Taste of the South

Tomato Sandwiches Worth Traveling For

Everyone loves the white bread-and-mayo classic, including these six Southern chefs who put their own spins on a cherished Southern tradition

Photo: Johnny Autry

The very best tomato sandwich is the one you eat while leaning over the kitchen sink, impervious to the Duke’s mayonnaise getting on your fingers and the tomato juice dribbling down your chin. Or so says nearly every story that’s ever been written about the South’s most beloved sandwich, a glorious summertime treat.

A few Southern restaurants have bravely made room on their menus for tomato sandwiches with dressed-up touches. At Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, for example, Vivian Howard has served sliced Cherokee purple tomatoes on onion bread spread with smoked corn aioli. It’s a dish that G&G contributing editor John T. Edge named one of his favorites, and one that can return to Howard’s menu any time inspiration—and perfectly sun-warmed tomatoes—strikes.

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Chef Vivian Howard’s take on the tomato sandwich.

Just as a steakhouse with white tablecloths and tuxedoed servers doesn’t detract from the joy of ribeyes grilled in the backyard, these slightly cheffier takes on tradition don’t pose any threat to the classic. It just means there are more—and more kinds of—tomato sandwiches to enjoy while the main ingredient lasts.

Photo: Courtesy of Beefsteak

The Beefsteak Burger.

Washington D.C.
Jose Andres wanted to serve a burger-type sandwich at his vegetable-centric counter, but didn’t want to mess with fake meat. Instead, he blanched and peeled the restaurant’s namesake tomato, parking a thick, sea-salted slice of the ruddy fruit atop a brioche bun primed with zippy caper mayonnaise.

Zero George
Charleston, South Carolina
Tomatoes are just starting to catch on in Japan, but chef Vinson Petrillo believes a sushi-style presentation is an ideal platform for the summer delicacy. His “tomato sandwich” features alternating layers of tomatoes, fermented rice-flavored mayonnaise and white bread, all snugly wrapped in toasted seaweed.

Durham, North Carolina
The secret to the sandwich at Phoebe Lawless’ acclaimed bakery (other than tomatoes straight from the farm, of course) is celery salt. The seasoning that energizes the pureed tomatoes in bloody Marys and diced tomatoes on Chicago-style hot dogs performs the same service for fat slices of raw tomatoes, nestled on white bread.

Photo: Courtesy of Company Burger

Company Burger’s Creole Tomato BLT.

The Company Burger
New Orleans, Louisiana
Creole tomatoes, grown in southern Louisiana’s rich alluvial soil, are in season for a distressingly short time. When they’re ripe, though, they’re on the menu at The Company Burger, often with bacon and arugula as add-ons. But chef-owner Adam Biderman will delete everything from the popular sandwich but the T, offered up on butter-toasted white bread.

Las Meras Tortas
Greenville, South Carolina
There’s no such thing as a torta without a tomato at the masterful Las Meras: The center of every ingredient stack is a fresh tomato round, sending an acidic jolt through the equally obligatory refried beans, jalapeños, avocado, and Mexican cheese. And in case the ’mater doesn’t establish the sandwich’s Southern credentials, its crusty roll is smeared with mayonnaise.