Sandwiches are undoubtedly the champion of standard lunch fare for millions of Americans. Come noon every day you can find us munching away at our desks, in a café, in the car, at the park … pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately, the standard entree usually involves some unexciting takes on the original creation often credited to the 18th century 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu.
The actual origin of the sandwich is lost to the fog of history, but a commonly accepted version of how it got its name is recounted in Pierre-Jean Grosley’s 1770’s A Tour to London:
“A minister of state passed four and 20 hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play, that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a piece of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”
Actual placing of meat between bread and then in mouth had likely been around long before the Earl’s famous marathon gambling session, but the title reportedly stuck when others ordered “the same as Sandwich.” Montagu’s salt beef isn’t the typical order nowadays after a long day of gambling. Instead we consume turkey on wheat or PB&J on white while staring at a spreadsheet.
Your grandfather probably sat down to lunch with a ham and cheese sandwich, a club, or if he was really hungry, and a cartoon character, a Dagwood. And all of these are fine. There’s no shame in liking that canned tunafish sandwich. It’s convenient, cheap, and smells like a dockworker’s apron, er, I mean it’s perfectly good. After Otto Frank Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicing machine in the 1920s the sandwich became an easy prospect. No baking your own rye or slicing of someone else’s bread. Just grab a wrapped loaf at the grocer, slap some meat, cheese, and a condiment and (if you’re feeling bold) maybe a vegetable or two between a couple slices and you had a quick meal to go. This is no condemnation of the simple sandwich. The pastrami on rye with spicy mustard is about as simple as there is, but when well executed, it’s a monument to the form. The minimal ingredients are the definition of “greater than the sum its parts.” It is no small part of why Katz Delicatessen has been in business in New York City since 1888. But let’s be real. Most of us don’t have the time, resources, or skill to create a Katz-like masterpiece. We’re lucky if we can drag our over-worked under-appreciated selves out of bed every day and throw some dry, factory-produced turkey on a couple of slices and make it to work on time.
Hell, maybe you like that boring ass sandwich or maybe you’re just a person of habit. Maybe you’re trying to eat healthy, you want to save some money, you’re too lazy, your roommate ate all the Xiao Bao Biscuit leftovers from the night before (OK does anyone actually have leftovers from XBB?). All of us of have been there. At some point we end up eating that unexciting, non-Katz-like sandwich for lunch. We’re here for you and we’ve done the research to broaden your sandwich horizons:
Scallop Po’ Boy
289 E Bay St.
167 Raw has changed a bit since it opened in 2014. Focusing more on their busy restaurant crowd, they’ve expanded their seating inside and out, but the quality of their food hasn’t changed. The Sea Scallop Po’ Boy is a less traditional po’ boy and more of a lobster-cum-sea scallop roll. It’s served on a split top roll soaked with enough butter to make Paula Dean ride it down East Bay like a bucking butter bronco. The sweet scallops are perfectly sauted and nestled on top of the roll, covered with a criss-cross of a deep red and earthy brown butter beet puree, and an avocado green goddess dressing garnished with microgreens. A light, sweet, slightly spicy, buttery departure from that boring turkey sandwich you’re probably eating right now, at your messy desk, in the cube farm … for the third time this week.
Pig Ear Po’ Boy
1219 Savannah Hwy.
The Glass Onion has the solution to boring everyday sandwiches with the Crispy Pig Ear Po’ Boy. “Pig’s Ear?” you say. “That sounds weird and different and I’m scared and confused and not sure I can leave this deli chicken on wheat.” But do it. The strips of crispy fried pig ears are a peppery pork delivery device, mixing tender meat with gelatinous goodness encased in a light, crunchy breading. Unknowing diners would likely mistake them for something else as the several-day preparation creates a delicate, unexpected texture that works great fried and overstuffed in a po’ boy. No need to worry about chewy bites here. Piled high with butter lettuce, tomatoes, dabs of their sweet pepper Thunder sauce, and small pools of buttermilk, the whole experience is a savory satisfyingly porky escape.
Dig the Fig
730 Coleman Blvd.
Remember those days when your mom would pack your lunch? Probably a PB&J on white with the crust cut off, because you’d throw a Godzilla-level temper tantrum if she didn’t? She’d tuck it away in your dented Evel Knievel lunch box with an apple and, the real star of your day, a little baggie of Fig Newtons. Well, those days are long gone. Your spouse would laugh at you if you asked for a packed lunch and divorce you if you threw a temper tantrum. Lucky for you, the nice folks at Mozzo have come up with the Dig the Fig. It’s like your very own meaty adult Fig Newton, salty, thin-sliced prosciutto between thick layers of rich fig jam on a pressed ciabatta roll.
Pollo Chocolate Arepa or Patacone
Avila Food Truck
Avila food truck is dishing out Venezuelan cuisine all over the Lowcountry. Found many days at 55 Spring St. where partners Melanie Blohm and Adam Goodwin and chef Alex Clark have two different sandwich-ish offerrings to satiate your lunch needs. Their arepas are traditional fist-size, crispy grilled, split corn cakes and their patacones are crunchy sandwiches where fried plantains serve as the bread. You can choose from a number of fillings for either including: pernil (pulled roasted pork), reina pepiada (braised chicken and avocado) with avocado and cheese, carne mechada (shredded steak), mushroom mechada (griddled mushroom), and pollo al chocolate (chicken in a savory chocolate sauce). Step out and get the pollo chocolate. It’s not as spicy as some Mexican mole but just as flavorful and infinitely better.
Lucky No. 1 Sub
1137 Morrison Dr.
3328 Maybank Hwy.
We could easily have put the Duck Club here. It’s just the kind of sandwich that your grandfather likely wouldn’t have had as an option. But everyone knows about the Duck Club. You do, of course. Right? Well there’s another number on their menu that provides for an escape from sandwich doldrums. That number is 1. The Lucky No. 1 sub at the Moose is a Korean-esque take on a bahn mi and made with thick crispy slices of pork belly paired with pickles, house-made kimchi, tomatoes, cukes, and dressed with wasabi mayo and red chile sauce. If you’re Korean, your grandmother might have packed a lunch as good as this; if you’re not, at least you can have it now. You’re going to want a beer or three and all the napkins you can get. Beer is OK at lunch, right?
Lamb Aji Sandwich
Wise Buck Smoked Meats
23 Ann St.
Smoked meat emporium Wise Buck has a number of meaty options to guide you and your carnivorous instincts away from sandwich monotony. You can grab meats by the pound like pulled pork, pit beef, smoked turkey or St. Louis pork ribs, or you can get a sandwich. And since this is all about sandwiches, the smoked leg of lamb with salsa aji is what you need. Hints of cumin and pepper sit on a lightly crusty roll with tart green salsa aji, arugula and sweet marinated eggplant. The lamb is right on the money between mid-rare and rare and pairs well with the light heat from the aji and sweetness of the eggplant and bitterness of the arugula. Saddle them with great sides like charred zucchini, smoked “street corn” and curried cauliflower, and the crushing tedium of your every day sustenance will seem like some half-lucid distant spartan nightmare.
Blackened Tomato Melt
Early Bird Diner
1644 Savannah Hwy.
The Early Bird Diner is West Ashley’s go-to for solid, well-crafted, reasonably priced diner fare. It’s a take on the classic diner (recently named one of America’s 50 best) and serves up chicken and waffles, meatloaf, shrimp and grits, burgers, pork chops, and all manner of breakfast options. Tattooed arms, local art on the walls, and Ozzy Osborne on the radio let you know this isn’t Mel’s. Flo isn’t going to tell you to kiss her grits, though I’d be OK if she told the Guy Fieri picture hanging behind the counter to do so. At Early Bird, the chalkboard above the counter touts specials like cornmeal-fried catfish and asiago fried sirloin steak over mashed potatoes and butter beans, but this is about sandwiches. Seems like green tomatoes are expected on any Southern menu. The Early Bird follows suit and makes a blackened green tomato melt using fresh mozzarella and sweet basil pesto. Think Justin Wilson on a date with your Nona. Served on a ciabatta roll, the blackened spices, the pesto and stringy fresh mozz come together to create a little Cajun flair that is continents away from anything suffering away in the back of your fridge.
Artisan Meat Share
33 Spring St.
The Vietnamese/French hybrid bánh mì used to be one of those sandwiches that you heard about, but couldn’t find. These days bánh mì are everywhere. The sandwich of fresh and pickled veggies with spiced meat, tofu, or headcheese on a crusty baguette-like roll is on many a restaurant’s menu, and shops focusing on the sandwich are in every significant U.S. city. Bob Cook and Craig Deihl of Artisan Meat Share have taken the idea and switched out the bánh mì roll for a Chinese-style steamed bun to create the Bun Mi. Get it? Anyway, it is delicious. The meat bosses pile that steamed bun with pâté, smoked ham, carrots, soy pickles, cilantro, and dress it with kimchi mayo. Rich and delightfully funky, the Bun Mi at AMS will definitely change your sandwich game.
701 E Bay St.
Since last fall when Mercantile opened they have been serving up house-made and local products in a deli counter/gourmet grocery-style setting in the old Cigar Factory. You can swing by and pick up house-cured charcuterie, almond scone nutmeg mix, Le Creuset pots, Rewined candles, a couple bottles of rosé, or fresh baked bread but what you should be getting is the pastrami-cured salmon sandwich. Lightly cured salmon with a hint of pastrami spices is layered on thin slices of rye (that contain more butter than should be allowed) with pickled fennel and red onion, paper thin slices of cucumber, sprouts, and horseradish Dijon. Despite the buttery rye, it’s a light sandwich that points to the salmon canapés one might find at fancy pinky-finger-out parties with Louis XVI chaise lounges and smug attitudes. Luckily, you don’t have to make small talk with Chauncy about his jaunt to the Hamptons to enjoy it.
El Sancho Loco
464 N Nassau St.
If the lines were any indication of how much people were anticipating the opening of Lewis Barbecue, then it was as big as a Texas sky. Since opening innumerable pounds of smoked brisket, pulled pork, a Texas sausage called hot guts, turkey, pork ribs and beef ribs have been busting guts to the delight of Charlestonians glad the wait is finally over. Though the lines have somewhat subsided, if you don’t have the time you can saddle up to the bar and order sandwiches and sides without the wait. If you want maximum meat in sandwich form then the El Sancho Loco is the way to go. Chopped brisket, pulled pork, and hot guts stacked high on a soft roll and garnished with pickled red onion is enough to send you looking for a quiet cool spot to take a siesta.
45 Spring St.
Successful restaurant strategy: Take meat, add buffalo sauce, reap the dollars from all the people flooding through the doors. OK, that might be a little strong, but it seems like you barbarians will eat anything covered in the neon-orange, spicy vinegar-kicked sauce. But what happens if you don’t use chicken, pork, or any meat at all? Warehouse has the answer and it’s a buffalo-fried cauliflower sandwich. The thick slices of cauliflower — deep fried to a crispy outer crust and soft, almost creamy interior — easily replace any meat you’d expect here. Instead of the pervasive Trumpian-colored sauce, the cauliflower is coated in local Red Clay Hot Sauce and served with avocado, Clemson blue cheese, pickled fennel, sprouts, and tomato on a Brown’s Court sesame bun. This will become your new favorite buffalo anything.
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