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Sandwich Prejudice: The Build

August 18, 2015

It’s amazing how many passions about food can be stirred up after just one afternoon spent eating five different sandwiches from some of the most beloved Italian delis in Albany. And right now, I’m just talking about my passions, since I haven’t even released the official findings of the Tour de Italian Deli.

Those are coming tomorrow.

Before I share the results, I thought it was important to share with you some of my own personal prejudices which were revealed over the course of the tour. Yesterday I explained my preconceived notions on bread, and how I realized that in fact most of the sandwiches on the tour would have improved after a short spell of curing in their wrappers.

Today is more about the form different sandwiches take and how they are assembled. Once again, these prejudices are informed by sandwiches of the past. And I’m going to lean heavily on those years I spent in Philadelphia.

Aparently, there are two ways to make a sandwich out of a submarine roll.

There’s the sensible way that they do it in the city of brotherly love. You make a cut into the roll, crack it open a bit, and fill the chasm with deliciousness. All the fillings go in through the top, and then when you’re eating that big old honking sandwich, nothing spills out the sides. You don’t lose one drop of that greasy, fatty goodness.

It’s important that when you make a sandwich using this form that you build it in the right order. If the bottom gets soggy, it could be a recipe for disaster, as the sandwich could split in two. The objective here is to protect the bread. That means the cheese goes in first, then the meat, then the veg.

The cheesesteak pros know this. They build their sandwiches upside down on the grill. The onions get chopped with the meat. Then cheese is melted on top. The bun is then placed upside down on the pile of meat and cheese, so that it’s the cheese that rests upon the interior seam. That will offer the bread a layer of protection from the grill grease and rendered beef fat.

But even in Philadelphia, some storied shops get this wrong. I’ve had Italian pork sandwiches that were built with rabe on the bottom, then pork, then sharp provolone on top. That’s madness. The rabe totally soaks into the bread and then before you know it the sandwich has lost its structural integrity.

Of course, there are some people who say, to hell with structural integrity. These are the folks who slice the submarine roll fully in half lengthwise and make a sandwich as if they were using sandwich bread.

When you have four open sides, a crusty roll, and a stack of well lubricated meat and vegetables, you’ve got a mess waiting to happen. The filling is going to slide out of the back and the sides. As far as I can tell, there’s no reasonable way to eat the thing.

Granted, with this kind of sandwich, the order of ingredients is less critical. However, I did encounter two seemingly different schools of thought. One stacks like with like, so you have a pile of Meat A, a pile of Meat B, and a pile of Meat C. The other involves more of a layering technique, so that the meats and cheeses are more interspersed. I must admit to having a preference for not biting into a huge wad of cheese and having the cheese more evenly distributed throughout heart of the sandwich. But that’s a relatively small thing.

Let’s keep focused on the big picture. Sandwiches made on bread sliced all the way through work well when the ingredients can be reasonably well compressed, or when the sandwich is small enough so that it can be held in one hand.

The only hypothesis I have as to why delis might opt for this configuration is so that they could shove more meat into the damned thing. All I know is that the sandwiches were mighty meaty in Philadelphia, so I can’t quite say what’s going on here. Hopefully, one day I’ll arrive at some deeper level of understanding.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2015 9:59 am

    I would’ve enjoyed the tour, and hanging out and talking sandwich with everyone. But ultimately I decided I just didn’t want to eat 5 different examples of crappy, spongy, flavorless bread.

    I never eat subs. Ever. I don’t care for the things. The last sub I ate was at Jimmy John’s in Latham, and I only went there to see what the fuss was about. It reminded me why I never eat subs. As bad as Subway is, at least they get it, and have different kinds of rolls, some of which actually have flavor.

    But, as you mention, Philly steaks are not necessarily built on great bread, and I love the things. I love burgers as well. I actually prefer a burger on a cheap bun. But in both cases, they are hot sandwiches, and I think that, along with the beef fat, make up for the lack of good bread. Also, good burger shops know to toast their buns, and I don’t know if it’s common in Philadelphia to toast the roll, but I’ve had steak sandwiches with toasted rolls, and it definitely improves the sandwich. Philly Grill and Bar in Latham toasts their rolls, and they make a very good sandwich.

    But then again, if you put hot, greasy beef on a shoe, I’d eat it.

  2. August 18, 2015 10:06 am

    If you go to a pro sub place, like Roma in Saratoga, the one cut/two cut concept becomes irrelevant. They do cut the bun all the way through, but the two halves are resting right next to each other during assembly and then rolled tight and wrapped in paper so there’s no chance for ingredients to leak out. The tight rolling also forms the sandwich against that good moist inside surface of bread so it will hold its shape when the paper is removed for eating.

    Your one-roll concept is fine for a cheese steak where you actually want some of the ingredients to pool up within the crack. But it defeats the purpose of an Italian Mix with complex ingredients evenly distributed so you get the complete taste in every bite.

    I know there are some places that pride themselves in overstuffing a sub with mediocre meats (usually Boar’s Head). In that case the one-cut method would do a better job of containing them. But we aren’t interested in such subs, are we?

  3. August 18, 2015 10:32 am

    I hate it when the cheese is absorbed by the bread which is what happens you have a hot sub and you put the cheese in first. I want there to be gooey cheesiness squeezing out of the middle of the meat and that is lost when it’s stuck to the bread.

  4. August 20, 2015 4:49 pm

    There are 4 variations on how to cut open sub style sandwich bread and I have seen all 3 used in various parts of the country and I have heard different names used to describe each.

    The CHICAGO CUT aka TRADITIONAL CUT: This is the type of cut that is most familiar to Americans especially in the pre-Subway franchise days when there was only 2 ways to properly cut this type of bread. This cut has the knife evenly diving the top half from the lower half. When the cut is done the 1 piece of bread is now 2 near equal halves. The cut is done horizontally to the floor and runs the length of the bread. When done properly you are left with a top and bottom that are nearly equal in size with the top half typically being the slightly large piece.

    Goes Good with: traditional sliced meat sandwiches like the Italian or the BLT. The only choice for very thick sandwiches like the sliced meats with double or triple meat slices
    Bad Choice for: any kind of sandwich that has loose portions like a tuna salad or seafood salad sandwich

    The HINGE CUT (aka the hot dog cut): The hinge cut is like the traditional in that you cut the bread horizontally lengthwise however the cut stops short of separating the bread in half. If you were to turn the bread on its side after making this cut it would resemble how a hot dog bun is cut.

    Goes Good with: both sliced meat and loose based items except when going double or triple meat
    Bad Choice for: any thick sandwich such as those sliced meat sandwiches with double or triple meat portions.
    Bad Choice for:

    The V CUT: The V cut is similar to the Subway cut. The V cut however is meant to divide the bread into 2 nearly equal parts but unlike the traditional cut the V Cut has the top half separated from the lower half by a V shaped cut. If you were to view the bread long wise looking at either end you would see a v shape in it. The V Cut is the cut that Subway was going for and sometimes achieves depending on the store and the employees. If you visit a non-crazy busy subway then you can expect a V Cut if you ask. If however you visit a store during its busy hour or one where the employees are like the soup Nazi in the Jerry Seinfeld TV series episode called the soup Nazi then you can expect to get a mutilation tear or something in between if you get lucky.

    Goes Good With: loose based items like seafood salad or tuna salad as well as meatball subs
    Bad Choice for: traditional sliced meat sandwhiches

    The SUBWAY CUT (aka the Mutilation Tear) : The subway cut was popularized by the franchise of the same name. This cut is like the traditional or Chicago cut in that after you are done the 1 piece of bread has become 2 albeit not 2 equally sized halves as is the case with the traditional/Chicago cut. The Subway cut is still used at various Subway locations and depending on what type of sandwich you are ordering/making and who is doing the cut this cut may be best. The cut is done by cutting or tearing away approximately 1/3rd to 1/4th of the bread. It’s like the V Cut but the end result is a top half that is much smaller than its bottom. In my opinion this cut only serves to damage your sandwich because more often then not its done poorly and the end result is mutilation. Like the V CUT the SUbwy Cut is a good candidate for the tuna sald or seafood salad sub and especially the meatball sub but is the worst possible choice for the more traditional meat slice subs.

    I call it the mutilation cut because if it’s done by a Subway employee who is either new or in a rush then they tend to mutilate the bread instead of cutting it properly. The best way to describe this cut is to recount the story of when I was at a Subway restaurants during its busy period and see the proud owner of the store demonstrate the “right way” to cut sub style sandwich bread. This is how he explained it to the employees. Take the bread lengthwise in your left hand and with your right first quickly but gently press your finger slightly into the bread and then tear back as if you were tearing off the top of a tear away box top like those on a tissue box. He was quite proud of how he was able to do many of these in a very short period of time. No matter how many times I went there and asked to have my sub cut the traditional way he always reminded me that I was ordering the sandwich incorrectly. He was absolute in his knowledge that they only way to ever cut sub style bread is with the Subway cut or as I came to call it the mutilation tear since more often than not the end result was a mutilated piece of bread with a top piece that more closely resembled as liver of bread then the top of a sandwich.

    Goes Good With: nothing
    Bad Choice for: everything

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