An Ode to Summer’s Perfect Sandwich

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Think of this as my “how to summer like a righteous local” seminar. Or, maybe, it would be more aptly described as a “how not to” discussion. You can decide. I know that people get excited around tomato sandwiches and their wealthy cousin, the BLT. But as a food professional, I feel it is my profound and sworn duty to lend some culinary guidance to proper tomato sandwich etiquette and execution. In my book, there are some serious rules to follow – not a lot – but they are wildly important. The way I see it, if I won’t stand up for this tried-and-true tradition, who will? And if not now, when? So, I’m thinking that I should start with the obvious mistakes people make.

First, they use fancy bread. Or, worse, a baguette. Then they put lettuce of some sort on it. In the more terminal cases, there is a whole wild cacophony of vegetables piled aboard as if their sandwich was some kind of culinary version of Noah’s ark. (For God’s sake, does anyone know if the radishes got on board yet?!) None of these accoutrements are listed on the original recipe. I swear.

Then there’s the mayonnaise. Or lack of it. This is not a sandwich than in any way allows for the scraping of mayo onto bread. No. That is completely against the rules. And you certainly can’t use mustard or some other traitorous jarred condiment. And, let me be clear, the only mayo that you can honestly use is Duke’s. It says that right on the recipe. In big letters. And anyway, Duke’s says “heavy duty.” Enough said.

Now, the real idolaters have the nerve to use store-bought tomatoes. Oh my. Farmers market tomatoes are absolutely required if you don’t grow your own or you are not blessed with a generous neighbor. And they gotta smell really GOOD. Then thick slices are essential – a big tomato might yield four slices at the very best. (The orginal recipe calls for slices as “thick as your mother’s little finger.”) So, wafer-thin tomato slices are an immediate sign of failure; so start over. It’s worth it.

Lastly, there is the egregious sin of eating the sandwich at a table. Politely in a chair, for God’s sake! That’s just not allowed. (Refer to chapter 6 – page 52.) Eating and execution go hand in hand, people! Plates are even frowned upon unless they’re cheap and paper. And paper towels are preferred to napkins. Most assuredly. But napkins are, however, grudgingly allowed.

So, here’s the traditional recipe for an honest, hell-yes-it’s-summer, tomato sandwich. I’ve translated it loosely for the modern reader.

What you’ll need:

1) cheap white bread

2) perfectly ripe farmers market tomatoes

3) Duke’s mayonnaise

4) salt and pepper


1) Using a spoon(!), put plenty of Duke’s on both pieces of bread. Shyness here is frowned upon.

2) Pile thickly sliced tomatoes onto the bread. The more the merrier.

3) Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper.

4) Assemble the sandwich and position it directly next to the kitchen sink. Then, squish it down.

5) Make sure that you’re wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

6) Lift perfect sandwich and lean over the sink without drooling (making sure that your elbows are over the bowl).

7) Eat the entire sandwich without ever putting it down. Ideally this is about 9 bites.

You will know that you have succeeded if the juice of the tomatoes and some of the mayonnaise has run down your arm. Extra high marks if it runs down both arms.

8) Turn on the water in the sink. Rinse off. And, yes, repeat.

End of recipe.

You’re welcome.

And because you can never have too many tomatoes, join Acme for their 16th annual Tomato Festival on July 14-16. It’s a celebration of all things local and all things tomato.

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Kevin Callaghan

Kevin Callaghan is the owner and chef of Acme Food & Beverage Co. in Carrboro
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