See more of the story

Like a good summer movie, a great sandwich should be full of delightful familiar ingredients sparked with a few good surprises. And like a good plot, the sandwich should be built on a sturdy foundation.

But first, let's agree on the definition of a sandwich, as opposed to a hamburger, hot dog, taco, wrap, empanada or burrito. To quote Merriam-Webster, "a sandwich consists of two or more slices of bread or split roll having a filling in between." The open-faced sandwich? That's a whole other category, subject for a story of its own.

There are very few rules to govern sandwich fillings, but it's clear that the foundation should be very good bread. Thanks to our local artisan bakeries, there are now plenty of great options. As with all local foods, the best-tasting bread is created with local flour, milled fresh. Here are a few classic combos built on the best our local bakeries have to offer.

Rye bread: The darkly, dense malty 100% rye from Baker's Field is the perfect platform for my hometown hero: the New Jersey Joe. The triple-decker beauty piles turkey, Swiss cheese, roast beef and coleslaw on three layers of thinly sliced rye, slathered with Russian dressing. It's the sandwich of birthday parties and reunions, a specialty of the Millburn Deli, in Millburn, N.J., and the first thing I eat when back home. Rye bread is a great match for smoked meats.

Multigrain bread: The toasty, nutty, whole-grain slices match the flavorful plant-based filling of a classic California Avocado and prompts the question: How can something that tastes so good be good for you? Fat wedges of avocado, fistfuls of sprouts and thick slices of tomato are all married with rough, garlicky lemon hummus. Hearty and healthy, this is the bread for veggie-based creations.

Baguette: The traditional light, crusty French baguette, filled with bold Vietnamese flavors, is an elegant and innovative pairing. While the version here doesn't pretend to be an authentic bánh mì — pickled vegetables, daikon-carrot slaw, cucumbers, seasoned meat (i.e. rotisserie chicken), hot peppers, sparked with fish sauce — it is a mouth-tingling and faster version of the classic with ingredients that are easy to find. Baguette and crusty rolls work beautifully for drippy, bountiful fillings.

None of these examples are meant to dissuade you from creating the sandwich of your summer dreams. Often the best are last-minute inventions sparked by hunger and whatever is at hand — crisp chips, tangy-salty kimchi, hot sauce, a lick of bright berry jam. Be bold and savor the flavor and the joy of eating a meal with your hands.

A lemon-garlicky hummus gives a welcome kick to avocado toast served on multigrain bread.
A lemon-garlicky hummus gives a welcome kick to avocado toast served on multigrain bread.

Mette Nielsen, Special to the Star Tribune

Creative components

Here are recipes for key ingredients to these iconic sandwiches, but feel free to mix and match to make them your own.

The New Jersey Joe

To assemble the sandwich, start with a thin slice of rye bread followed by turkey, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, dressing, another slice of bread, roast beef, cheese, coleslaw, dressing and finish with a third slice of rye bread.


Serves about 4.

Make this just a few hours ahead of time so that the flavors marry. Don't hesitate to toss in your favorite chopped herbs — basil, parsley, thyme, etc. From Beth Dooley.

• 1/2 c. mayonnaise

• 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

• Pinch sugar

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 small head green cabbage (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb.), cored and shredded

• 1 carrot, shredded


In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper. Toss in the cabbage and carrot until the ingredients are well coated (it's best to use your hands).

Russian Dressing

Makes about 3/4 cup.

This is the go-to dressing for Reubens as well as the Jersey Joe. Though similar to Thousand Island dressing, it is spicier and less sweet. From Beth Dooley.

• 3 tbsp. ketchup or chili sauce

• 1 tbsp. chopped shallot

• 1 tsp. prepared horseradish, or to taste

• 1/2 c. mayonnaise

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In a small bowl, place ketchup, shallot, horseradish, mayonnaise and salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.

The California Avocado

To assemble, start with a hefty slice of multigrain bread. Layer on thick wedges of avocado, sprouts, tomato slices and a lettuce leaf. Spread hummus over a second piece of bread to top the sandwich.

Garlicky Lemon Hummus

Makes 2 cups.

You'll end up with more than you'll need for the sandwich, so save the extra for dipping chips and veggies. This speedy version comes together in minutes. From Beth Dooley.

• 2 cloves garlic

• 1 tsp. lemon zest

• 2 to 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste

• 1 c. tahini

• Generous pinch coarse salt

• 1 tsp. ground cumin

• 1/2 cup ice water, or more as needed

• 1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed


In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, salt, cumin and water. Then process in the chickpeas until the mixture is smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.

The Bánh Mì

To assemble, slice open a baguette and fill with seasoned chicken, pickled vegetables, daikon-carrot slaw, hot peppers and drizzle with fish sauce.

Quick Daikon-Carrot Slaw

Makes about 3 cups.

A quick, simple pickling brightens a range of sandwiches from the báhn mì to the all-American BLT. It will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 large carrot, cut into matchstick slices

• 1 lb. daikon radish, cut into matchstick slices

• 1/4 c. sugar

• 1/2 c. water

• 1 c. rice wine vinegar

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Put the carrot and daikon into a glass container. In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper and set over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cool slightly and pour over the vegetables. Allow to marinate at least 1 hour before using or refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Drain the vegetables from the pickling juice before using in a bánh mì.