What Makes a Sandwich a Sandwich?

The Angus Burger sliders at Municipal Bar + Dining Co.

The Angus Burger sliders at Municipal Bar + Dining Co.

What makes a sandwich a sandwich?

If you’re thinking “hand held,” consider the Kentucky Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with cheese or a rich Mornay sauce. Either way, the sandwich, which originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, is broiled until the top layer is bubbly. Eating the Hot Brown with a knife and fork may not be mandatory, but it’s definitely a good idea.

If you’re thinking “hot” (as in temperature) and “juicy” (as in sauce or gravy) is always "knife-and-fork,” consider the Italian beef sandwich served at Mr. Beef on Orleans (666 N. Orleans St. 312.337.8500). The beef is made in- house and then sliced paper thin. Ask for it “wet,” and the bread gets dipped in gravy. Ask for it “dry” and it doesn’t. Ask for the “easy dip,” and the juice level is somewhere in the middle.

A request for “hot” (as in spice level) adds a generous dollop of the house made giardiniera, a relish crowded with celery, carrots and sport peppers. The heat level is “moderate” because, as partner Christopher Zucchero explains, “We want people to taste the beef.” A request for “sweet,” on the other hand, adds a similarly generous dollop of steamed bell peppers, which register a zero on the Scoville scale, the same scale that rates a dried habanero at 200,000-300,000.

If you’re thinking bread is a must, consider the jibarito, a sandwich made with flattened, fried green plantains, in lieu of bread. According to most accounts, the jibarito made its Chicago debut at Borinquen Restaurant (1720 N. California Ave. 773.227.6038) in Humboldt Park. The original was made with garlic-flavored mayonnaise, steak, cheese, lettuce and tomato, but versions made with chicken, pork and shrimp are now available at many restaurants.

If you’re thinking “layers” are a “must,” it’s probably because you haven’t sampled the small, open-face sandwiches at Duran European Sandwiches (529 N. Milwaukee Ave. 312.666.6007). The Beetnik, a popular option made with multi-grain bread, boasts a bottom layer of chevre topped with marinated carrot salad. Baby beets, thinly sliced and marinated, are arranged over a portion-but not all- of the surface layer. A squiggle of Greek yogurt and fresh herbs is piped on top of the beets, while a garnish of arugula and herbs provide the finishing touch.

Shifting to meat, the French ham includes a leek salad and the roast beef is partnered with chive cream cheese and roasted red peppers. Heartier yet is the juxtaposition of kielbasa, cheese, bacon, potato salad and sauerkraut known as The Austrian.

a trio of sandwiches at Duran European sandwiches

a trio of sandwiches at Duran European sandwiches


If you’re thinking a sandwich has to be an entrée, consider the sliders menued as appetizers. Included in this group are the braised short rib sliders at Unite Urban Grill (1450 W. Chicago Ave. 312.455.8900), the pulled pork sliders at Crossroads at the House of Blues (329 N. Dearborn 312.923.2000), and the Angus burgers with chipotle mayo and brie cheese at Municipal Bar + Dining Co. (216 W. Ohio St. 312.951.2125).
pork belly Reuben sliders at Howells & Hood

pork belly Reuben sliders at Howells & Hood


Max’s Wine Dive (1482 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773.661.6581) and Labriola Café and Neopolitan Pizza (3021 Butterfield Rd. #106, Oak Brook 630.574.2008) both list their filet sliders in the appetizer section, just as Howell’s & Hood (435 N. Michigan Ave. 312.262.5310) does with its pork belly Reuben sliders made with corned pork belly, bacon-braised sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and horseradish Russian dressing. And at Vistro (112 S. Washington St. Hinsdale 630.537.1459)), Paul Virant’s new restaurant in Hinsdale, the Surf ‘n Turf sliders made with walleye pike and barbequed pork are also listed as appetizers, along with both the pork and the roasted tomato, peppers and spinach quesadillas, themselves a variation on the sandwich format.

So what makes a sandwich a sandwich? The jury's still out.

Filed under: On the Menu

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