I serve a variety of sandwiches at my fast/casual lunch restaurant in historic downtown Fernandina Beach. The other day, a guest came in and requested that her sandwich be served open-faced. Now, that’s a term we don’t hear often in the restaurant industry. I began to wonder why. I also began to wonder if any of you are aware of the enthralling history of the sandwich.
If you’re not up on your food lore, let me enlighten y’all. The sandwich is said to have been invented by a fellow with the last name of …. Anyone have a guess? No, not Luncheon and, no, not McDonald (he’s famous for that farm). Give up? His last name was Sandwich! In fact, he was British royalty. His esteemed title was The Earl of Sandwich! It’s true! This time, I’m not running fast and loose with dubious facts. Surprised?
The Earl, aka John Montagu, Fourth Earl, was an extremely wealthy British good ol’ boy, who liked to spend his spare time doing what all good ol’ boys enjoy doing: drinking and playing cards with his buds. And, quite naturally, when one is engaged in such rigorous activities, one tends to work up a voracious appetite.
Usually, ol’ Montagu would have his servants set out a thoughtful, well-appointed buffet, replete with various meats, cheeses, breads, salads and spreads, served in between card games at an appointed dining table. Tiresome? That’s what the Earl began to think after decades of these affairs. “How tedious these formal buffets have become. By George, there must be a superior way for a gentleman to enjoy a quick repast whilst matching wits and skill with his esteemed companions.”
Like most great ideas, this one came to the Earl whilst in the bath. “I’ve got it! Quite right. If my faithful manservant simply places select items from the buffet, such as meats and cheeses, between two slices of bread … then I can hold my meal in one hand while holding my cards in the other. Brilliant! Now I won’t have to interrupt my game to—how should I say it?—enjoy my repast! What a remarkably ingenious Earl I am! But hold … by what name shall this invention be known? Why, the sandwich, of course! Jolly good form!”
Sadly, the Earl himself went to that Great Deli in the Sky in 1792, but his name remains attached to one of the world’s most iconic dishes. Oh, and BTW, 4th Earl of Sandwich also had a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean named in his honor as well. The Sandwich Islands are now more famous for their pineapple plantations than the Montagu connection—the tropical paradise isles have been renamed the Hawaiian Islands.
That’s a brief history of the noble (ha, ha) sandwich. Next week, I’ll discuss the sandwich anatomy and get to the bottom of the open-faced sandwich situation. In the meantime, try out this skirt steak marinade—it’ll be the base of the best steak sandwich you’ve ever had.
Chef Bill’s Bloody Mary Marinade
• 6 oz. V-8 juice
• 3 Tbsp. horseradish
• 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tsp. black pepper
• 1 tsp. celery seed
• 4 shakes tabasco
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 2 oz. vodka
• 2 skirt steaks
1. Combine all ingredients, add skirt steak. Marinate 24 to 48 hours.
2. Grill, rest, slice across the grain; put in a sandwich with your favorite accompaniments.