Sure, riffing on the standards is what chefs do. But sometimes, resetting that mindset, getting back to basics and revisiting classic sandwiches can lead to menu items that’ll have your customers saying, “Hello, old friend.”
By returning to the original components of iconic sandwiches and tweaking minimally—better ingredients, subtle additions—smart chefs are making the most of not reinventing the wheel.
A redesigned dining hall at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., has meant an updated look and new concepts, but students tend to prefer the back-to-basics approach when it comes to their favorite sandwiches.
“This may sound weird coming from a chef, but with certain things I don’t get too creative,” says Steve Giuffrida, chef with Pedestal Foods at Lindenwood University. “Sometimes people just really want the classics.”
Sometimes, the best sandwiches are also great ways to cut down on food waste and use everything efficiently. Photo: Thinkstock
At Lindenwood University, those classics include ham and cheese, which Giuffrida has not reinvented, but elevated.
“Let’s look at the products you’re using. The kind of ham, and your bread is a big thing; you can find some really great breads,” he says. “And for grilled cheese, there are so many ways you can go. Why not use brioche and feta cheese?”
And good old American cheese still has a place on grilled cheese and many other sandwiches, with the kitchen at Lindenwood University going through about 40 pounds a week of the familiar sliced squares.
SASSY SUB: This sub, by Pedestal Foods, combines the smokey flavor of bacon with the heat of jalepeños. Photo: Pedestal Foods
Chicken salad sandwiches get punched up with a smoky flavor that comes from barbecued chicken from a smoker in the back. Chicken legs, with their higher fat content, are best for this application, Giuffrida says. The smoker handles not only the chicken, but also other meats—including brisket—that’s shredded for sandwiches.
Regional Sandwiches for the Win
At Beacon Hill at Eastgate, a continuing care retirement community in Grand Rapids, Mich., classic sandwiches are a surefire shortcut to comfort food. Sous Chef Bobby Gillum, who oversees the Bistro at Beacon Hill, keeps a lot of venerable sandwiches on the rotation, including some regional favorites.
“The Boathouse is an old-school sandwich that’s served open faced on an English muffin,” Gillum says.
“There’s ham, turkey and a large slice of heirloom tomato, all topped with hollandaise sauce.
Everyone really loves those. It’s from a recipe I remember from one of my first serving jobs at a fine-dining place in Northern Michigan that was on their lunch menu 28 years ago.”
The Boathouse is a Michigan take on another, more famous sandwich: the Kentucky hot brown, which is sliced turkey on white toast with Mornay sauce.
Other sandwiches at the Bistro also represent old standards that are still going strong: ham salad, almond chicken salad, hot ham and cheese and a take on the French dip that uses pork instead of beef. “We call it the pork dip,” Gillum says, describing a savory sandwich on housemade baguettes with roasted, shaved pork and spinach that’s been sautéed with garlic. Pork drippings from the roast make up the dip.
Sometimes, the best sandwiches are also great ways to cut down on food waste and use everything efficiently.
“When the night crew does a big pork roast or ham, the next day I’ll use what’s left for the pork dip or the ham salad sandwich,” Gillum says.
Subs with a Side of Nostalgia
Some call them hoagies or grinders, others call them submarine sandwiches or heroes. The classic Italian sub, filled with spicy cold cuts, has gotten a few adjustments to be school food ready at Vallejo City Unified School District in California.
“Right now, we’re doing a classic Italian sub sandwich with ham, salami, pepperoni, cheese and dill pickles,” says Kerri Braverman, M.S., director of student nutrition services, warehouse and reprographics. “Students love subs because they’re a hearty lunch and they’re a classic, familiar food.”
In order to meet federal school meal guidelines, the subs are made with turkey ham, turkey salami, turkey pepperoni and a whole-grain submarine roll.
Another spot where subs are rising to the top is Rocket Subs, a self-branded concept at the University of Connecticut with the tagline “made-to-order sandwiches that are out of this world.”
Rocket Subs has two locations on campus, with a retro-cool look. True to the space-age theme, classic sub sandwiches are given names like Sputnik (turkey, ham and Russian dressing), Neptune (tuna salad) and Mercury (a vegetarian sub with flame-roasted veggies).
RETRO RULES: UConn's Rocket Subs has two locations on campus, with a retro-cool look that's true to the space-age theme. It creates sandwiches with a side of old-school cool. Two photos above: Rocket Subs