advertisement
advertisement

Meet The Thanksgiving Sandwich

The commercial rise (and maybe fall) of a holiday leftover tradition. Plus: A taste test!

Tryptophan is a fantastic street-level drug. It provides a sleepy, blissed-out buzz that makes everyone feel thankful. Science argues that it is not the tryptophan alone in turkey that makes everyone relax after Thanksgiving dinner—rather, it’s the combination of carbohydrates that are consumed during the traditional meal (potatoes, rolls, pie, and of course, stuffing)—but, really, why split hairs. You know the feeling. It usually leads to some serious couch time.

advertisement

This nap-inducing turkey effect, though, might account for the current lack of another seasonal tradition: The Thanksgiving sandwich. The lunchtime favorite, born out of the day-after sandwiches your dad used to cobble together on the fourth Friday of November, has become a seasonal special at diners, home-style restaurants, and sammie chains nationwide.

And yet, when I went on a search through the delis and diners of New York City to taste-test this amazing creation, I found that it has been, for no clear reason, taken off the menu. In more than one place.

Sure, it was early. I began my hunt in early-to-mid-November, when most people are less likely to crave leftovers from a meal that doesn’t happen for a few weeks yet. But in years past, it was easier to locate the sandwich even in the dead of summer. In New England, the sandwich has long been popular year-round–there, it’s also known as “The Gobbler” or “The Pilgrim,” and has been a mainstay at places like Mike’s City Diner and Cardullo’s. Here, in New York, however, Chat ‘N Chew, which offered a year-round “Thanksgiving on a Roll,” closed earlier this year. Multiple restaurants that listed leftovers sandwiches on the hallowed pages of MenuPages no longer sell them—one had them on the outdoor menu, but it was outdated. The staff said the menu had only recently changed–the sandwich and I had just missed each other. Other places tried to offer it on special, but weren’t up to the challenge.

At least one Brooklyn specialty store told me they were currently roasting turkeys “for tomorrow,” and when tomorrow came, they hadn’t roasted them at all.

advertisement

There could be logical (if heartbreaking) reasons for the rise and then fall of the Thanksgiving Sandwich. It is labor intensive. While the ingredients can vary—extreme versions can include mashed potatoes, only heathens don’t include gravy—the staples are a lot of work. For your sandwich creation to be legitimately leftover, one must roast a turkey (vegetarian editions exist, but I will not legitimize them), bake cornbread and let it stale and before cooking into stuffing, and finally, choose a cranberry element (sauce, chutney, compote). And after all that work, it’s a heavy, nap-inducing, bread-on-bread sandwich, meaning that even connoisseurs are unlikely to order frequently.

Even places that currently carry the item, like The Blind Pig, agree. A representative for the restaurant says that the sandwich isn’t popular until the winter sets in, and admits it is “cost prohibitive” in the fall—sales go down if “you can’t sell a full fresh roasted turkey’s worth of sandwiches!” However, as the cold sets in, people “tend to switch to heartier food and beverage choices.”

“It is quite funny how many people order the sandwich leading up to Thanksgiving—considering a full turkey dinner is in the near future for most,” the spokesperson notes.

Annika Stennson from the National Restaurant Association tells us that comfort foods are “a perennial favorite”—every year, every season, people want foods that soothe them. But she notes that while people always crave homestyle cooking, long-standing favorites have changed in recent years: “Upscale versions of comfort food are a trend,” Stennson says, “Restaurants will elevate that sandwich, taking a culinary approach to an old favorite.” By using high-quality ingredients or putting a gastronomic twist on the familiar elements (like, say, subbing out cranberry sauce in favor of cranberry compote), dining out can mean a new kind of comfort. This can mean fun, holiday-themed foods that you could never slap together in your mother’s kitchen, like the Thanksgiving Pop Tart from Ted’s Bulletin in D.C., or the Thanksgiving Croissant from Momofuku.

advertisement
advertisement

Stennson also notes that while comfort food is popular year-round, “heavier foods—like the Thanksgiving sandwich—are more popular during winter months.” In summer, or even in nicer weather, comfort food looks different. The Thanksgiving sandwich, specifically, isn’t exactly comfortable when temperatures are on the rise.

All that said, in it’s platonic form the Thanksgiving sandwich is still the very best sandwich that exists, and anyone who claims differently is a liar or a vegetarian. It can provide all of the warmth of the absolute fuzziest non-religious American holiday, with none of the football or the trying to remember what Uncle Ron does for a living. As a public service to Fast Company readers in New York City, we hit the streets, scouring Gotham for the Thanksgiving sandwich. How do these offerings stack up?

Little Muenster’s Thanksgiving Sandwich

Little Muenster, Thanksgiving Sandwich
The Makeup: “Local Turkey breast, wild mushroom stuffing and cranberry-orange compote.”
Availability: A seasonal special, available all week during the holiday season.
Gravy?: Yes! As a dipping sauce.
Resulting Sleepiness Level: Low
Overall: This is a well-made sandwich with, again, a gravy dipping sauce. It’s not really leftover-like–there’s a compote involved–but it’s nice. Four out of five moistmakers.

Veselka

Veselka, Hot Open-Faced Roast Turkey Sandwich
The Makeup: Cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce.
Availability: A seasonal special–and Mondays only (although sometimes there are leftovers on Tuesday, for an even truer experience).
Gravy?: Yes, all over the very generous and un-sandwichlike plate.
Resulting Sleepiness Level: High
Overall: This is basically a full Thanksgiving dinner with some bread underneath it, which is in no way a complaint. It’s served in the most lovely 24-hour diner in New York, and if you are lucky you might eat next to adorable little old ladies talking about their dead friends–all of the best, weirdest parts of seeing your elderly relatives at the holidays, with none of the personal questions! Five out of five moistmakers.

advertisement
Turkey Stuffing Sandwich from Cosi

Cosi, Turkey & Stuffing Sandwich
The Makeup: “Turkey Breast, Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing & Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce.”
Availability: A seasonal special, available all week.
Gravy?: Nope.
Resulting Sleepiness Level: High
Overall: I’d heard surprisingly good things about Cosi’s attempt, but found it underwhelming. The best part was that the bread was salty, which felt like a weird compliment, and it was the only sandwich that made me feel like I was eating a mockery of a family togetherness surrounded by a dejected workday lunchtime crowd. Two out of five moistmakers.

Certé Thanksgiving Wrap

Certè, Thanksgiving Wrap

The Makeup: Turkey, cornbread stuffing (with carrots, which: eh), mashed potatoes, and cranberry “glaze”–on a wrap. With a gravy dipping sauce.
Availability: Certè offers the sammie year-round, and adds in a turkey meatloaf sandwich to the menu in deference of the holiday.
Gravy? Big yes. It’s like half the point.
Sleepiness Level: Medium
Overall: Certè only does takeout, so when you find yourself dipping a massive wrap into a to-go coffee cup half full of gravy in Central Park, you may question all of your life choices. Taste-wise, it’s hurt by being a wrap (wraps are the smug, skinny brother of the sandwich), but there are potatoes in there, so this is an admirable feat. Three out of five moistmakers.

Earl Of Sandwich’s Holiday Sandwich

The Earl of Sandwich, Holiday Turkey
The Makeup: Turkey, stuffing, gravy & cranberry
Gravy?: Nope, mayo.
Availability: A seasonal special, available all week.
Sleepiness Level: Medium
Overall: This sandwich was perhaps not especially well assembled–my first bite was all mayonnaise, which is a bad first impression–but the ingredients were surprisingly appealing for a chain. The cranberry sauce was oddly jam-like, but that seemed to work well about the mayo. The stuffing was good, the turkey was palatable. Three out of five moistmakers.

advertisement