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Build a better sandwich

Handheld, easy to make, and a comforting classic—the sandwich might just be the perfect food

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Photo: Steve Smith VisionFire

Recipes Featured In This Article

The McCoastal

This hearty, well-balanced breakfast sandwich is a great way to start a lazy weekend morni...

Buckboard BLT

*Online exclusive* Called “pioneer bacon,” he says this cured meat is frequently seen ...

Thanks to a new wave of chefs, bakers, and devotees, a bevy of creative, inspiring sandwiches are hitting plates across our region. Made with local ingredients and paired with culinary techniques and flair, these well-built sandwiches are redefining fast food, one stack at a time.

After 25 years working at fine dining restaurants, including running the kitchen at The Inn at Bay Fortune in P.E.I., chef and mother of two Renée Lavallée wanted a change of pace. When her husband suggested opening a sandwich shop, she jumped at the idea. Today, The Canteen in Dartmouth, N.S. serves an ever-changing seasonal menu of sandwiches, made with meats and vegetables from local butcher shops and markets and house-baked bread.

“When I opened up this place it was so I could have something that’s super-casual that would be accessible to everybody,” says Lavallée. “Everybody loves a sandwich.”

For chef and baker Heather Rhymes of New Brunswick’s Gagetown Fruit Farm, the best place to start is to determine what kind of sandwich you want to make, and choose your bread accordingly.

“If you’re having a double sandwich with bread on top and bottom, I’d go for a softer bread, but if you’re having an open-faced I’d go with one that gets nice and crispy,” she says.

Gagetown’s staff meal is frequently a tuna melt with housemade dill pickles, celery, tuna, and mayonnaise served on country rye sourdough, which adds incredible tang to the sandwich.

When choosing combinations for The Canteen’s rotating menu, Lavallée says it’s important to anticipate what people crave. “I don’t want to eat a hot brisket sandwich in the middle of the summer,” she says. “I want to eat a pear, prosciutto, and goat cheese sandwich. It’s got to have acidity, crunch, sometimes sweetness, saltiness. It needs to hit every corner of your tongue.”

Buttering the bread corner-to-corner is paramount, says Lavallée, along with extending traditional flavour pairings to assembling the sandwich. “You’re not going to serve a dark rye in a peanut butter sandwich,” she says. “You’re going to have that with smoked meat or with brisket. I don’t want to eat a ham sandwich on raisin bread.”

One great example of a classic pairing is the lobster roll, and a fan favourite is made at Richard’s Fresh Seafood in Covehead Wharf, P.E.I.

“You should get crunch from celery and the onion, enough mayonnaise to hold it together, and saltiness from the lobster itself,” says owner and chef Ryan Doucet. “We only mix it at the time of the order, so that way the mayonnaise doesn’t have a chance to run, or absorb into the lobster.”

Adding toasty crunch with a bit of richness, Richard’s island-made hotdog buns are buttered and grilled. The locally caught lobster meat is mixed with fresh-squeezed lemons.

What makes a sandwich the ultimate in simple yet satisfying sustenance is that it doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. Baking Paradise in Fredericton makes a show-stopping Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich that’s only $5 and a perfect example of texture and balance.

Made with three types of pork —housemade pâté, sweet barbecue pork, and ham— along with butter, sliced cucumber, quick-pickled julienne carrots, and sliced onions, it’s served on buttered, rich, crusty-yet-sweet Vietnamese bread made with yoghurt. It’s compact enough to be held in one hand and hearty enough to take you to dinnertime.

In Newfoundland, chef Mark McCrowe, who is set to open a St. John’s taco joint later this year, says you can’t talk about sandwiches without talking about bologna, or, as he puts it, Newfie steak. Invented during hard economic times, he says it remains a trusty staple, best served with yellow mustard, good processed cheese, and fried in butter.

“As a chef who doesn’t make a lot of money, I promise you there is always a half pack of bologna in my fridge next to a dozen beer,” he says. “Plus assorted condiments from God-knows-when, and sometimes that’s all a man needs in life.” (He shares his upscale version here.)

Also in St. John’s, Chinched Bistro chef Shaun Hussey is making Buckboard BLTs, starring pork shoulder that is brined for two weeks and then smoked.

At The Coastal Café in North End Halifax the McCoastal, an English muffin breakfast sandwich (inspired by the original Mc-fast-food version) is a bestseller. Served with two eggs, choice of sausage or bacon and havarti cheese, sous-chef Lauren Campbell attributes its success to the mélange of sauces they use on the sandwich, including a red wine ketchup, a maple mayonnaise and in-house secret Coastal sauce. “It’s our take on the Big Mac sauce,” she says. “Plus, we always make sure our English muffin is toasted nice and dark.”

But respect for the classics doesn’t mean there’s no room for imagination.

“I like literally everything on sandwiches and like to believe that there are no rules,” says Tyler Kord, chef of the New York’s acclaimed No. 7 and No. 7 Sub restaurants and author of A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. (Find his Perfect Chicken Sandwich here.

“Don’t be constricted to the drawer of deli meats in your fridge,” he says. “There are probably lots of other things in your refrigerator that could make a really awesome sandwich.”

One twist on the BLT is the DLT—dulse, lettuce, and tomato— sandwich at Slocum & Ferris, located in one of the oldest stalls at the Saint John market. Owner Dave Forestell invented the sandwich five years ago. The company sells bagged dulse from Dark Harbour in Grand Manan, N.B.

“Many older folks remember throwing dulse on a woodstove, and it gets really crispy,” he says. They build the sandwich on multigrain bread that comes from a local baker. “Bacon is salty and crispy, so we just decided to try replacing the bacon. And it really works.”

It’s that sense of playfulness and experimentation, along with thoughtful pairings, that make a sandwich the ultimate combination of convenience and cuisine, says Kord.

“Anything in your vegetable drawer could be roasted and put on a sandwich, or cooked, puréed, and turned into a sauce,” he says. “Or cooked, sauced with vinaigrette, and made into a quick pickle.”

The possibilities, he says, are truly endless.