This proper Turkey Club at Gregg’s in Warwick, RI, counters a disturbing trend.

 

On a trip to an otherwise fine food town, Minneapolis, MN, the beloved Miss Scarlett and I ate several lunches. At each restaurant Scarlett ordered one of her favorite sandwiches, the Turkey Club. The sandwich generally is one of most commonly prepared dishes in America according to food market researcher, Harry Balzer. And the Turkey Club is in the pantheon of most popular American sandwiches.

But we noticed a disturbing trend and I write here to call attention to it: the careless debasing of the Turkey Club. The first version we ordered was simply a turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Another the same, but with bacon and the bread was not toasted. At another restaurant it was simply cut in half, not triangles. What happened to the triple-decker?

When I spent time at the Culinary Institute of America for my book The Making of a Chef, I took a class called Lunch Cookery. In the course guide, we were given an actual diagram of a proper Club sandwich. It merits such attention.

On our third day in Minneapolis, we grilled the waiter. “To be clear we said to him,” we said to him, “it will be cut into four triangles, yes?”

“Of course,” he assured us.

When the sandwich arrived it was a single layer and cut in half. Cross-wise, into two rectangles.

I worry when we become this careless about standard preparations. If we are thoughtless with what is known to be excellent, what is already a given, how will we be thoughtful and innovative with the unknown? All great craftsmanship begins with a clear understanding of standard preparations. If a chef can’t make a proper Turkey Club, I don’t have a lot of hope for him or her.

Herewith some definitions for the Turkey Club:

It’s always a triple decker—that is, made from three pieces of toasted sandwich bread.

It is composed of turkey (roasted), bacon (not so chewy it pulls out of the sandwich as you eat it), lettuce (iceburg), tomatoes, and plenty of mayonnaise. The CIA even went so far as to note which sides to put the mayo on. Because you can’t really have too much mayo, I put mayo on the bottom turkey layer (to ensure the turkey doesn’t feel dry), and on the insides of the two pieces that contain the tomato, to create a fat barrier between the juices of the tomato and the bread.

It is, of course, cut into four triangles and affixed by toothpicks, preferably with frilly ends.

If it is not thus composed (a BLT on top of a turkey sandwich, sharing one piece of bread in the middle), it is not a Turkey Club. Lunch cooks, please take note.

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43 Wonderful responses to “The Turkey Club Sandwich”

  • Bunny

    I always thought a club sandwich was a triple-decker BLT cut in four triangles and skewered with toothpicks. You refer to your sandwich as a turkey club, and turkey is added to the above. I was recently informed (?) that a club sandwich ALWAYS includes turkey (or perhaps sliced ham or even chicken.) Am I wrong to call a triple-decker BLT a club sandwich?

  • John Crawford

    Hooray for standards! Let’s stick to it; I judge the worthiness of a restaurant by its ability to create a classic club or Reuben sandwich.

  • Greg Castanias

    Huzzah!

    While we are on the topic, also resolved:

    1. A martini is made with gin, such that “gin martini” is redundant, “vodka martini” is pitiful, and “chocolate martini,” “appletini,” or similar concoctions are abominations.

    2. A hot dog is indeed a “sandwich,” but as the name of the sandwich’s contents (like the hamburger) has become a synecdoche for the sandwich itself, it is no longer necessary (or even appropriate) to refer to a “hot dog sandwich” or a “hamburger sandwich.”

    3. The world is going to hell when you can’t get a proper club sandwich or martini without making it your own damn self!

  • Liz Hegel

    The late, great Mitch Hedberg’s new what a club sandwich needed to be:
    “I order the club sandwich all the time, but I’m not even a member, man. I don’t know how I get away with it. How’d it start anyway? I like my sandwiches with three pieces of bread. So do I! Well let’s form a club then. Alright, but we need more stipulations. Yes we do; instead of cutting the sandwich once, let’s cut it again. Yes, four triangles, and we will position them into a circle. In the middle we will dump chips. Or potato salad. Okay. I got a question for ya, how do you feel about frilly toothpicks? I’m for ’em! Well this club is formed; spread the word on menus nationwide. I like my sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts. Well then you’re not in the f*ckin’ club!”

  • Jamie Samons

    Proper shout out to Gregg’s, stalwart club defender against the vicissitude of club debasement.

  • Carla Conrad

    Ruhlman, you are a man after my own heart. I went on a rampage about three months ago, trying to find a turkey club. Every place I tried served it on ciabatta, or with chipoltle mayo or some other travesty. I finally found a little diner off the interstate that got it right, even down to the pickle chips on the side and a good portion of crinkle cut fries. It was Heaven and I raved about it for days. You just can’t beat a lunch counter classic! #TeamTurkeyClub

  • Darcie

    It’s a shame that your dining companion didn’t order something that Minneapolis does well, like a Juicy Lucy. I never order a turkey club: lifeless tomato, limp lettuce, and dry turkey breast always disappoint, no matter if three slices of bread are used. I hope the rest of your meals were better!

  • Lisa

    Couldn’t agree more! Great to have you back. At the risk of being kicked out of the club, I will say that I had a version of this sandwich, properly cut, with house-made potato chips, and the addition of a fried egg. It was fabulous, and I think that since the mayo is egg and oil, adding an extra egg should be a-ok. 🙂

  • Randy

    Michael, in California this is increasingly the style. I like the bread not toasted. Dennys serves it that way if I recall.

  • HAANS PETRUSCHKE

    This is horrible. I’ve seen it happen with other sorts of foods too. Using substaprodcuts like crab sticks and calling it crab on a menu. Americanized sushi, calling standing rib roast “prime rib” even though the beef is not USDA prime graded. If you run into these sorts of things it is a sure sign you should stop patronizing that restaurant. It will only get worse.

    BTW I think a proper club is not only a triple decker but also has ham as well as turkey and a slice of American or Swiss cheese on the ham and turkey part.

  • Rita Connelly

    Thank you, Thank you. Thank you. We once ordered a club sandwich that came on a kaiser roll. I do not understand why people don’t get that a club sandwich is always a triple-decker and toasted.
    I get a little bent out of shape over eggs Benedict. There is a place in down that renames the dish which is sort of okay, but EB is not made on toast or a roll or a muffin. It has Canadian bacon not ham. The eggs are poached and the sauce is hollandaise, not cheese or anything else.

  • Lynn Bourinaris

    You forgot the most important things. Proper toothpick placement is to be at 12:00, 6:00, 9:00 &3:00 sandwich should then be sliced 11:00-5:00 & 7;00 to 1:00. Always check frill pick positioning prior to 2 & 3rd cuts so you don’t slice thru the frill pick & someone ends up with wooden piece in their mouth! It happens too many times.

  • Allen

    It requires longer tooth picks. I bought a box, they work in a martini & you can color code up to 4 drinks with your own personal colored frill

    Keeping the crispy bacon in place is a challenge. You should post a video.

    Taking the outer crust off the bread makes it hoity doity.

    I love a proper club sandwich, crispy fries or chips & a few dill pickle slices in the center of the plate. Maybe a small mound of cottage cheese & a damn fine cup of coffee. Americana at its best.

  • Aaron

    The middle bread question is putting you at odds with Bourdain who has quite strong feelings against it in ‘Appetites’.

  • saratoga curmudgeon

    I’m not so into the esoterica of the club construction, but I am into the fact that you have come back into blogging. You have been missed.

  • Tom Brewton

    Bravo, sir. Your commentary is spot on, and not just regarding the Club. There is much to be said for getting the classics under control before attempting to create one’s own contributions. I grew up in Baltimore and lament that the same is happening to crabcakes. Those prepared at a local corner bar when I was growing up were far better than 95% of what chefs are passing off around the world.

  • Nathan

    Can we please have this level of adult conversation about Rueben’s, Rachel’s, pastrami & swiss, etc.? It’s just one big messy conundrum that is obliterating their uniqueness.

  • Kathleen

    My husband is always a little amused as I put a server through a grilling when I order a Club Sandwich…is it real roasted turkey..not pressed or some other abomination?…no cheese?….crisp bacon?…toasted bread….and once all the questions are answered in the affirmative I will often be disappointed….but I do keep trying…#realclubquest!

  • Charles Coe

    Classics are classics for a reason. I don’t want a turkey club reimagined, de-constructed or updated. I want exactly what you describe…the one that when I was a kid my mom would buy me at the department store lunch counter as a reward for being patient while she shopped for ladies underwear. Well done, sir.

  • Gina Breakstone

    Okay – very impressed that you featured Gregg’s in Warwick, RI. They do get quite a lot of things right, and it’s proximity to the airport is not a bad thing. I love that an entire section of their menu is devoted to “clubs”. Only in RI.

  • Mark Bernstein

    Didn’t someone once write about a book insisting that it must “define the fundamentals and requisite ingredients without which nothing of importance can be attempted”?

    Yay!

  • Michelle

    I cannot remember the last time I ate a true Turkey Club. But this post brought back fond memories of sliding into a booth in a small-town diner with my grandparents and receiving that triple decker icon on buffalo china. They always enjoyed the coffee. I enjoyed the coconut cream pie. On that note, I am wondering if it is a generational thing … a common sandwich from the past that younger people are, sadly, no longer familiar with. That said, I am genuinely looking forward to reading your new book. I am glad to know that I am not the only one who loves grocery stores. My first job was working in a small-town grocery and I have loved (and have strong opinions about!) grocery stores and grocery shopping ever since.

  • Sommelier

    I was trained in a few kitchens that revered the classics, and the Club Sandwich was one of them. It really is difficult finding one that adheres to the standards. Another is the Cobb Salad. I’ve ordered salads listed as “The Authentic Cobb Salad”, “The Original Cobb Salad” and “The Classic Cobb Salad”, all of which were NOT.

  • Tim Donahue

    I had one recently (Where? Don’t remember. Just remembered: the Eden Au Lac Hotel in Zurich. Now I’m embarrassed that it might seem I’m showing off.) It was in a hotel cafe, the middle of the afternoon, no one in the room…I was prepared for the worst. The sandwich used thin slices of cucumber and avocado plus the regular ingredients. Nothing so big that one couldn’t eat the sandwich politely. Not traditional but very good.

  • beejay

    To look at this from another angle, they are misnaming their “product.” Clearly, they are operating under the misapprehension that “club sandwich” is just a name for a simple bread, meat, lettuce, mayo sandwich. Maddening.

    As is the people who offer shortbread recipes and start by directing you to cream the eggs and butter! Clearly, they have no idea what shortbread actually is.

    Or a pound cake that has 8 ingredients and begins with 2 eggs and 3 cups of flour! Sheesh. How much simpler can you get than a pound and a pound…if it has more ingredients in different proportions, it’s NOT a pound cake.

    I keep telling myself that they aren’t really that ill-informed, it’s just that they have this THING that needs a name, and here’s a name that sorta kinda fits. Drives me mad.

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