pork to Sloppy Joe to Texas' chopped beef; soft buns also cradle seafood like New England's lobster or clam rolls. Don't forget Chicago's "Mother-In-Law," a cornmeal tamale nestled on a hot dog bun and covered in chili.

"Hero, sub, hoagie, grinder and wedge" are regional variations of what is essentially the same sandwich, such as the Italian submarine. The buns are also used for New Orleans' "po' boys," which are said to have been borne of the street railway employees' union strike of 1929. The Times says that "Two sympathetic brothers who owned a coffee shop stuffed some of the leftover trim and drippings from roast beef into the ends of French loaves, and handed them out free to unemployed workers - the 'poor boys' from whom the sandwich takes its name."

The Vietnamese-inspired Bahn Mi is served on a crusty French roll with meat, chicken, fish, egg or tofu and spiked with "crisp cucumber, raw jalapeño, cilantro and a salad of shredded daikon and carrot moistened with fish sauce."

"Singulars" include many ethnically-rooted icons, like Cubano's with their pork, ham, swiss, mustard and pickle; muffulettas stuffed with meats and cheeses and a bright olive salad; Mexican tortas, and lox with a "schmear" of cream cheese on a bagel.

Which finally brings me to you, classic sliced bread sandwich: sliced meat or cheese; egg, tuna or chicken salad; the familiar "Club;" all manner of deli staples like the Reuben; or our friends who need only initials, such as the PB&J or BLT.

Not to mention the New Jersey Sloppy Joe, with not a scrap of the loose meat you're thinking of. This regional favorite, invented at the Town Hall Deli in South Orange, is a double-decker on long slices of rye with two meats, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and coleslaw, sliced into "artful" squares. There is a good recipe from the Washington Post at

The New Jersey Sloppy Joe is ideal for parties and other celebrations, such as your favorite card game. What do you think of your little snack now, Mr. Sandwich?!


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at

Published: Tue, Jun 09, 2015