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How to make a classic, double-decker club sandwich

(Photos by Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Nicola Justine Davis for The Washington Post)

This week’s Dinner in Minutes recipe was born of frustration.

Once upon a time, if I ordered a club sandwich in a restaurant, I knew exactly what to expect: a double-decker sandwich of lightly toasted white bread slathered with mayonnaise and evenly layered with thin-cut bacon and thinly sliced chicken or turkey breast, tomato slices, and crisp lettuce leaves.

A well-constructed one would be pierced with four toothpicks and then cut into four even triangles. A generous handful of potato chips — or french fries — would be added to the plate.

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Granted, in other parts of the world, club sandwiches can mean something altogether different, but in the United States, this was once considered the norm — the classic.

Gradually, over time, the term “club” has been applied to just about any double-decker sandwich with bacon. And these, while tasty, are far removed from this traditional configuration.

I’ve seen them piled so high with thick chunks of poultry and super-thick bacon that I can’t get my mouth around them. I end up taking them apart to eat them. Or they might feature bean sprouts, avocado, a flavored aioli or delicate spring lettuces. They may be served on sourdough or ciabatta.

Is there anything wrong with this creativity? Absolutely not.

But you know how it is when you have your mouth set for a certain dish? You want that experience.

So, after a few less-than-satisfying orders, I decided to build what I consider a classic, diner-style club sandwich myself.

I determined that the keys to a well-made club sandwich are a sturdy white bread (for nostalgia, I picked up Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread) and a good-quality mayonnaise along with roasted turkey, crisp thin center-cut bacon, crunchy lettuce and ripe tomato.

Then it is a matter of proportion and construction.

Sandwiches must be cut diagonally, and I’m not taking questions

This may seem simple, but for a sandwich that slices beautifully into the traditional four triangular pieces and does not fall apart when you pick it up, you’ll want to make sure you are fairly generous with the mayonnaise and that your fillings are thinly sliced, evenly distributed and trimmed to fit.

I took my time, cutting the iceberg (or romaine — I tried both and liked it with either) lettuce leaves into pieces, so they fit neatly on the bread slice. For me, 1½ slices of bacon per layer is just right. Three half-slices fit evenly across the bread so you get a bit of bacon in each bite. For the turkey, I found 2 ounces was perfect — not too much, not too little.

I repeated all the ingredients on both of the double-decker layers: mayonnaise, lettuce leaf, tomato slice, bacon, turkey, and a light seasoning of salt and pepper.

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When I sliced it and turned the triangles pointed side up, it looked perfect. Then I picked up a quarter and bit into it. The tall sandwich still fit in my mouth with ease, a bit of each ingredient in every bite and very little spillage. Success.

I did try to find out if my idea of a classic club is actually the one. I found lots of validation for my memory and experience and lots of origin theories, because, as with most such stories, the source of this sandwich is murky.

“The Oxford Companion to Food” says the club — also called a clubhouse sandwich — was sometimes served as a three-decker sandwich, adding: “Some believe that it was originally only a two-decker, perhaps, matching the two-decker ‘club cars’ running on U.S. railroads in 1895.”

“The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink” claims the club sandwich originated in the Saratoga Club House’s kitchen in 1894. That clubhouse, now called the Canfield Casino, cites that claim to fame on its website.

No matter the true creator, both of those encyclopedias refer to a sandwich, much like the one I built here, that has been around for more than 100 years. It has blogs devoted to it and is cited as one of the most-beloved room-service orders.

So let’s celebrate its well-earned longevity with a solidly constructed classic club sandwich for dinner tonight.

Get the recipe: Diner-Style Club Sandwich