One day, when he was about 14, my oldest son wanted to stop off at a local fast food joint for some grody junk food. Actually, as is customary for a boy his age, he wanted this most days. On this particular day, I acquiesced.
So we were standing in line behind two other local boys of about the same age. Both had on their muddy cowboy boots, very “broke-in” hats, with their jeans tucked into the tops, and spurs still on from their ride. Come now, people. That’s not really the story here. It may seem odd to you, but in my town, it is fairly commonplace. In fact, I have seen horses tied off outside a convenience store, parked next to trucks and motorcycles, as their riders were inside procuring refreshments. Even today’s cowpokes need to wet their whistles after some time on the dusty trail.
But I digress. These two young cowboys were placing their order. As it happens at most fast food restaurants, the meals are assigned convenient numbers, making it easier for kids to make the same disgusting choice each and every time they visit. In this case, a “# 9” was a specially-sauced hamburger, fries and coke. I have mentioned before, haven’t I, that in Texas a soda is called a coke, even if it isn’t a Coke?
So boy number one places his order, pays and moves to the side. Uneventful, and predictable enough that the most dim of all fast food employees could handle it. Boy number two, who we will call Billy Joe Jim Bob, for short, steps up and orders “a number nine—just the sammich” In order to say this correctly, it is important to pinch your nose, and speak in the impossibly high pitch of a teen boy whose voice is changing. And with a significant southern twang.
Blank stare, a moment of confusion—and I think a millisecond of sheer panic—crept across the face of the barely conscious order taker. “The number 9 comes with fries and coke. “ Billy Joe Jim Bob responds, “I just want the sammich” Additional blank stares and awkward confusion. There must not be a button on the cash register that reads “number nine, just the sammich”.
Not wanting to spend more time than I absolutely must in this establishment, as I can actually feel the grease in the air, I chimed in “he just wants the specially- sauced hamburger”. Lights from above. Harp music. Barely conscious teen order taker understood, and all was right with the world. Apparently there is a button that reads “specially sauced hamburger…”
Of course the minute we got in the car, my son looks at me, and in all seriousness, and with the flawless execution of the twangy southern boy that he is, says “number 9, just the sammich”.
Okay, first of all, to call a hamburger a sandwich is really a technicality. Burgers are really in a class all their own, and will get their own blog as soon as I can keep some around long enough to take pictures.
Secondly, I don’t like sandwiches much, even if you appeal to my southern sensibilities by calling them “sammiches”. You won’t find me ordering up too many toasty subs, or foot-longs that cost $5.00.
I mean, in theory sandwiches are a good thing. A meal, neatly wrapped in bread so as to make carrying and eating it a simple proposition. That’s what the intent was when the Earl of Sandwich ordered his roasted meat to be sliced and served between bread back in the 1700’s. He did not want to either disturb his poker game, nor get the cards greasy, so this seamed a sensible solution. It’s really a good thing that this is how he was remembered, because the other things that he was famous for were his excessive drinking, gambling, womanizing, and devil worshipping. What a catch, ladies! But at least his laziness and gambling addiction led him to create the “sammich”.
My real problem with sandwiches is that too often they are wimpy. Most of them are made with uninteresting bread, bland meat (and very little of it) and vegetables that make me snore.
There are a few sandwiches that I love.
New Orlean’s very own “sammich”, the muffaletta, made with several types of meat, and lots of it, piled on ciabatta bread, and spread with a generous quantity of olive salad.
The Ruben…Pastrami and swiss cheese on toasted pumpernickel bread, with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Yum. Hot, melty, big flavors. What’s not to love?
And my number one favorite sandwich ever—the Philly Cheesesteak. I have made it a quasi-vocation to find the best one on the planet. And I am not apt to choose one of the original ones in Philadelphia… Not Pat’s. Not Gino’s….I know that seems wrong of me, and maybe a bit against the grain. But it isn’t right, not even for the sake of authenticity, to eat cheese from a jar.
The best cheesesteak I ever had came from Delaware Sub Shop #1, at the corner of 5th and Colorado St. in Austin, Texas. And you should recognize that this is the FIRST time I have ever called a restaurant out by name, so I must be serious. I can’t vouch for it now, as the place changed hands since, but back in the day it was the BOMB. I have tried to recreate it to the best of my ability, and I do make a pretty mean cheesesteak…See for yourself.
Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich
- 4 hoagie rolls
- 1/4 cup melted butter, divided
- 1 large bell pepper, sliced
- 1 medium white onion, sliced
- 1 1/2 pounds ribeye, shaved (ask your butcher)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 12 oz Provolone cheese, sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped cherry pepper relish (optional)–Cento makes a good one
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Brush the buns lightly with butter and toast them. Set aside.
Add remaining butter, onions and bell pepper to hot skillet. Sautee until softened. Layer the steak over the onions, and allow to cook a few minutes. Begin tossing the mixture in the pan until the steak is cooked through. Spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Layer cheese across the top, and allow to coook for a few minutes until melted. Turn off the heat. Use tongs to gently remove the meat mixture to the waiting buns. Top with cherry peppers, if using. Serve immediately.
**if you want to try a more authentic version, substitute cheeze whiz for the provolone. Heat it in a small saucepan, and ladle it over the sandwich.
- 1 large ciabatta loaf, split lengthwise
- 1/2 pound thin sliced genoa salami or sopressata
- 1/2 pound thin sliced ham
- 1/2 pound thin sliced turkey
- 1/4 pound thin sliced provolone
- 1/4 pound thin sliced mozzarella
- 1 12-oz jar olive salad, in olive oil
- Mustard is optional, but mayonnaise should never touch a muffaletta
Lay the bread halves side-by-side on a baking sheet, on top of plastic wrap. On the top half, spread the olive salad. You can drain off some of the excess olive oil, but not all of it. On top of the salad, layer half of the cheese. Then layer the meats, and end with the other half of the cheese. Top with the bottom bun, and tightly wrap the sandwich in the plastic wrap. Turn it over, so that the olive salad can drip down onto the meats and cheeses. Allow to sit for at least ten minutes. Cut into serving size pieces, and serve.
Reuben On Rye
8 slices pumpernickel rye bread
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 pounds shaved pastrami (use corned beef if you can’t get pastrami)
8 oz sliced Swiss cheese
1 pound sauerkraut, well-drained
1 cup Thousand Island salad dressing
Brush both sides of the bread with butter. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Place two pieces of bread on the hot skillet, and toast for a minute or two, until toasty. Turn over. Place 1/4th of the cheese on one piece of the bread, and 1/4th of the pastrami on the other. Place 1/4th of the sauerkraut on top of the meat, and top with 2 tablespoons of the salad dressing. When the cheese is melty, and the bread is toasty on the bottom, place the cheesy piece of bread on top of the other half (cheese side down, of course). Remove to a serving platter, and repeat three more times with the remaining ingredients. Cut sandwiches in half, and serve immediately.