Special Report

20 Sandwiches (and Fillings) Americans Can’t Stop Eating

Colman Andrews

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The club sandwich was probably invented in America in the late 19th or early 20th century, possibly at men’s social clubs (at least one source ascribes it to the Saratoga Club in Saratoga, New York). Considered the forerunner of the BLT, it is basically the same sandwich, but with thin-sliced chicken or turkey added — though some versions enhance it with ham and/or cheese. It is often made as a triple-decker.

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This isn’t a tuna salad sandwich or a tuna melt (see below), but fried fish between two slices of bread or on a bun. Though the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich — invented by a Cincinnati franchisee in 1962 as a Lenten specialty — is particularly well known, it has many antecedents. Fried fish sandwiches were a fad in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 20th century. Hot (in the sense of spicy) fish sandwiches were once a staple of church picnics in Nashville. Bay Port, Michigan’s annual Fish Sandwich Festival dates back to 1949. Today, fish sandwiches are common at many fast-food places and casual restaurants around the country.

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French dip

The French dip sandwich — thin-sliced roast beef on a French roll whose cut sides have been dipped into beef juices — isn’t French, but its creator was. Philippe Mathieu owned a sandwich shop and deli in downtown Los Angeles. There, in 1918, the story goes, he was making a sandwich for a policeman and accidentally dropped the roll into the roasting pan. It tasted good, and a sandwich classic was born. The restaurant, which still exists (under the name Philippe the Original), now also makes the French dip with pork, lamb, turkey, or ham, and adds cheese on request.

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In Greece and throughout the Middle East, seasoned meat (usually lamb) has for centuries been roasted on vertical spits, then shaved off and folded into a pita or some similar bread. Gyros — pronounced “GEE-roes” or “YEE-roes” — are the Greek-American version, taking their name from the Greek word gýros, meaning “round” or “turn.”

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Grilled cheese

Some combination of bread and cheese, heated so that the cheese melts, has probably existed since ancient times. The sandwich as we know it today most likely dates from the 1920s, when sliced white bread and mass-market cheese became widely available. More recent elaborations of this straightforward classic include versions that add man ‘n’ cheese, pulled pork, french fries, fried chicken, crab meat, lobster, and even strawberries to the basic recipe.