Many an article about sandwiches begins with ye tired old origin story: The Earl of Sandwich, desirous of a snack easily and ungreasily handled whilst he continued to play cards, demanded his joint of meat or giant drumstick or what have you be ensconced between two slices of bread, and so forth.
The Earl’s idea, born though it was of laziness and/or addiction to gambling, was an excellent one. Sandwiches are very good! It is difficult to imagine improving upon the Platonic ideal of a food-form that is the sandwich!
Or is it? I come to you today with a radical proposition: This is the time for open-faced sandwiches. Why now? In an era when bread and/or yeast has sometimes been hard to come by, an open-faced sandwich reduces bread use by 50%. Further, an open-faced sandwich represents a dramatic improvement on the traditional closed-faced sandwich’s filling-to-bread ratio (as eaters of peanut-butter-and-honey toast are already highly aware). And given an open-faced sandwich constructed with a not-too-floppy bread base, a skilled sandwich-eater can absolutely continue playing cards or doing whatever they care to with the other hand.
A version of the open-faced sandwich did manage to capture the fickle American interest with the momentarily ubiquitous and unfairly vilified avocado toast. Avocado toast is good! But what’s even better: tiny open-faced sandwiches, or T.O.F.S.
Versions of T.O.F.S. have gained traction here as imports from other cultures, though mostly on toasted bread, e.g., crostini and tartines. What we’re talking about here is like the more-seldom-seen Danish smørrebrød, in its smaller formats, or the obložene chlebicky of the Czech Republic.
These adorable little open-faced sandwiches, built on the likes of a slice of an undersized loaf of rye or a diagonal of good baguette, make larger open-faced sandwiches look out of scale and oafish.
With T.O.F.S., the laborious bite-taking of a traditionally sized sandwich is exponentially reduced or even potentially eliminated, depending on their size. T.O.F.S. also offer the opportunity to engulf several types of sandwich in one sitting, rather than just the tedium of one. And while regular-sized sandwiches, whether open-faced or lidded, are generally speedily assembled, T.O.F.S. provide both a fun project and a festive eating experience during times of boredom, as well as many opportunities for aesthetic expression and nice photos for Instagram.
What goes on T.O.F.S.? This is limited only by how many different kinds of food exist and the strength of your imagination. It is never a bad idea to start T.O.F.S. with a layer of nice-quality softened butter. From there, just the beginning of the possibilities for layers of toppings include mayonnaise (yes, atop the butter), mustard (same), cream cheese, herbed ricotta, other cheese, ham, roast beef, cornichon/pickles, slices of hard-boiled egg, sardines/other tinned fish, salmon in any form, any type of caviar, potato salad, tuna salad, tuna-and-potato salad, radish, apple, tomato, olives, capers, chives, dill, parsley, basil, pesto ... A suite of around six ingredients may be combined in so many pleasing configurations! Slice your toppings thinly, then take your time and arrange them so they look very pretty, like old-timey canapes, which, hey, they pretty much are.
One Seattle chef who’s exceptionally adept at T.O.F.S. is David Gurewitz of newish La Dive on Capitol Hill. His resume includes Lark, Spinasse, Mamnoon, Little Uncle, Chicago’s Blackbird and Michelin-starred Guy Savoy in Paris, and he set up the very good bar food at local Standard Brewing, too. Having grown up in Minneapolis in a Jewish household, with grandparents from Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, he loves the food and drink traditions of Eastern Europe, so alongside the extremely tasty dumplings on La Dive’s menu came some really lovely T.O.F.S.
One of his interesting and exceptionally well-built initial combinations: Olympic Provisions kielbasa with slices of cucumber, strips of onion, a confetti of chopped chive and dots of horseradish dyed bright pink with beet juice, just for added prettiness. Another: split pea hummus, miso, walnut, pickled beet and dill.
Asked now to help us end the tyranny of the unnecessary upper slice of bread in the cutest, most fun and maximally delicious way, Gurewitz sent the recipes below. Onward, topless!
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