Clubhouse Sandwich 101
I’ve never been a regular consumer of the clubhouse sandwich. When people would ask me to do a clubhouse quest, I would shrug and say, “Club house sandwiches are boring. They’re what you order if you’re playing it safe.”
Or if you’re really hungry.
There’s a reason they’re popular; they’re filling, they’re reliable, they are visually striking with their multiple layers of everyone’s favourite proteins.
I get it.
But it wasn’t until I hitched up with The Side Dish (LuShark) that I started to consider membership. The Side Dish loves clubhouse sandwiches, classic diners, old school milkshakes and a good clean bathroom. It’s all in the details. So I started taking her around to places purported to have good clubs, and probed her for analysis.
Actually, it all started one fateful day in 2016. The Side Dish and I had just finished some vigorous beach combing or thrift shopping – whatever it was, and we were ravenous! We plopped down at a table at Jameson’s Irish Pub and quickly ordered, barely looking at the menu. The Side Dish saw a “Smoked Salmon Club” while Pavlovian visions of salmon and bacon danced in her head.
But she became apprehensive when her sandwich arrived, warily lifting off the roof to view the inhabitants: “Where is the bacon?” she grumbled.
“Our salmon club doesn’t come with bacon”.
We were less disappointed by the physicality of the sandwich, and more indignant that someone could so carelessly misuse the word “club”!
So what makes a clubhouse sandwich a clubhouse sandwich? Is it the double-decker structure? Turkey and bacon? Duel proteins? A restaurant’s signature sandwich? A lasagna? I needed answers!
History of the Clubhouse Sandwich
I decided to see if history could shed any light on the matter. There are already well consolidated accounts of the history of the clubhouse sandwich: The Sandwich Tribunal and What’s Cooking America do a great job.
The sandwich is thought to have been popularized by social clubs in New York. You know – exclusive, gentlemanly clubs.
The Union Club in New York advertised their “Union Club Sandwich” in 1889: “Two toasted slices of Graham bread, with a layer of turkey or chicken and ham between them, served warm.”
There’s also the Saratoga Club-House (a gentleman’s gambling club, where the potato chip was also born – how perfect) which is said to have created the first clubhouse sandwich in 1894.
Then there’s the predictable and dubious story that it was some guy who was hungry and raided the scraps in the pantry. Oh, and my favourite: the viral social media factoid that “club” stands for “chicken and lettuce under bacon”. Come on, people! That’s what we call a backronym.
The early club sandwiches varied somewhat; they could be dainty, crustless triangles, or weird concoctions of tongue, turkey and poached egg. One thing they usually had in common, though, was the combination of cured pork (bacon or ham) with poultry (chicken or turkey). That’s – count ’em – 2 proteins!
Oh, and never cheese.
The extra piece of bread was added later, and it is unclear how it gained dominance (some speculate that it was popularized on the double-decker club cars on America’s early trains).
That’s right, folks. The very thing most people associate as the defining characteristic of a clubhouse sandwich is not inherent. Just ask James Beard:
“Nowadays the sandwich is bastardized because it is usually made as a three-decker, which is not authentic (whoever started that horror should be forced to eat three-deckers three times a day the rest of his life.”
(By the way, clubhouse sandwiches are technically double-deckers, not triple-deckers. This is a common mistake, but we’ll let that go).
So what are the essential attributes of the club house sandwich?
I tend to agree with Jim, from the Sandwich Tribunal:
“The main distinguishing factors of the club sandwich, to me, are 1) the combination of fowl & cured pork, 2) the toasted bread, 3) the salad in addition to the meat.”
With that said, I’m actually a fan of clubhouse variations.
I think that in order to make a creative addition or substitution, you must specify that it is a “____ club”, where the blank is the introduced ingredient. In most cases, it will be the poultry that is replaced with another ingredient. People generally expect, nay – demand! – a bacon component.
As soon as we start making multiple substitutions (or subtractions, in Jameson’s case) it becomes harder to justify the “club” designation.
One exception, it could be argued, is the Vegetarian Clubhouse… but that’s not for today, Seitan, not today…
Thank you to my sponsor:
Clubhouse Variations in Halifax
Here are a few interesting takes on the club house sandwich you’ll find in Halifax:
Smoked Salmon Club – Henry House
This Henry House classic comes with smoked salmon, bacon, lettuce, tomato and red onion between toasted slices of marble rye. Now THIS is a Smoked Salmon Club!
Lobster Club – Harbourstone Sea Grill & Pour House
I was going to showcase the lobster club at the Port Pub (in Port Williams) but it seems they have switched to ciabatta so I can no longer endorse it.
Instead, I had high hopes that the Harbourstone would have a lobster club that surpassed anything that came before it. After all, it is loosely based off the Harbourstone’s sadly discontinued “Avery’s Lobster Roll”, with its grilled sourdough and tarragon cream sauce.
Unfortunately, this sandwich was a mess. The sourdough wasn’t toasted nearly enough and there was WAY too much bread! James Beard must be rolling in his grave… And why on earth is there coleslaw on it?!
Haddock Club – Wharf Wraps
Another local seafood rendition, albeit less common, is the haddock club. Flaky haddock in Wharf Wrap’s signature breading, with bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato. That’s more like it!
Update (April 14, 2019): Wharf Wraps is under new ownership, rebranded as Off The Hook Cookhouse and the club is no longer on the menu.
Breakfast Club – Cosy Snack Bar
We didn’t care for the regular clubhouse at Cosy Snack Bar, but the breakfast club was delicious and cheaper to boot!
Bacon and a fried egg are the two proteins, and I love that the egg was cooked perfectly medium – still creamy, but not runny. As an added bonus, when you order the breakfast club you get home fries, whereas the regular club comes with frozen shoe strings.
Breaded Chicken Club – Freeman’s Little New York
Deep fried breaded chicken in a club – why not? The club at Freeman’s is actually pretty decent! Lots of bacon on this one and washes down nicely with a local craft beer.
Smoked Meat Club – Hali Deli
Hali Deli specializes in Jewish deli fare, so you won’t find any pork products here. Montreal smoked meat replaces the bacon with amazing effect.
Toasted challah bread is used for the clubhouse, and you can also see that real chicken meat, white and dark, is used. Ding ding ding – we have a winner here!
This clubhouse sandwich would actually make my top 5 despite not being a “classic club”.
The Original Pita Club – Darrell’s
If you don’t like your delicate mouth being ripped apart by abrasive toast points, join this club!
Forget the peanut butter burger, this is the sandwich that gave Darrell’s their start back in 1992! I’ve been critical of Darrell’s over the years, but I only have good things to say about their pita wraps. You get a little bit of everything in every bite with perfect symmetry. How do they do it?!
The Original Club has house-roasted turkey, bacon, romain lettuce, sliced tomato, cheddar and mayo and it is delicious.
What Makes a Good Clubhouse Sandwich?
I’ve already talked about what makes a clubhouse a clubhouse, and what kinds of variations are acceptable and delicious. But what qualities come together to make a good clubhouse?
It has been demonstrated that a clubhouse doesn’t have to be a double-decker cut into triangles with frilly toothpicks. Whether or not it’s a good clubhouse should not hinge on this, but I think it does for a lot of you so I’ll take that into consideration.
The perfect clubhouse is rooted in simplicity: good ingredients prepared properly. That’s all. Save your bells and whistles for Burger Week.
Bacon should be crispy, warm, and plentiful. I should be able to bite through the bacon without it disintegrating into dust or pulling like an elastic. Ham, while acceptable, doesn’t have those smoky, crispy attributes that work in clubhouse synergy with mayonnaise and tomato.
House-roasted chicken or turkey is much preferable to a pre-cooked loaf. Bonus points for dark meat because then I know it was a whole roasted turkey and not just a breast. The meat should not be hot, nor should it be fridge-cold. If chicken breast is used, it should be sliced and not just thrown into the sandwich in the fashion of a “chicken burger”. Deli slices are punishable by public ridicule.
Fresh, crisp lettuce and ripe, red tomatoes.
This can be either Miracle Whip or mayonnaise, but there should be an adequate application on both tiers. The sandwich should not be dry, nor should I get mouthfuls of mayo.
Order of Toppings:
Bacon and Tomato are a magical combination and should be placed in the same layer. There should never be a layer of just tomato and lettuce; we mustn’t segregate our vegetables from our meats.
Plain white or whole wheat toast is fine, but it must be properly toasted without being a hard, jagged mouth-cutter. There are bonus points for good quality breads, but they should be sliced thin so as not to overpower the sandwich. Sliced bread is mandatory; a club should not be served in a bun or ciabatta.
So what is the best clubhouse sandwich in Halifax? I’ll tell ya!
After a shout out to my sponsor!
#1 Best Clubhouse Sandwich in Halifax!
Pub Club – Your Father’s Moustache!!!!!!
The “Best Clubhouse” category in The Coast’s Best of Halifax was retired in 2011 because the Moustache kept winning it every year. I say it is time to bring back the category!
People like this sandwich because of the buttered, toasty bread and the “special sauce” (mayo, honey mustard, cayenne) but I just can’t get over that ungodly, untextured, watery slab of “chicken breast”.
Top 6 Clubhouse Sandwiches in Halifax
Of course I couldn’t try every club in the city, so I consider this a work in progress. Suffice to say, these are 6 clubhouse sandwiches that meet the criteria.
This will be an ongoing quest, and I look forward to trying your favourites.
6. Elle’s Bistro
($7.95, or $10.90 w/ fries)
I like Elle’s Bistro because they offer quality, affordable food (no cutting corners!) and the menu is more inventive than your run-of-the-mill lunch counter. Bonus points for multigrain bread, and fresh, house-roasted turkey. The only room for improvement here is in the bacon department – a few extra strips would go a long way!
5. Mic Mac Tavern
($14 w/ choice of side)
I love that the Mic Mac has real, house-roasted turkey. There’s even dark meat! Some purists won’t like that the meat is chopped rather than sliced breast meat. But I’m quite okay with this. A slightly sweet zing of Miracle Whip and proper placement of ingredients makes for a very good sandwich.
4. White Sails Bakery
($10.95, or $15.70 w/ fries)
White Sails Bakery has a slight edge, due to their bakery-fresh bread, and an extra nod for that thick-sliced turkey and those vibrant veggies!
The only problem with this clubhouse is the allocation of ingredients. The bacon should be with the tomato, and the turkey should be with the lettuce. Also, the turkey is sliced so thick that it demands more lube than was applied. Plus, it’s actually hard to fit this in your mouth!
The menu says it comes with cucumber, onion and cheese, so you may want to modify to your liking.
This was so close to being perfect…
3. The Armview
($13.50 w/ choice of starch)
This is a standard, good club. The bacon and tomato are where they should be, the poultry is sliced thick and I like that it’s a bit uneven. Bright, ripe vegetables elevate the flavour and aesthetic.
2. Pleasant Street Diner
($11.50 w/ fries)
Overall, the club sandwich at Pleasant Street Diner was probably our #1. It’s simple, thoughtful and affordable – and you gotta love that coleslaw!
From the kitchen:
“Our clubhouse is made with real white turkey breast that we cook in house every day. We make sure the ingredients are perfectly proportionate to each other. We find that using Miracle Whip makes all of the difference too. It’s the finishing touch to our perfect clubhouse”.
What they said!
1. M&J’s Eatery
I have a new #1! M&J’s is a hidden gem on the Bedford Highway that strives to nourish all types of eaters! Anything on the menu can be made vegan (and most items can be made gluten-free). So here you will find a vegan, gluten-free clubhouse if you wish.
As for the regular clubhouse – wow! This was lovingly constructed with quality ingredients in perfect proportions. The bread was thinly sliced and perfect toasted, the bacon was paired with red, ripe tomatoes, while ham and turkey decked out the other deck. There was no one ingredient that stole the show, but everything worked together in a flavour harmony elevated to more than the sum of its parts. Delicious.
Honourable Mention: As You Like It
This was probably the best tasting sandwich we had overall, but a classic club it is not. I highly recommend As You Like It for your sandwich needs, as we were quite impressed with the quality ingredients and flavours.
Here is a list of all the clubs I tried (22):
Your Father’s Moustache, Ardmore Tea Room, Westcliffe Diner, Ashburn Golf Club, Shooters Bar & Grill, Midtown Tavern, The Armview, Elle’s Bistro, White Sails Bakery, Mic Mac Bar & Grill, Pleasant Street Diner, As You Like It, Trellis Cafe, Italian Market, Pete’s Frootique, Jenny’s Place, Hali Deli, Sydelle’s, Cosy Snack Bar, Ma Belle, Freeman’s, Tom’s Family Restaurant.
Here is my Hit List:
Rudy’s, Bluenose II, Tempo, Janina’s Cafe, True North Diner, The Arms, Metro Pizza, Kelly’s Deli, Pilot’s Pub, Lion’s Head Tavern, Summit Cafe, Brass Rail, Irving Big Stop, Armdale Pizza, Johnny’s Snack Bar, Beaverbank Station, Celtic Corner, Brewsters, Park Side Pub, Pizzadelic.
Stubborn Goat (lobster club): I’ve had this and wasn’t impressed, but it was a long time ago and I will try again.
Is there somewhere you think I should go? Tell me your favourites in the comments or hit me up on social media!
See: More Sandwiches!