No! I only want my name on a sandwich. The Bart.
This desire took root 30 years ago, while I was in New York City as a Post reporter covering the labor strike that shut down the National Football League. I took all my meals in the city’s delicatessens. I ate mostly sandwiches, and it seemed that the best of them were named for people. I remember distinctly the Bob Hope and the Ed Koch (the latter then the city’s mayor). There might have been a Milton Berle and a Bing Crosby, I’m not sure.
As often as twice a day, back then, I was eating a deli sandwich. It was the gustatory summit of my life. As I lingered over my pastrami on rye, my corned beef on pumpernickel, my lox on bagel, my mind wandered. In the scenario of my imagination, I saw hungry men and women in delis from New York to San Francisco looking up from their menus thousands of times every day and declaring, as if with one voice, “I’ll have a Bart.” Would that it could ever come true.
Nov. 3 was the 75th anniversary of my birth, and my daughter, Kate, offered to give me a party. Here’s the chance I’ve been waiting for, I thought. I shall ask my family and friends to create my sandwich.
I wanted it to be like me: modest, average, ordinary. But, well, maybe a little bit special.
I wanted a Reuben-class sandwich. Reuben is my culinary idol. Most people have never heard of him. But everyone knows his sandwich, although there is disagreement on when, where and how it was created.
As serious eaters know, the Reuben is a grilled or griddled sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye bread. I have one friend, a Nebraskan, who insists that the Reuben was created by a chef of that name at a hotel in Lincoln. There’s another account that credits an Omaha grocer named Reuben Kulakofsky, according to What’sCookingAmerica.net, the Web site of cookbook author and food historian Linda Stradley. Still other stories, according to Stradley, have the Reuben being invented in New York by delicatessen owner Arnold Reuben or by an accountant named William Hamerly.
Whatever its provenance, the Reuben is a delicious sandwich, and I am a sandwich type of guy. Relatives and friends would not use my name in the same sentence with chilled lobster and caviar, pâté de foie gras or watercress.
I decided to have the guests at my 75th birthday party design, create and bring with them their nominations for the Bart sandwich.
To pick the winner, I recruited a panel of three food aficionados: Jennifer Wilkinson, a former magazine food and wine editor; Kirsten Poole, a former Silver Spring caterer and restaurateur; and my son, David Barnes, who once ran a pizza parlor in Indiana. They were directed to operate within a few ground rules. Gluten-free sandwiches were prohibited, and croissants were discouraged because they’re effete.