From Montagu to Muffuletta

The classic sandwiches remain popular—but today’s sandwich board is heating up with toasted or grilled versions of just about anything. Also hot: ‘gourmet’ toppings and spa portions.

The fourth Earl of Sandwich—otherwise known as John Montagu and generally credited with “inventing” what has evolved into the staple of the American mid-day repast—would be pleased but probably not surprised to see the creative morphing that the two pieces of bread and a filling that bears his name has undergone.

More and more frequently, these items—hot or cold—are being made-to-order on artisan breads with gourmet ingredients and somewhat exotic spreads. They may be rolled as wraps, pressed as paninis, toasted, served open-faced, or cut into wedges as muffulettas. Spa versions or even half-sandwiches, for customers focusing on portion control, are more widely available than in the past.

It’s no surprise that today’s customers expect high-quality ingredients and generally won’t settle for less. They also expect extensive variety. For example: David Galbraith, director of dining services at the University of Arizona in Tucson, provides sandwich options at about 15 venues throughout the 400-acre campus that serves as home-away-from-home for approximately 36,000 students.

The On Deck Deli, located in the foodcourt of the main student union, serves 2,000 people each day. An assembly line of counter staff provide a great deal of interface with the students in this massive presentation of seemingly innumerable choices.

Take bread, for example: There are at least 30 varieties, either baked in-house or supplied by a local provider of Italian artisan breads. “He does an olive bread with Asiago cheese ribboned through the loaf, as well as sun-dried tomato bread and a wonderful, funky pumpernickel,” Galbraith points out. “Kaisers, croissants, sourdoughs, etc., are done in-house. Our bakery is never going away, although it’s a very expensive ‘hood ornament;’ it runs two shifts, seven days a week. Our students are heavy on the whites and whole wheats versus the onion dill and super-heavy grains.”

Name brands sell: Galbraith knows from experience that sandwiches here must be made with name-brand mayonnaise, mustard and the finest-quality meats—especially the best-selling turkey and chicken. “Students don’t want to see second-tier product,” he says. “They’re coming from a much more sophisticated base (than in the past) and we have to compete like any other restaurant since there’s no board plan and there are no dining halls in any of the residence halls. This is a huge retail operation.”

Not so long ago, Galbraith figured wraps were “dead and dying,” but he’s found that, if anything, they’re stronger than ever and provide a great way to add excitement to the sandwich menu. In fact, they’re the centerpiece of the IQ brand that he and his staff recently developed, really quite by accident. “We created our own health-focused store around a smoothies concept, then went on to develop the ‘healthy’ wraps,” he says.

Now the chicken Caesar wrap is the top seller out of about 30 different varieties available at the IQ station, located in the foodcourt just across from the deli. The curried chicken and walnut wrap is tied for second place with the portabello mushroom wrap, a popular choice among those students seeking a vegetarian option.

Hot grilled sirloin or sautéed vegetable wraps are also prepared to-order and students don’t seem to mind the slightly longer wait. These a la carte wraps are priced at $3.95 to $5.25; salad, such as tabbouleh, as well as garlic fries, are also offered at IQ.

Bagel’s back: Paninis, menued at the student union’s Italian restaurant whimsically named Three Cheeses and a Noodle, aren’t as strong sellers as wraps, owing perhaps to their longer preparation (and wait) time. But the bagel sandwich is back on campus and in top form, Galbraith reports.

“We let them die out for awhile, then brought them back about a year ago,” he says. “We buy the bagels from a local supplier and now have two stand-alone bagel places on campus. We offer compounded cream cheese and other spreads that are made in-house, as well as bagel sandwiches such as roast beef and chicken for $4.50 and a vegetarian version that’s under $4.

“Overall, our top-selling sandwich is smoked turkey with provolone, lettuce, tomato and light mayonnaise on sourdough. We go through more smoked turkey than any other deli meat.”

Segment similarities: Talk to Kelly Friend, vice president of operations for Whitsons Culinary Group based in Islandia, N.Y., about best-selling sandwiches among the seventh- to 12th- grade students who are Whitson customers in more than 30 school accounts, and you’ll discover that what they’re keen on today is equally popular across the board in Whitsons’ business-and-industry and college accounts.

Friend finds that wraps are definitely “alive and well” and her school locations menu at least one “special” wrap each day, while larger districts frequently offer two. Top-selling wraps include Buffalo chicken, Caesar salad and lemon pepper chicken wrapped in the customer’s choice of flavored tortilla.

Paninis, in their somewhat traditional form, continue to be “prevalent” and any sandwich offered can be put through a panini press. The  favorite panini variety, Friend reports, is grilled chicken which consistently outsells everything else 10 to 1. It can be “built” with basil roasted red peppers and exotic spreads such as pesto mayonnaise or a honey Dijon spread.

The new panini: Anyone can do a grilled panini, and most everyone has. But students at Whitsons’ accounts including Briarcliff (N.Y.) High School and Mamaroneck (N.Y.) High School, as well as adult customers in other venues, can now enjoy the contractor’s new Toastables concept.

“We take sliced cold cuts plus roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, a choice of six or seven types of shredded cheese and open a sub roll,” says Friend, detailing the process. “We layer on the ingredients, then put it through the Impinger oven as an open-faced sandwich—and serve it as such. Usually, it’s from our deli station, but once in a while it’s at La Cuccina, the Italian station.”

There’s always a Toastable special menued, such as grilled chicken, pesto and shredded mozzarella; or customers can create their own version from seven types of cold cuts, seven shredded cheeses, plus a variety of five to 10 toppings and two flavors of chicken—the classic (marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar) is always on hand in addition to Cajun or lemon pepper varieties.

“We shred all the cheeses into bowls so we can mix them together—cost-wise that’s a good deal for us,” Friend says. “We can command a premium price with gourmet toppings such as a touch of sun-dried tomatoes or chopped basil, to create a flavored gourmet cheese. Many menu items in schools can also be offered a la carte. Every school is different, depending upon the contract, so a sandwich could be priced from $1.75 to $4.

“I think kids are looking for something more healthy such as grilled chicken, turkey breast and low-fat cheeses,” she continues. “I think the toppings are so popular now as a way to make ‘low-fat’ more interesting. I see kids making a commitment and sticking to it; meanwhile, they realize that anything in moderation is OK.”

Even at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, the “club” sandwich is the most popular selection, but the bread, typically whole wheat or white, is made by a local Japanese company. For the traditional Reuben sandwich, the second-best seller, executive chef Guido Ulmann purchases a Russian rye bread with caraway seeds throughout, but asserts that the key to this sandwich’s popularity is the real European-style sauerkraut that he “imports” from San Francisco.

Hawaiian specialty: For club members and guests seeking an authentic Hawaiian treat, Ulmann offers the Waialae Farmer’s Sandwich on Portuguese sweet bread (poa doce), a local specialty. The sandwich boasts layers of Black Forest ham, Jarlsberg cheese and fresh pineapple, grilled to remove its acidity. He also menus a thinly sliced prime rib teamed with Boursin cheese and watercress plus a bit of Dijon mayonnaise. This popular creation is served toasted or plain, depending upon the customer’s preference.

Seafood makes its appearance on the menu in this island paradise in several forms, including fresh mahi-mahi.

Available daily, it’s sautéed or grilled, then served on a toasted Kaiser roll with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce plus a lemon wedge on the side. In addition, “as a special, I’ll prepare Furikake shrimp—that’s shrimp in tempura batter with a bit of furikake seasoning in the mix, plus nori and sesame seeds,” Ulmann says. “After the shrimp are fried, they’re arranged on micro greens on a taro roll. These rolls are prepared locally from Chinese or Hawaiian taro, so it’s like a potato bread but reddish purple in color. We serve lunch to about 150 to 200 people in the main dining room each day and when Furikake shrimp is menued, we’ll sell about 20 portions—about the same number who go for the club sandwich.”

Next month, Sodexho plans to unveil a new to-go wellness concept that is still under wraps—pun intended—at presstime. According to Nitu Gupta, MS, RD, vice president of product development, three types of sandwiches are an integral part of the program. The concept, slated to debut at Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Ctr.,  has been named Mezza Luna, or Half Moon, and features Santa Fe chicken pita, seafood Zinfandel wrap (surimi with Zinfandel salad dressing), and turkey bruschetta wrap.

Half time: “One component of this wellness concept is the menuing of healthy half portions,” Gupta explains. “The basic thrust will be a spa menu look and feel that is very trendy, very tasty and will meet our very stiff wellness criteria. The sandwiches, all on whole wheat or whole-grain pita bread, can be combined with side dishes or soup. We’ll also menu a half personal pan pizza.”

Since these offerings are geared to customers who are time-poor, the concept has been conceived as a to-go program. The “convenient” aspect is the packaging, but calories and portion size are part of the consideration, Gupta contends. “We’ll combine the sandwiches with a side dish and a beverage and we’re aiming to keep the total package below certain levels so we can say, ‘lower in calories,’ or ‘lower in fat.’ We’ll put out a couple of different options.”

The Kansas Twister: Bismil Ahmad, leader of retail sales at the St. Josephs Hospital component of Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita, Kan., originally hails from Malaysia. But her take on what makes a sandwich appealing to her cafeteria customers is right on target.

In the ever-popular panini bar within The Bakery Deli, four varieties are offered daily; or, customers can indicate to the line staff their own choice of bread or fillings. “We created the Kansas Twister panini because we thought it would be appropriate to have this specialized name,” Ahmad says. “Customers can ‘twist’ or change the ingredients to their liking, but the basic Kansas Twister is ham, turkey, American cheese, Swiss cheese, ranch dressing and their choice of bread.

“We also menu an Uumph croissant (pressed as a panini), which I designed since I’ve always been a big fan of croissants. It includes turkey or ham, bacon, Swiss or American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a cucumber dressing. It’s the most popular sandwich besides the chicken salad croissant. It’s quick for us to prepare and customers want fresh, good food—but they don’t want to wait.”

Last month, Ahmad introduced four new types of cold wraps, all created with grab-and-go convenience in mind.

The menu includes:

  • Chicken veggie wrap with honey mustard chicken breast, broccoli, mushrooms, onions and Parmesan cheese with a honey mustard tarragon sauce.
  • Roast beef wrap with horseradish sauce, raw spinach, alfalfa sprouts and julienned green apples.
  • Smoked turkey wrap with fresh corn, bell peppers, diced onions, sprouts and ranch dressing.
  • Baja shrimp wrap, a combination of the made-in-house shrimp salad, diced avocado, jicama and roasted tomato salsa.

Meanwhile, four varieties of hot wraps can be self-served from a warmer slide at the grill. Varieties include mesquite chicken club wrap, East Coast Philly hot wrap, Thai chicken hot wrap and Joaquin Italian hot wrap—named for a former cook who made great Italian subs.

Muffuletta redux: About six months ago, Rob Resnick, executive chef at the 300 Market at the Oracle campus, a Bon Appetit Management Co. account in Redwood Shores, Calf., responded to the challenge put forward by his regional vice president to “bring back the muffuletta sandwich.” After researching the topic and learning that the muffuletta originated at the Central Grocery store in New Orleans, he decided to add his own California touch by tweaking the ingredients just a bit.

Introduced to his approximately 1,200 customers in May, it’s now a sell-out with about 32 portions purchased each day.

“Our baker and pastry chef Ian Farrell recreated the traditional giant round sandwich bread and we cut it into eight wedges,” Resnick says. “I put together two each of two versions at about 10:30 a.m., we open at 11 and we’re sold out by about 12:30. One type includes three meats—pistachio mortadella, dried salami and smoked ham, plus two cheeses—smoky mozzarella and provolone—with sliced tomato and cucumber. I tried to lighten up the Louisiana fare so I replaced the pickled cauliflower with artichoke hearts and I’ve added pesto and white balsamic vinegar to the olive salad. I made it more as a tapenade so it’s not as oily as the original.”

His grilled vegetable muffuletta is a big hit among the large contingent of vegetarian customers. Green and yellow zucchini, roasted red and yellow peppers along with eggplant are the main components. “I slice them real thin on a mandoline, add a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then flash-grill them in the gas grill and assemble the sandwich with mozzarella, sliced cucumber and the same pesto salad spread that I use in the meat muffuletta,” he says. “They’re sold from our Produce station along with fresh tossed salads, soups and fresh made sandwiches. It’s displayed like a pizza and sold by-the-piece for $3.95 for meat and $3.35 for a vegetarian wedge. 

I wanted to stick as close to the original muffuletta as possible but with a California touch. Now it’s a more healthy feel with pesto and artichoke salad instead of a lot of pickled vegetables, and less oil than in the original.”

Banking on variety: In many ways, the E Street Deli program at PNC Bank headquarters in Pittsburgh is the sandwich world of today in microcosm. Of more than 800 daily lunchtime customers that chef Dave DeCollo and his staff serve in the café at this Parkhurst Dining Services account, about 300 of them generally head for the deli.

About 50 pre-made, wrapped sandwiches—that is, the special sandwich of the day—are purchased, but “by far, people want to stand and have their sandwich made to order,” DeCollo notes. Since three employees work the deli counter during the rush period, the customer wait is only about five minutes.

On balance, for made-to-order sandwiches, turkey is the top seller, be it roasted, smoked or peppered; all three varieties are offered daily. All sell equally well and “easily” outsell all other deli meats two-to-one.

At PNC Bank, any sandwich can be grilled upon request and the two presses in the servery are in use throughout lunch service—two more would be nice to have, he says. The best-selling panini is a prosciutto sandwich in which the meat is lightly sautéed, then topped with fresh mozzarella, sliced Roma tomatoes and raw spinach.

The muffuletta, priced at $4.10, may not be the traditional round cut into wedges, but here it’s made from the location’s own pizza dough. “We stretch it out like a long baguette, then cut it into quarters so each is about six inches long,” DeCollo says. “We have a couple of variations featuring a choice of capocollo, roast turkey breast, salami, Swiss and provolone plus our olive mixture of black and green olives, fresh garlic olive oil and a bit of red wine vinegar. We put all the olive mixture ingredients into a food processor and pulse a few times to make it like a tapenade.”

Hurrah for hoagies: “Overall, our best selling sandwich—even though it’s mundane—is the traditional Italian hoagie or wrap,” he asserts. “There’s something irresistible about ham, salami and turkey combined with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions and Italian vinaigrette dressing. It’s a combo you could run every day and sell a bunch.”


At Cisco, Hot is Way Cool

San Jose, Calf.—Alice Waters, grande dame of the organic/sustainable movement, innovator of the Edible Schoolyard project, and, of course, founder of the much-acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant with its emphasis on fresh-from-the-farm produce, would be proud of Matt Boudreaux, chef at Cisco Systems, a Bon Appetit Management Co. account here.

Although they’ve never met, she’s been a steady inspiration. Not only did Boudreaux attend Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley where Waters started the Edible Schoolyard project in the mid-1990s, but growing up a few blocks from Chez Panisse and the nearby farmers’ market, even as a youngster, he understood her message.

Now, at Cisco Systems, he finds “it’s so nice we’re not losing sight of the integrity of the food; it’s stressed here that everything is fresh.”

That philosophy certainly includes sandwiches. Boudreaux is pleased to be roasting turkey and beef early in the day (rather than buying the meats pre-made) and then constructing creative hot sandwiches to-order.

No time at all: “Our hot sandwiches out of the pizza oven are among the top sellers, and choices change weekly,” Boudreaux points out. “We might menu roast turkey and pancetta with arugula, gorgonzola cheese and sun-dried tomato aioli on ciabatta bread, or the customer’s choice of bread. With a composed salad, it sells for $5.99. We put the meat and cheese sandwich ingredients together, melt them in the oven, then add the arugula and tomatoes after removing it from the oven. Total time is five minutes. You learn as you go, but really it’s all about having the mise en place all ready.”

Boudreaux always aims to have at least one vegetarian sandwich available, such as caramelized onions with roasted garlic and sautéed wild mushrooms with fontina cheese served on an “herb slab”—basically a focaccia but a bit moister, Boudreaux notes. To prepare, all ingredients are placed on one side of the open-faced sandwich, the cheese on the other. After it’s removed from the oven, fresh minced thyme is sprinkled on before closing the sandwich.

Grill time: Zatar, Bon Appetit’s Middle Eastern concept, includes sandwiches that are typically featured at the grill station. At Cisco Systems, it usually runs at least once a week and Boudreaux has become adept at preparing falafel as well as pita from scratch.

Also off the grill, he’s recently run a torta, the classic Mexican sandwich, which was enthusiastically received. “We use flank steak marinated with garlic, cumin, lime juice, salt and pepper,” he says. “I marinate it overnight and leave it in the marinade as we transfer it to smaller containers to bring out to the line where we’ll slice it into five-ounce portions.

“On the bread—an herb slab delivered from the bakery—we put avocado, sliced tomatoes and queso fresco, the Mexican version of feta cheese, but not as strong. We grill the flank steak to order and serve; there’s no spread on the torta, just the juices from the meat.”