In the perpetual-motion world of culinary creations, daring techniques and imaginative fusions of the world's cuisines, classic dishes remain in style even though they are subject to evolution.
Consider the iceberg wedge with Roquefort dressing, the hamburger, chicken-fried steak, the root beer float, beef Wellington, mac 'n' cheese and the all-American hot dog. They have all withstood the foodie-driven, celebrity chef- inspired whirlwinds that have buffeted them, though, in some cases, have emerged twisted and tweaked for the better.
Very much a part of that lineup is the classic clubhouse sandwich, a trusted go-to that still thrives in its pure form on restaurant menus around the nation.
The classic club is a triple-decker BLT stacked with roasted turkey or roasted chicken. It defines a unique flavor-and-texture profile. There's crunch from the bacon, lettuce and toast, comforting softness from the turkey or chicken and tomato, and a bit of tang from the schmear of mayonnaise.
Properly presented, the sandwich is cut into quarters, speared with frilled wood toothpicks and served with potato salad or chips; french fries are too heavy for a good match, though you'll find them. Of course, a pickle in some form is required.
Tradition should be respected, yes, but in the spirit of innovation the clubhouse has taken on interesting incarnations. Some restaurants replace the fowl with salmon, tri-tip or portobello mushroom, and many clubhouse sandwiches arrive at the table sans the third slice of toasted bread.
Also, add-ons and substitutes are dressing the clubhouse in a deeper array of textures, tastes and colors. Ham, prosciutto, pork belly, avocado, basil and artichoke pestos, cilantro, pineapple, grape halves, mint leaves, roasted red bell pepper, toasted pine nuts and egad! shaved truffle are among them.
In 2009, restaurateur Lynn Archer went over the top with her version of the club sandwich, besting the Food Network's Bobby Flay in a "Throwdown." Her Brass Compass Cafe in Rockland, Maine, makes the "King of Clubs." It calls for the meat from a 1 1/4- pound lobster.
"It's still our best-seller," said server Tammy McAlister on the phone the other day. "We do between 150 and 200 of them each week." Let's see $21.99 multiplied by, say, 175
Closer to home, on Saturday a half-dozen restaurants (so far) will show off their best club creations at the fifth annual Ultimate Clubhouse Sandwich Contest & Fall Food Faire.
Who makes the best?
The public is invited to find out (and vote) as chefs compete for sandwich- making glory while serving a worthy cause.
Attendees will find food, wine and beer tastings, cooking demonstrations, a farmers market, food- related art displays, and an interactive art program for children, "We Are Where We Eat," taught by painter- illustrator Joy Gee.
An array of classic cars will be displayed at the entrance to the venue. On display, too, will be 100 vintage menus from the heyday of Sacramento's early dining scene. Among the restaurants represented will be the Coral Reef, the Ram, Hotel Sacramento, Capital Tamale and the Firehouse.
Wally Clark, longtime owner of Associated Sound in Sacramento, created the sandwich competition "for the fun of it, and because of memories of growing up eating clubhouse sandwiches (in iconic restaurants of the day)," he said.
The serious side is that the contests have been fundraisers for the Sacramento Scottish Rite's Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders.
"We're excited that the contests have made a tremendous number of people aware of the clinic, which marks its 25th anniversary this year," Clark said.
Call (916) 731-4357, or go to www.sacramentoscottishrite.org for more information about the clinic.
For the clubhouse sandwich part, Clark and his lunch group of 15 sandwich-savvy buddies scouted nearly 40 restaurants in five counties for months, searching for clubs that would meet their standards.
"We made sure this year's contestants use real, roasted and hand-carved turkey breast. Nothing from a processed turkey roll," he said. "And they're all using artisanal breads."
New to this year's competition is a more interactive form of judging. Each chef will present his or her sandwich to the panel of judges and describe its contents and preparation, and answer the judges' questions. The judges and chefs will have microphones, so the audience will hear the exchanges between them.
The judges will choose first-, second- and third-place winners in two categories traditional and non-traditional. Plus, there will be a people's choice award for the "ultimate" club sandwich. Winners will receive trophies, certificates and bragging rights.
Vote for your favorite sandwich and get the chance to win two bottles of wine, lunch for four and a winemaker-led tour of Mount Aukum Winery in El Dorado County.
Competing this year will be the Firehouse in Old Sacramento; Evan's Kitchen in Sacramento; Tower Bridge Bistro in Sacramento's Embassy Suites; Coffee Republic in Folsom; Granzella's in Williams; and Brewster's in Galt. Attendees are encouraged to watch the chefs in action as they prepare their entries.
Last year's first-through-third-place winners in the traditional category were Jamie Bunnell of Jamie's Broadway Grille; Clay Purcell of Tower Bridge Bistro; and Evan Elsberry of Evan's Kitchen, all in Sacramento.
The winners in the nontraditional category were Mindy Green of Coffee Republic in Folsom (who also took the people's choice award); Christian and Mercedes Forte of Fabian's Italian Bistro in Fair Oaks; and Karen Holmes of Karen's Bakery & Cafe in Folsom.
This year's judges will be Rick Mindermann, store director of Corti Bros. Market; Chris Macias, Sacramento Bee food and wine writer; Rick Kushman, wine writer, educator and former Bee columnist; Gloria Glyer, Bee columnist and former Dining Diva with Sacramento magazine; Bernice Hagen, former restaurateur and former Dining Diva; and Tina Macuha, "Good Day Sacramento" anchor- reporter (Channel 31, KMAX).
As for its pedigree, the clubhouse likely originated in the mid-1890s at the Saratoga Club House, a private gaming establishment in upstate New York. It was made with chicken breast, not turkey, on two pieces of bread, not three.
After gaining some fame at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where four versions were served, the sandwich began showing up on the menus of hotel restaurants, country clubs and railroad dining cars.
Though its ingredients are straightforward, the clubhouse is impressive in physical stature and presentation. Its name may conjure a sense of exclusivity, and its past reflects its once-vaunted place in semi- formal dining, but the truth is out there: These days, anyone can join the club.
FIFTH ANNUAL ULTIMATE CLUBHOUSE SANDWICH CONTEST & FALL FOOD FAIRE
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento
Cost: $5 for food sampling, $10 for food, beer and wine samplings; includes live entertainment, cooking demonstrations and hands-on activities for children
Benefiting: Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders
Information: (916) 649-8040, (916) 933-4056, www.ultimateclubhousesandwich.com