Open-faced sandwiches make for a perfect lunch or dinner special
Open-faced sandwiches can bring a whole new level of sophistication to your menu, leaving your guests curious and hungry for what kind of masterpiece you might create next.
If you’ve got a pizza oven, broiler, salamander (cheese melter) or even a conventional or convection oven, you are ready to add open-faced sandwiches to your menu. An open-faced sandwich can take on more than one description. Bringing it down to its simplest and most common form, I would describe an open-faced sandwich as almost any sandwich that you might make but instead of topping it with its second piece of bread, you’d leave the top off. It would typically be topped with cheese and heated until the cheese is melted. That’s it in its most basic form.
If you’ve come to know me over the years, you know that almost any menu item that’s basic just isn’t good enough. I’ll leave basic up to my competitors. Basic is not going to bring guests back into your establishment any time soon. In fact, it will probably make you as forgettable as yesterday’s news. So let’s get cracking and visit some “melts,” as I like to call them (this could be the headline on your next menu if you were to decide to add a variety of open-faced sandwiches).
First, “it’s all about that base!” The main ingredients should obviously be the stars, but starting with a really great base can also make or break your offering. As an example, Eggs Benedict is one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. And this just happens to be an open-faced presentation. It’s an English muffin, topped with Canadian bacon, two poached eggs and finished with hollandaise sauce. If the English muffin is buttered, grilled and served fresh, the dish is perfect (as long as the rest of the ingredients are done right). Now if the English muffin has been toasted and is dried out, it will ruin the entire dish and experience. That’s why the base or the quality of the bread used for an open-faced sandwich is critical to the success of the sandwich. It needs to pare well, enhancing the ingredients that you have brought together.
An open-faced sandwich will usually be served and eaten with a fork and knife since it is no longer a handheld item. Staying in the breakfast zone for a moment with an open-faced morning or anytime delight, consider Huevos Rancheros. Grill a large flour tortilla and fold it in half with some cheddar cheese in it (making a quesadilla). Top it with scrambled eggs, grilled peppers and onions and more melted cheddar. Top the folded cheese quesadilla, then garnish with salsa and a drizzle of sour cream and chopped green onion.
Turning a basic sandwich into a “Melt,” let’s start with a popular sandwich and go with an open-faced Reuben. I’d grill once piece of marbled rye then spread some Thousand Island dressing on it. I’d heat six ounces of sliced corned beef with a couple ounces of sauerkraut, then place that on the bread and top it with Swiss cheese and melt it in the oven. Serve it on a plate with a side and a pickle. Now you’re off to the races and on your way to creating some great melts!
Here’s an old lunch-time favorite from a country club I worked at. It was a Tuna Melt, which was very popular at lunch, quick and very simple to put together. We grilled both halves of an English muffin on a buttered flat top grill for about a minute. We’d add a scoop of tuna salad to each half. Each half then gets topped with a slice of tomato and then a slice of Swiss. That would find its way into the broiler and take 90 seconds to two minutes before the cheese was melted and the tuna was warm.
Before I share some of my favorite creations, I want to share an open-faced prime rib sandwich that I always ran afternoons and evenings or weekend with a prime rib dinner special. Anytime you cut an 8-rounce slice of prime rib, grill it and then serve it over a piece of grilled or toasted bread (like a nice piece of rosemary focaccia) with a side of au jus, it’s a really great day. That makes a phenomenal special that most folks can’t pass up.
You can now take many of your ingredient combinations, find that great bread base and bake them together topped with a great cheese and you’re off to the races. A French dip is an open-faced sandwich that is a hand held. You would dip some thinly sliced roast beef in hot au jus (natural beef broth), place the roast beef on an opened French baguette, melt some Swiss or provolone on it and serve it with a side of au jus to dip the sandwich in.
A Turkey Avocado Melt is one of my favorites. Top a slice of multigrain bread with a spread of garlic aioli, four ounces sliced turkey breast, sliced tomato, sliced fresh avocado and a slice of great cheese like Muenster or Havarti. Send it through the oven to melt that cheese. (Bacon is an excellent addition to this melt.)
This is my favorite time of year because of Thanksgiving feasts, and here’s a perfect melt to fit this holiday. Top a slice of whole wheat bread with a spread of a couple ounces of stuffing (dressing), then a couple ounces of cranberry sauce, four ounces of turkey breast and a slice of cheddar cheese and send it through the oven. This is oh so good!
As you can see, understanding the fundamentals of building a great open-faced sandwich, or “melt,” is pretty darn easy and just takes a little creativity while elevating your offering to a heightened culinary presentation! Give it a shot. You’ve got nothing to lose and some extra sales to gain!
Jeffrey Freehof is a frequent Pizza Today contributor, chef and restaurant consultant.