There are some foods that you’d be right to associate with Vermont. Maple syrup, obviously, and its sibling, maple cream. Or apple pie with cheddar, sure. But is there a sandwich you associate with the Green Mountain State? If so, is it called the Vermonter? And if that is what came to mind, what’s in it? I genuinely want to know. I live in Vermont, and I always have to read the menu description—not because I’m forgetful, but because it’s always different.
There are certain sandwiches we all know by name—the Reuben, the BLT, the peanut butter and jelly—and with each of these delights, you know what you’re going to get. The Vermonter, though, can vary wildly, despite the prevailing sense of what it “usually” contains.
If you search the internet for a sandwich called “The Vermonter,” you’ll probably find out that it’s a grilled sandwich including cold cuts, apples, and cheese. And after reviewing a number of local menus, I can confirm that a good amount of the time, a “Vermonter” will indeed include those things. Sometimes it’s ham, sometimes turkey, and the meat is often paired with cheddar, thinly sliced apples (often locally grown), and a sweet mustard of some sort. Maple mustard feels the most festive, but plenty of Vermonter sandwiches feature honey mustard instead, and this one skips the mustard altogether, opting for a drizzle of maple syrup instead.
Apples are key. In a USA Today roundup of the 10 best Vermonters statewide, all 10 of the sandwiches listed included apple in their recipes, despite featuring different deli meats. The sandwich was reportedly dreamt up by Jason Maroney, owner of the now closed Sweetwaters American Bistro in Burlington. In Maroney’s version, apples were used; the idea reportedly came to him after he realized apples, grown widely in Vermont, were underutilized in local dishes.
So, perhaps Maroney created a tradition with his Vermonter, one that has been replicated in a number of ways. But as I conduct my field reporting in the maple- and apple-filled state that is Vermont, I can tell you that you’re not always going to find apple on your Vermonter.
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At D’Angelos, a New England chain with 85 locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, a Vermonter will get you a sandwich with cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard paired with your choice of chicken or freshly grilled steak. Steak! And no apple!
Meanwhile, at Your Belly’s Deli in Bennington, a Vermonter is going to get you an altogether different sandwich than anything we’ve talked about so far. The Vermonter at Your Belly’s Deli is not grilled and includes homemade roast beef, ham, pastrami, onion, lettuce, American cheese, and horseradish aioli. Not an apple in sight. This sandwich is somewhat similar to another sandwich called the Vermont Farm sandwich, which includes enough horseradish that readers are told to brace themselves, but the similarities could be pure coincidence.
Speaking of coincidence, it’s unclear whether all the sandwiches called the Vermonter that eschew apple are doing so in defiance of tradition or simply because these are all different sandwiches that happen to share a name. Let’s face it, “The Vermonter” isn’t that unique. It’s certainly conceivable that while Maroney was coming up with his apple-loving Vermonter sandwich in Burlington, restaurateurs elsewhere were coming up with other unique combinations and naming them the Vermonter, too.
One thing is certainly clear: If you’re in or anywhere near Vermont and you see “The Vermonter” on the menu, you should probably read the description if you want to gain any idea of what you’ll be getting. It’s funny what Vermont chooses to be particular about; this is, after all, the state where apple pie is all but required by law to be served with either a cold glass of milk, cheddar cheese, or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a statutory explanation for what a “Vermonter” is. Order one and you might get turkey and apple, you might get roast beef and horseradish, or you might get something else entirely.