My name is Earl … of Sandwich
Henri looks for the origins of a lunch staple and finds Hideaway Café
Hideaway Cafe300 Broadway
Chico, CA 95928
“A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table [with] no subsistence but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread … This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London: it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”
—Pierre Jean Grosley, 1865
Much has been made recently of Thomas Kohnstamm’s new memoir Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, about writing his 2005 Lonely Planet guidebook to Brazil. In it, Kohnstamm acknowledges taking “freebies” (in many forms) from businesses in exchange for mention in the guidebook as well as to writing much of book in San Francisco (his research coming mostly from the accounts of fellow travelers and the Internet).
He also discusses some of the places he did personally research, including a sushi restaurant with “friendly table service"—where he enjoyed post-prandial sex with his waitress on said table. Naturally, the memoir casts doubt not only on the reliability of guidebooks but on the integrity of their authors—generally, hitherto in Henri’s experience, punctilious and beyond reproach.
Which brings me to mid-18th century England. Turns out it was a poorly researched guidebook—Grosley’s A Tour to London—that spawned the myth of the first sandwich, probably already 2,000 years old when Grosley made his claim that it was invented by John Montague, the fourth earl of Sandwich.
In fact, most sources suggest that the sandwich dates at least from the first century B.C.E. and Passover feasts presided over by Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who served apples, chopped nuts and spices between two matzohs.
The sandwich probably first arrived on American shores in the 1840 book Directions for Cookery by Elizabeth Leslie, who described the typical ham sandwiches of her native England: “Cut some thin slices of bread very neatly, having slightly buttered them; and, if you choose, spread on a very little mustard. Have ready some very thin slices of cold boiled ham, and lay one between two slices of bread. You may either roll them up, or lay them flat on the plates.”
Colette and I had been admiring the Jake Early exhibit at Chico Paper Co. the other day and had grown famished. Planning to head home to reheat the previous night’s pesto pasta, we cut through the Phoenix Building, when we were drawn through the open door of the Hideaway Café by the soft notes of Billie Holiday. We were greeted by a sandwich menu on the wall behind the counter: Turkey Cordon Bleu, Italian Pesto, Peppered Pastrami, Chicken Salad and Club—$7.25-$8.25 (with half sandwiches available for about $5). In addition, there were several tasty-sounding salads: almond chicken, Cobb, Southwestern and spinach ($7.50-$8.50). You can also get breakfast sandwiches, with egg, tomato and aioli on focaccia ($3.95), breakfast burritos ($3.75-$4.25), and a range of muffins and other baked goods, as well as espresso drinks.
Colette shrugged. “The pesto can wait.”
The Hideaway dining room is a split level, with three or four tables in a small, exposed-brick-wall room on the first level near the counter, and another eight or 10 on the lower level, which opens to the alley behind the parking structure.
I ordered the Turkey Avocado, Colette half a Hideaway Club, and we sat down to wait, our sandwiches arriving at our table with the first few notes—to Colette’s delight—of “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.” And they were delicious, served on warm Italian herb-and-Parmesan flat bread (baked fresh daily). Colette’s club was especially good, the Dijon and fresh green-leaf lettuce perfectly accenting the thick slices of turkey, ham and avocado. Even a half sandwich is more than enough for lunch, she said.
I returned solo several days later and tried the day’s special: half a pesto-chicken-salad sandwich and a bowl of broccoli bisque ($6.95). Both were delicious, although the sandwich was a bit messy, the half slices of bread unable to contain the crunchy salad mixture.