You wouldn’t be amiss to think a child was responsible for inventing sandwiches. Not because sandwiches are kids’ play, but they just seem so wondrous and hopeful. The basic concept joyously empowers non-cooks to be able to pull off glory, puffing out their chests with pride. It’s uncomplicated work you can eat.
But kids didn’t invent them, at least, not the famous ones, and no two origin stories are alike. So let’s do some digging and talk shop about how five of our favorite sandwiches came to be.
1. The Club Sandwich
Ingredients: Toasted bread, sliced poultry, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
Also known as the “clubhouse sandwich,” everyone is more or less in agreement that this came out of a country club in the late 1800s. Beyond that, like pinpointing the original club, hungry folks of the world part ways.
The most popular guess is that the sandwich was created by either the founder or chef of the Saratoga Club House, an exclusive gambling house in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1894. Otherwise, the other notable non-club theory is that the sandwich entered mouths as a menu addition at the Steamer Rhode Island Restaurant around the same time.
2. The Patty Melt
Ingredients: Hamburger patty, toasted bread, cheese and caramelized onions.
Said to have bounced to vibrant melty life in sunny Southern California, the origin story of the gooey hamburger-sandwich goes like this: It was a favorite of William “Tiny” Naylor.
I know, you were hoping it was something more exciting, like stolen as a family recipe from some mafioso and then smuggled into cafes along the coast, but it really was that Naylor owned a chain of restaurants in the 1940s and 1950s and word got out.
3. The Cuban Sandwich
Ingredients: Cuban bread, ham, sliced pork, swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, and occasionally, salami.
Though the timeframe for the sandwich’s first creation can, at least, be somewhat nailed down to the mid-to-late 1800s, the actual origin tale is a lot more slippery to catch. It’s mostly believed the sandwich became a go-to lunch for the workers of Cuba’s cigar factories and sugar mills (and later Key West’s cigar factories), though who exactly created it when remains a mystery, lost to a community of hungry employees.
The cigar industry eventually made its way to Tampa in the 1880s, where the sandwich more or less scored an influence from Italian immigrants, and the sandwich flourished. In fact, Tampa laid notable claim to the sandwich—their incarnation at least—in 2012.
4. The Dagwood
Ingredients: Sky’s the limit. Pretty much anything you can find in your fridge placed between multiple slices of bread.
Even if you’ve never been a regular reader of the comic Blondie, there’s a chance you’ve seen the world’s hungriest cartoon father dashing around a newspaper over the years.
The long-running strip (starting in 1930) features a family with a patriarch who keeps up the habit of snagging what seems to be the entire contents of the Bumstead family refrigerator and pinning the goods together between two slices of bread.
That’s essentially what the real-life comic-inspired sandwich calls for –pretty much just any kind of leftovers, though the rule tends to be “the more, the merrier” or, “the goofier, the greater.” I mean, it’s as much about dinner time as it is arts-and-crafts hour.
5. The Sub/Hoagie/Hero/Grinder
It’s the ‘there’s something for everybody’ sandwich. Photo: jeffreyw / Flickr
Ingredients: Whatever your heart desires between a long roll.
Here’s the thing, this exact origin story is impossible to track. Instead, the name is the changing wonder.
“The Sub(marine)” found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary sometime around the start of World War II, with the legend going that it was thanks to an Italian shopkeeper near a Navy shipyard in New London, Connecticut.
“The Hoagie” keeps up a similar story, with the Philadelphia Navy Yard once being called Hog Island. However, the better tale from the City of Brotherly Love is that a 1920s jazz musician named Al De Palma saw one of his bebopping buddies snacking down on the thing and laughed, “You have to be a hog to eat one of those.”
When the Depression hit, music wasn’t exactly paying, so he opted to open a sandwich shop that sold “hoggies,” which later led to De Palma’s altered nickname “King of the Hoagies.”
“The Hero” has a background based on a slight rift of the last one. When New York City food columnist Clementine Paddleworth reportedly remarked, “You had to be a hero to eat it.” Meanwhile, the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the name to armored car guards.
And finally, “The Grinder” brings it all back to the shipyard, as it was supposedly named in New England for the dockworkers who did up the day-to-day grinding repair of the ships.