Debunking the Earl of Sandwich


The reality can’t match the hype in “The Original 1762.” And neither bears any resemblance to the original sandwich eaten by the fourth Earl. (Click on image to enlarge.)

The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, is broadly credited with having invented the sandwich. As the story goes, he was a heavy gambler, and in order to continue playing cards rather than go to supper, he ordered his manservant to simply stick some slices of cold roast beef (left over from dinner that day, one presumes) in between two slices of bread, thereby allowing himself to eat with one hand and hold his cards in the other. The bread also served as an edible napkin, keeping Montagu’s hands clean so he wouldn’t besmirch the cards.

The first New York location; there are already four branches in Florida, four in Texas, and one in Nevada.

That the sandwich was named after the Earl of Sandwich we can have no doubt. What is dubious is that he invented it. It seems to me that the idea of a sandwich is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon that many cultures can claim. Of course, you have to be flexible in your definition. I don’t think, for example, of falafel in a pita as a sandwich. Or a stuffed-crust pizza. For the purpose of this original ur-definition, I’d say that a sandwich on a roll is not really a sandwich, either; it really should be two slices of bread cut from a common loaf.

Which is why I was perplexed at the new sandwich chain in town called EARL OF SANDWICH (typography theirs). Located just north of Rockefeller Center on 51st Street, within easy striking distance of MOMA, the first branch to hit NYC occupies some high-end real estate. (There will soon be another in the Wall Street area.) The Earl would have liked it that way. This fast-food establishment is so typical of the Age of Bloomberg, when not only have American-bred fast-food chains come to dominate certain parts of the city, now foreign chains are worming their way in, competing with the American chains for real estate that might have once been occupied by homegrown ma-and-pa eateries. We have been conquered wholesale in the fast-food department. Thanks, Mike.

Anyway, this ridiculous chain claims a direct connection with the Earl of Sandwich, via the 11th Earl of Sandwich, who sells out his name and reputation as a shill for fast food. Here is his signed statement on the website: “Our family knows about great sandwiches: we invented the sandwich and have been eating sandwiches since 1762. Using 250 years of experience, today we have set up EARL OF SANDWICH® to make delicious sandwiches for you. Our secret is to bake the bread when you order, roast our meats every morning and use the traditional family recipes. We are a family who loves making sandwiches and sincerely hope you enjoy eating them.”

The interior seems very British.


There’s really not nearly enough cheese on the meatball sandwich, called “Cannonball!”

Now, of course, the implication that his family has been practicing all this time to perfect the sandwich is laughable. Elsewhere in the promotional material you’ll find the even more bizarre claim that the chain makes “The World’s Greatest Hot Sandwich.” It’s not even the millionth greatest.

It seems that if a chain is going to boast of its historic connections, it should make sandwiches as they were originally made. Instead, all sandwiches ($5.99) come on a hideous little roll they make themselves, proving at the very least that they have no talent whatsoever as bakers. Quality-wise, I’d put it slightly lower than the “homemade bread” at Subway. It achieves the lower level because it’s much wetter and gluier. The loaf is also penuriously small. Please, sir, can I have some more? As Oliver Twist said.

The signature, said to be the original Earl of Sandwich sandwich, but clearly very far from it, is “The Original 1762,” which contains a wad of roast beef, a few curls of cheddar cheese, and horseradish sauce. The example I tried had lots of gristly patches in the meat, and the cheese — what there was of it — was melted entirely into the beef. The strongest flavor was provided by the horseradish. The sandwich is delivered hot. I can guarantee the real Earl’s original sandwich was cold, and not hot. The chain plays fast and loose with its own history, pissing into the wind.

I also was fascinated by the idea of the Earl making an Italian-style meatball hero. Did Earl Doofus invent that, too? This was one of the most pitiful meatball heros it has been my misfortune to taste. There was virtually no white cheese on it, and, though the meatballs were the standard article (flavored with onion powder, etc.), there were only 1.5 of them on the entire sandwich, it seemed meager in the extreme. I tried to pawn the second half of it off on a friend later that afternoon. He wisely took one bite and ran to spit it out.

World’s Best Sandwich indeed!

Earl of Sandwich
1290 Sixth Avenue (entrance on 51st)

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