We kicked off National Sandwich Month on August 1 by unveiling our ultimate list of Denver’s 31 must-try sandwiches. And while we’ve been busy celebrating (aka stuffing our faces) ever since, in between bites, we caught up with local chefs to talk sandwiches. What makes a good one? Why is the bread so important? How should the ingredients be stacked? Find their collective musings—from the glory of the soggy PB & J to the secrets behind the ultimate barbecue beef sandwich—below.
Josh Pollack of Rosenberg’s Bagels & Deli (and the forthcoming Lou’s Italian deli): Cut each of the meats to the thickness that allows the characteristic flavors and textures to shine. For example, the proper thickness of prosciutto di Parma and salami vary greatly. Our lettuce will be shaved on the deli slicer, as the texture created with that crunch is important to the bite experience.
Lon Symensma and Jeff Stoneking of ChoLon: Every sandwich needs something acidic: a good pickle, a gherkin, giardiniera, or even a fermented product such as sauerkraut or kimchi. This addition brings a good depth of flavor, texture, and sometimes spice.
On Sandwich Architecture
Hosea Rosenberg of Blackbelly Market: Always build up. Put the driest ingredients on the bottom and the wettest on top. That way, the bottom piece of bread doesn’t get soggy and disintegrate.
Josh Pollack: The placement of the cheese depends. Sharper aged cheeses will go on the top of our sandwiches below the veg, milder cheeses such as mozzarella will go on the bottom.
Josh Wolkon of Secret Sauce Food & Beverage: I hate stopping for lunch when I’m skiing, especially on a powder day. I always pack a classic PB & J, but I make sure to put the peanut butter on both sides of the bread with the jam sandwiched in the middle so that the bread doesn’t sog up. I usually put crunchy [peanut butter] on one side and creamy on the other, and some type of raspberry or strawberry preserves in the middle of two slices of wheat.
Jeff Cornelius of Globe Hall: For the perfect chopped beef barbecue sandwich, brisket should be cubed rather than sliced. Cubing gives you juicy bites and allows you to eat the sandwich bite by bite instead of having to tear it apart with your teeth, which causes the sandwich to fall apart. Mix the fatty and lean parts of the brisket to taste (we do a 50-50 split). Add barbecue sauce to the brisket before adding toppings. This concentrates the barbecue flavor in the meat and adds moistness to the sandwich.
Troy Guard of TAG Restaurant Group: I usually put meat on the bottom so it doesn’t slide off. If you put lettuce, cucumber, or tomato on the bottom it slides off when you take a bite. I prefer toasted or grilled sandwiches—I like the warm-cool contrast plus the soft-crunchy textures.
Jeff Cleary of Grateful Bread: I like an Italian grinder when a certain amount of the vinaigrette and the juices from the tomato start to meld into the bread, but not make it soggy. I always put the mayonnaise directly on the bread on both halves, and then I put the cheese on the bottom, the meat and other toppings like tomatoes, onions, sweet or hot peppers, then the vinaigrette. Then I put whole lettuce leaves on the top (a lot of times I’d put more cheese on top the lettuce) then wrap it up in butcher paper. This slows down the [spread of the] juices that can make the sandwich too soggy. I personally like to eat an Italian-type hoagie (what we call them in Pennsylvania) or grinder an hour or more after it’s made.
Dan Lasiy of Rebel Restaurant: Fresh, soft sandwich hoagie rolls, with a flaky, thin crust. Mayo and/or mustard, or oil and vinegar spread evenly over both sides. Meat on the bottom, because you want the salty meat to hit the tongue first, then cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. If you pack too much in between the bread it will all shoot out. Also, too much mayo or mustard will make ingredients slide. Or, you can kind of mash and roll the bread around [the fillings] like Snarf’s does. I don’t always adhere to the “rules” that others do. For example I do enjoy a soft, soggy sandwich, or after half a day of snowboarding eating my mashed up PB&J.
Hosea Rosenberg: The bread is probably the most important factor in making a great sandwich. Without great bread, it’s just not worth it. We use four different bakeries just for our lunch sandwiches. The bread must complement the ingredients—soft bread for eggs, cheese, etc.; harder crust bread for hearty, stacked sandwiches, and so on. Don’t use bad bread!
Josh Pollack: Bread is super important. The bread needs the right texture to hold up to the sandwich but not be too tough so that everything falls out when you take a bite. Most good subs are on Italian bread or hoagie rolls. Focaccia has become a popular choice as it is easier to perfect in harder climates. I give a big shout out to City Bakery for its Italian bread and focaccia and to Grateful Bread for its sliced breads. Both are masters of the trade and will be used at Lou’s.
Lon Symensma and Jeff Stoneking: Obviously the appropriate the bread for the ingredients in the sandwich is key! You would never want to put a PB & J on a hoagie roll or put a hot Italian beef on Wonder Bread.
Justin Brunson of Old Major, Masterpiece Delicatessen, and Masterpiece Kitchen: When we make our sandwich with butter-toasted bread, we toast it on the flat top and then let it cool standing up in a teepee shape so it doesn’t get soggy.
Ian Wortham of Frasca Food and Wine: The key to a great sandwich is proper condiment-to-filling ratio so that the bread is neither over- nor under-saturated and there’s an even distribution of fillings throughout. It’s such a bummer when you take a bite and all you get is dry bread!