“There can’t be that many distinct open faced sandwiches out there, right? Right? Why are you guys so mad, Research Department?”
~AFFotD Editor-in-Chief Johnny Roosevelt
We’ve started on a journey here at America Fun Fact of the Day. A journey to learn way more than we need to about sandwiches. So far, we’ve covered classic and traditional sandwiches ranging from the BLT to the PB&J to a bunch that actually have full names that can be spelled out. We’re on the third of eight articles on the subject, because someone once told us that you can never write too much about sandwiches, and we’re looking to expose him as the filthy fucking liar that he is. Which brings us to a specific genre of sandwich that often gets overlooked—the open faced sandwich. Really, this concept predates the actual sandwich, and some might take issue with a single slice of bread covered with additional food items being called a sandwich, to which we’d say you need to find more interesting things to have strong opinions of.
Open sandwiches appear everywhere, from the Scandinavian Smørbrød to the Russian buterbrod. Okay, we just copy and pasted those, apparently a Norwegian open sandwich just takes a piece of buttered bread and puts “whatever the fuck you want…meat? Smoked fish? Sure” on top, while buterbrod is just tomatoes and sprat on bread which is exactly as depressing as we’d expect from Russia’s contribution to this genre of food.
That said, there are numerous American-created open faced sandwiches. Most are served hot, and are the ideal American mix of delicious and actively trying to shorten our lifespan. We can get behind of those, so let’s talk about how America knows how to do open faced sandwiches the right way. Hah, Russia. Fucking sprat. You guys are the worst.
American Sandwich Series: Open faced Sandwiches of America
This list of sandwiches, frankly, ended up much larger than we anticipated. What’s primarily to blame for that? Well, our decision to do this whole sandwich series for one, but also, for some reason, there are a surprising amount of regional sandwiches that are open faced. Apparently we went through a boom in America at some point where we decided that the second piece of bread on a sandwich was kind of a waste of money, and during that streak (largely during the depression and war era, to be honest) we managed to create some flavor combinations that were pretty delicious, so they stay with us to this day. Many of them will end up being new to you, but to ease us into this we’ll start things off by a breakfast sandwich that is pretty universally known, to the point that we’ve already written a fun fact about it.
As we’ve established in our discussion of the Reuben in part two of this series, when we’ve already written about a particular sandwich, we’re including it here to be as thorough as possible, but you can just go to the article to get the full story. If you don’t know what an Eggs Benedict is, we’re so sorry that you’ve lived a life filled with hangovers that have gone uncured. If you have like, a weirdly strong and specific opinion of Eggs Benedict that’s more detailed than “Oh, man, they’re so good” you’re probably white and go out for brunch like, just a bit too often. The Eggs benedict cuts a English muffin on half, and tops each half with ham or bacon, a poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce. It’s extremely rich and decadent, and was most likely first created in 1894 because a dude had a hangover and said, “Ugh, give me something to get rid of this, how about eggs and bacon and Hollandaise on something?” because America is a beautiful country where some of our finest culinary creations have been created in order to assist getting us drunk or to guide us through the after process.
That that, prohibitionists.
Back in the 1940s, when the Midwest seemed obsessed with making food and naming it after New York for some reason (looking at you, Coney Island hot dogs) a Beef Manhattan ordered in Manhattan would likely be greeted by a series of blank stares. This dish, which places roast beef, gravy and mashed potatoes atop a slice of bread, first originated in an Indianapolis deli in the late 1940s, and remains most commonly seen in the Midwest and the South, primarily prevalent in diners. It does have that ultimate diner appeal to it—thinly sliced beef and mashed potatoes on top of a dinky piece of white bread doused in gravy seems like it should only be served in a dining establishment run out of an old decommissioned train car filled with half-full ashtrays despite being in a state where you’ve not been allowed to smoke inside restaurants or bars since 2008 while a 50-year-old man who has lived a rough 50 years works the griddle just a few feet behind the counter to feed drunken factory workers at 2 in the morning.
A Beef Manhattan looks and sounds like it should be slightly more expensive than the rest of the items on the menu board (because of course they don’t print out menus there) and when you ask what it is the owner/chef/cashier just grumbles “diet food” and starts cooking one up. Half of your friends are looking at that picture up there and saying, “That looks delicious” and half of them are saying, “eww, that looks so gross and cheap” which is the most efficient way to distinguish between your fun friends and your friends that try to hang out with you once a month to “have a few beers and maybe play some Scrabble” on a Friday. Be the cool friend. Eat a Beef Manhattan.
The Hot Brown, or the Kentucky Hot Brown, is an open faced sandwich inspired by Welsh rarebit comprised of turkey and bacon covered in a Mornay sauce (an especially cheesy type of Béchamel sauce) that is then baked or broiled until the bread crisps and the sauce begins to brown and…ohhhh we get it. Hot. Brown. That’s why it got that name, that’s way, way better than what we were thinking. It was created in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, which still sells Hot Browns to this very day (though the hotel was shut down from 1971 to 1985). It was originally conceived as an alternative to ham and egg late-night suppers, which prove that our taste in drunk food hasn’t changed at all in the past 90 years.
The sandwich is often topped with either pimentos or tomatoes over the sauce once it’s been cooked, and many restaurants in Kentucky try make their own variation. It’s still wildly popular at the Brown Hotel, with about 800 to 1,200 being sold every week, and its popular enough that the Louisville tourism site lists the dozens of establishments that serve it year round, and it’s one dish we wouldn’t mind seeing spread its wings a little bit into other parts of the country, really it’s a piece of bread covered in turkey, bacon, and a bunch of creamy incredibly unhealthy cheese sauce, with more cheese on top, which, you know, sounds like the best thing.
It’s so delicious we even promised not to make a poop joke about OH GODDAMN IT. Ugh. We suck. Anyway, speaking of cheese making everything great…
Grilled cheese sandwiches separate Americans from the animal world and vegans alike. As much as we love bread and cheese, adding heat to the equation is a game changer, because melted cheese is better than regular cheese, and toasted bread is better than regular bread, and burned hands are actually worse than regular hands so please show some restraint when you encounter a grilled cheese sizzling away on a hot frying pan. And if you like grilled cheese (and are therefore better at sex) then you almost certainly love the cheese dream, which is basically just an open faced grilled cheese with some meat added. During the Great Depression, which was truly a boon for “finding cheap ways to make delicious food” in a way that only a historically crippled economy can encourage, the cheese dream became an easy and inexpensive go-to dinner, though the first mention of a cheese dream appears as early as 1918.
Tomato, Ham, or, most deliciously, bacon can be added to the cheese dream, as well as scrambled eggs, which is fine, and pineapple, which we hope is a typo. It’s generally been overshadowed by its two-sliced brethren because if we’re being really honest with ourselves open faced sandwiches can be kind of a pain in the ass to eat, at least compared to a regular sandwich, but the cheese dream is starting to come back just a bit among chefs who are looking for a reason to put the words “cheese dream” on the menu knowing that you’ll order it no matter what ingredients are used. It could be American cheese and a single strip of bacon and it’d still be more delicious than anything you’d find at a vegan restaurant.
For almost a hundred and fifty years, Marshall Field’s was a mini Empire in Chicagoland area. Founded in 1856, the department store made a name for itself through more than just its retail wing—they also put great effort into culinary enterprises through their various tea rooms as well as their role in the production of Frango mints. It was at these tea rooms that certain Marshall Field’s outlets began serving their famous Field’s Special. While they’re not sold anywhere anymore, because Macy’s bought out the Chicago company in a quest to continue to make Chicagoans feel the need to compare themselves to New York, they were wildly popular during the 1970s, though they’ve been around since at least 1950, and likely was invented even earlier than that.
The sandwich is still occasionally imitated, and proved so popular that when it was removed from menus at one point, people would still demand the kitchen make them the sandwich. You can still find various recipes of the sandwich online—to make a Field’s Special, if you’re going by the official Marshall Field’s Cookbook recipe (yes that exists), you butter a large slice of rye bread on a plate, which you cover in iceberg lettuce and two slices of Swiss Cheese (a leaf of lettuce, followed by the cheese, followed by two more leaves), which you top with three slices of turkey. You douse that in Thousand Island dressing (homemade, preferably) and top it all with a slice of tomato and some sliced hardboiled egg. You then add an olive, and put a few slices of bacon along the side of it because you have to add bacon to everything. The end result was a surprisingly giant sandwich that’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a popular dish from the 1970’s—relatively unhealthy, pretty delicious, but also fairly simple. There’s not a lot of moving parts to “put some salad dressing and turkey on top of some buttered bread” but it’s good enough for the sandwich to outlive the department store that created it.
The Horseshoe Sandwich is an Illinois staple that most residents of Chicago have never heard of, because it’s one of Illinois’ only delicious unhealthy food staples that isn’t from Chicago, and Chicagoans only acknowledge that there are other cities and towns of cultural significance in the state when they go down to visit Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield on an 8th grade field trip. That said, while it’s widely available in Southern Illinois and Central Illinois, there really should be more than one fucking place to get it in Chicago, because it’s wonderful (flavor-wise) and shitty (health-wise) in all the ways that Chicago cuisine is supposed to be.
The Horseshoe originated in Springfield as the creation of Joe Schweska, the Chef at the now defunct Leland Hotel (which now houses the office of the Illinois Commerce Commission, randomly) in 1928. The idea for the sandwich came from his wife, Elizabeth, who had seen recipes using Welsh rarebit sauce for lunch items, and suggested trying to make an open faced sandwich out of that. The original recipe that Schweska ended up with placed two thick-cut slices of bread (Texas Toast is the most common used for this now) on a sizzling metal plate. A thick slice of ham, shaped like a horseshoe, was added and then doused with a cheese sauce derived from Welsh rarebit that relies heavily on sharp white cheddar, with fries (as the “nails” to the horseshoe, though at the time they were just potatoes cut in wedges) added just before serving. The horseshoe ham no longer appears—current incarnations of the sandwich typically either use two hamburger patties or a thick fried ham steak, and the cheese also tends to be poured over the fries. While various sources like to claim that Steve Tomko worked to refine the recipe with Joe Schweska after its initial invention, that’s actually bullshit, and we’ll take a moment to disparage the memory of a dead man we haven’t met—Steve Tomko was a fucking dishwasher trying to take credit for the Horseshoe after Schweska died, so he can fuck off.
The recipe itself is simple, except for the “secret” cheese sauce recipe, which naturally varies from chef to chef, and we want to start a petition to make this dish available at more places than, say, Peoria and Springfield. Come on, America, it’s a plate filled with meat and cheesy fries, stand behind it.
Hot Hamburger Plate
Not surprisingly, the South has their own “fries and hamburger patty on a piece of bread” concoction, but instead of cheese they went with gravy, which is an acceptable compromise. Unhealthy food connoisseurs from the southeastern United States seek out the hot hamburger plate, which places a slice of white bread on a plate which they then cover with a hamburger patty and a mountain of French fries before dousing the whole sinful creation in gravy. It’s sort of like a poutine in the form of an open faced sandwich, except for the notable lack of cheese curds (which, oh man, that would take this to the next level). There’s not a lot of folklore behind the dish, as no one has stepped forward to take credit for it, since it’s a pretty basic concept, and unlike the Horseshoe Sandwich, a hot hamburger plate doesn’t require any particular secret or special recipes. It’s just gravy fries on deliciously soggy bread with some hamburger mixed it. *shrug* We’d eat it.
If you visit St. Louis, perhaps to see the famous arch or maybe to sucker punch a Cardinals fan that annoyed you on the internet, you’ll be greeted by a slew of dishes that are unique to that particular Missouri metropolis. Some of these are awful and wrong and stupid. Others are actually pretty good. Their sandwiches, including the Gerber shown here, falls somewhere between the two categories. This open faced sandwich takes a half section of Italian or French bread, spreads it with garlic butter, and tops it with ham, either Provel or Provolone cheese, and a sprinkling of paprika before it’s toasted. It was created in 1973 at Ruma’s Deli and was named after the unfortunately named Dick Gerber, and has since become popular in numerous St. Louis restaurants, and roughly nowhere outside of the city. That’s because a garlic bread, ham, and Provolone open faced sandwich would be pretty good (not Earth shatteringly good, not Horseshoe Sandwich good, but pretty good) they had to go ahead and St. Louis it up by focusing on Provel cheese. Most use Provel, because St. Louis has a weird sense of pride over their weird gooey processed cheese that’s not good enough for anyone else in America to crave, which is where we’d have an issue with this sandwich.
We’re sure it’s fine on this sandwich, but Provel, which is a combination of swiss, cheddar, and provolone cheese, will forever in our minds be associated with St. Louis-style pizza, which is literally the worst thing to happen to pizza. Listen, Provel is probably fine, it’s sort of weird to eat a cheese that’s specifically designed so that it bites off cleanly, thus getting rid of the enjoyable stringing tendrils your bite takes with you when you normally take a bite into a melted cheese, and this sandwich is probably fine, but we’re not going to spend much time praising it. It’s better than their pizza, so for that we’re at least thankful. Which brings us to our final open faced sandwich in our series…
Ah yes, that’s how you do an incredibly unhealthy looking open faced sandwich. The Turkey Devonshire, or Devonshire to its close friends and relatives, was created by Frank Blandi in Pittsburgh in 1934, where it was served at The Stratford in Shadyside, Pittsburgh. The sandwich itself is fairly similar to the Kentucky Hot Brown, as it takes toasted bread and covers it with hot turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and a cheese sauce. Currently its most popularly found at the Union Grill, it’s still a relatively niche dish. It used to be far more widespread than it is today, but you can still track them down, and those that know if its existence are huge proponents of it because, well, look at that fucking thing. That looks delicious. Just, more of that, please, America.
And there you have a somewhat comprehensive list of America’s open faced sandwiches, most of which you’ll probably have to take a trip to try. Stay tuned for the fourth section in this series, where we go into lesser-known sandwiches that are regionally available on the East Coast. In the meantime, we’re going to try to kidnap someone from Springfield so they can start making us Horseshoe sandwiches whenever we’re hungover, because that cheese sauce sounds pretty damn good.