Welcome to American Sandwiches Week, a celebration of the mighty sandwich through the lens of Americana.
Sandwiches are both universal and deeply personal. Nearly everyone’s eaten a bologna sandwich, or a PB&J, or a BLT, but our individual favorite sandwiches are seasoned by nostalgia, context, and memories. In honor of American Sandwiches Week, each of us shares the singular best sandwich we’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. And please, we’d love to hear about your sandwich memories in the comments section below.
During my life-changing years behind the sandwich counter at Al’s Deli, I began to ask dates early on about their favorite sandwich. I feel like this is hugely indicative of a person’s moral fiber; I don’t trust people who will accept crappy sandwiches. So it was through great deliberation that I finally arrived at the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten: a Cuban sandwich from West Tampa Sandwich Shop in Tampa, Florida.
I was on vacation to visit my grandmother and aunt who live in the Tampa area, and like a sandwich Joan Of Arc, I heard a divine call telling me to seek out the ideal Cuban sandwich. After consulting with locals about their favorite sandwich purveyor, deciding on West Tampa Sandwich Shop, getting lost en route to the restaurant, I finally set my eyes upon the glory that is a pressed ham, pork, salami, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and pickles on just-shy-of-crunchy grilled Cuban bread. The meats are so savory and salty and the condiments so rich, the whole sandwich is a perfectly gluttonous meat-and-cheese-and-mayo symphony. There’s nothing subtle about it, but that’s not the point of a Cuban sandwich. It cost less than $5, and I’ve yet to eat a more satisfying sandwich. [Kate Bernot]
Like Kate, I spent my college years at a food job: The dearly departed Coslow’s on the campus of the University Of Illinois in Champagn. It was more of a mellow grad-school hangout than boisterous beer pub, and since I was extremely poor and received a bunch of “chits” with every paycheck, the place constituted the majority of my diet for those four years. (Also, my social life: Many of the guys we worked with were in bands, and we spent our weekends going to see our coworkers in The Didjits and Bowery Boys at Mabel’s.)
Now that 1) I don’t live in Champaign anymore and 2) the restaurant isn’t open anymore (replaced by such chain establishments as Bar Louie and—shudder—Panera Bread), I find that I pine for Coslow’s food more than any other chapter in my culinary history (except for certain dishes made by my departed parents). Case in point: Coslow’s 4-Cheese Sandwich. It was grilled on wheat bread with jack, swiss, cheddar, and mozzarella. I would always add a ton of tomatoes and avocado, the advantage to working in the kitchen and being able to doll up your own break food. But the secret ingredient was Coslow’s veggie sauce that we spread on the bread: somewhere between ranch dressing and tzatziki. I have spent considerable time trying to recreate it, to no avail.
It’s possible that I’m trying to evoke a sense of those happy years by recreating my favorite sandwich from that era, and of all time. For example, in the darkest times of my life—when my parents were sick—every single night I would dream of Champaign again, where I was eternally 20 years old. It was like my psyche knew I needed to visit. Fortunately, I’m still in touch with a lot of those Coslow’s people (we even have a Facebook group for old employees), who are still just as amazing as they were back then. But I would give a lot to taste Coslow’s nachos, calzones, and heralded 4-Cheese Sandwich just one more time. [Gwen Ihnat]
When it comes to food, I try to avoid calling something best or worst—but I’m fully comfortable with affixing superlatives on the B.L.T. For my money it’s got to be the finest sandwich extant. Let me caveat that statement: Lettuce doesn’t add anything beyond aesthetic appeal for me, so my improvement on the B.L.T. is actually the B.M.T., or bacon-mayo-tomato.
Obviously the quality of bacon is paramount, and for me, my favorite widely available upmarket bacon comes from Nueske’s, a Wisconsin cured meats company responsible for the first slab of bacon in my life that knocked me for a loop. Their flagship bacon is thick-sliced and smoked with applewood, with that perfect triangulation of sweet, smoke, and salt. Cooking this bacon on a cast-iron skillet over low heat, piling it six-strips (!!!) high on crusty toasted bread with early September tomatoes, made for a sandwich that to this day has no peer. Even if you dangled a $75 dry-aged ribeye in front of me, I’m not so sure I’d take that over a perfect B.M.T. [Kevin Pang]