I try very hard — and perhaps even succeed sometimes — not to be a snob about too many things.
But one of the things I readily acknowledge being a snob about is diners.
When you grow up in a small town in upstate New York, you learn to appreciate a proper diner. I even worked in one in high school, making money for insurance on my first car.
The best ones have regulars, preferably ones who always seem to be there at the same time and always sit together, without ever planning it.
The staff and customers know each other by name, and — this is important — customers should be able to refill their own coffee, no questions asked.
And if coffee refills are important, having a proper hot turkey sandwich is non-negotiable.
Growing up, Friday nights were diner nights, and diner nights meant hot turkey sandwiches. And because the waitresses all knew me (see proper upstate small-town diner above), most of the time they didn’t even need to ask.
It’s still my dinner of choice whenever I go into a diner, although I ordered meatloaf at the post-Thanksgiving diner dinner because I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat turkey three days in a row (must have been an illness I didn’t know about).
So what makes a proper hot turkey sandwich? As someone who has eaten hundreds, if not more than 1,000, in my life, allow me …
The turkey should be sliced thin and piled high. There should be at least two slices of bread … white or wheat will do. I prefer the bread not to be toasted, but in one of my favorite non-upstate New York diners — A.C. Petersen’s in West Hartford, Connecticut — they use toast and it’s fine.
If you’re in a diner, the potatoes are probably going to be instant, and that’s fine. It’s a diner. However, the mix should be just right so there’s some solidity to them. Thin, runny instant mashed potatoes don’t work; having made plenty of bad ones in my diner and single days, I can tell you it’s a fine line.
French fries are an acceptable alternative, but it’s the one instance were ketchup is not acceptable.
I love stuffing, but it’s optional. I don’t like cranberry sauce, but it’s also optional.
And it’s very important for the whole thing to be topped off by enough brown gravy to float an oil tanker. If it doesn’t, go get more.
“Those sandwiches are a thing. They’re this accessible, delicious, comforting thing.” — Rachael Ray, from “In Defense of a Diner Classic: the Open-Faced Hot Turkey Sandwich,” by Sam Sifton, The New York Times Magazine
So that’s what I bring when I see The New York Times Magazine did a story on hot turkey sandwiches. (Also calling them “open-faced” is unnecessary, but harmless.)
Because as you can see, I take my hot turkey sandwiches very seriously.
The article wasn’t bad. The author had proper respect for the dish. Talking to Rachael Ray helped, as she’s from my part of the world and understands.
However, I did have one minor, teeny-weeny quibble … “In defense of … .”
I get that it’s a regular series, so “In defense of” is basically a brand. However, the hot turkey sandwich needs “defending” in the same way that moms, apple pie and kittens need defending.
For my money, anyone you need to defend hot turkey sandwiches to — food allergies or dietary issues aside — is somewhere between needing to learn quick and someone you just don’t want to know.
I’m not entirely sure where the above diner is, but it looks like it could be the kind of place where I’d enjoy a hot turkey sandwich. It’s from skeeze on Pixabay.