Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Little Signature Sandwich Theory

This week, the Charleston City Paper ran my Summer Dish essay pondering the thorny question of why the city of Charleston doesn't seem to have a signature sandwich. I talk about the cheesesteak in Philadelphia and the poor boy in New Orleans, of course, but also note that Columbia's signature sandwich may well be the pimento burger.

After I submitted the original copy,  then-editor Chris Haire (who has since decamped for his native Greenville to edit a half dozen or so publications up there) and I exchanged a few emails on sandwich theory.
They further articulate several key points of sandwich philosophy and I thought I might publish them here in the interest of the general public good. (Lightly edited for clarity and concision.)

Chris Haire: 1. Columbia: why not Maurice’s BBQ sandwich as the signature sandwich? 2. You got me thinking about Greenville and I would say the signature sandwich is either Skin’s Hot Dogs or a pimento cheese at Duke’s sandwich shop.
Robert Moss: Well, not to get too theoretical, but to be the signature sandwich of a city it has to be something associated with the city itself and not just a particular restaurant. Maurice's BBQ sandwich doesn't really apply since it's also a Lowcountry thing and you could actually make a case that Charleston has more Bessinger restaurants and therefore it's a Charleston thing. The pimento burger is more of a general, city-wide Columbia food tradition. which is why I picked it. 
The same goes with the Greenville examples. Great iconic sandwiches in Greenville, but the pimento cheese sandwich didn't originate there and I don't think anyone says "Greenville is the home of pimento cheese sandwiches" the way they would, say, "Philly is the home of the cheesesteak." [Author's note: though Greenville is the home to Duke's Mayonnaise, which is essential to making proper pimento cheese, but I digress . . .] 
CHSo you’re in the hot dog is sandwich camp? [Author's note: Yes, Mr. Haire is always looking to stir up controversy.] 
RM: I am officially neutral. On the one hand, a hot dog is unequivocally meat between bread, which is the technical definition of a sandwich. On the other hand, no one ever uses the word to refer to a hot dog. If you went to a restaurant and said "what sandwiches do you have?" And they handed you a list of hot dogs you would say "No, I asked for your sandwiches." 
So both sides are wrong!

I don't know for certain that email exchanges like these are why Chris decided that Greenville offered greener editorial pastures, but I imagine they must have played some role in his decision.




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