Regional Sandwiches (and the local beers they pair with)
There’s a spot in Portland, OR, called Meat Cheese Bread that serves permutations of said foodstuffs in a delicious assemblage we now call a “sandwich.” (Thank you, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, for the eponym if not the origin.) Tasty food matter with moist, flavorful adhesive betwixt bread slices has become a gustatory sensation the world over, and that’s no bologna. This ingenious handiwork goes by diminutives such as sammie or sando. Provincially, variations have developed, including subs, dips, panini and po’ boys. But you can get a good Philly cheesesteak anywhere now, and a great pulled pork can be enjoyed far from Memphis. Here are some truly regional ’wiches and their equally indigenous beers, beginning with that other Portland.
Portland, ME: Lobster Roll
Portland-East exhibits a lot of class both in its edible and potable mouthfuls. Lobster rolls are either a way of dressing down Maine lobster by tossing chunks in mayo or, if you’re lucky, drawn butter then often served on an actual hot dog bun. Josh Christie, author of Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland and the forthcoming Maine Outdoor Adventure Guide, co-written with his father, John, explains that such treats are found in seafood shacks “from Kittery to Eastport” (meaning from top to bottom of the Atlantic coastal state) but Portland, “being a foodie town, has some interesting highfalutin takes.” And he’ll take his with a glass of Allagash White or Oxbow FPA please.
Allagash Brewing (50 Industrial Way) began in 1995 by brewing a traditional witbier, and Allagash White remains the flagship brew. Not surprisingly, Christie calls Allagash a “must-visit.” It offers free tours every day but Sunday (book in advance and note that the brewery is in Riverton, a 20-minute drive from downtown) and what’s more, Christie points out, a tasting room was added during the brewery’s recent expansion. So while a beer like Curieux—a tripel aged in bourbon barrels—tastes great with some age on it, it’s equally magnificent sampled fresh at the source.
Don’t miss Maine’s original craft brewery, D.L. Geary Brewing (38 Evergreen Drive) founded by D.L. in 1986 right around the corner in this industrial area or, more accurately, Allagash opened around the corner from Geary’s). Visit when Geary’s Summer is on tap/shelves since Christie swears this “kölsch matches up (with lobster rolls) perfectly.”
His other favorite companion brew is that Oxbow FPA (Farmhouse Pale Ale), brewed an hour up the coast in Newcastle. Oxbow (OxbowBeer.com, 274 Jones Woods Road). It’s the brewery’s only flagship ale among the seasonals and “freestyle” rarer saison-centric beers it produces. Best of all, to get there you go through Wiscasset, home of Red’s Eats (41 Main St.) purveyors of highly regarded rolls composed of meaty chunks of lobster, the minimal amount of drawn butter or mayo, and a toasted bun, all of which “commands hour-long waits, snarls traffic and makes a damn good roll.” Christie then adds that “they claim to pile a whole 1-pound lobster’s worth of meat on every one,” hence the $17 price tag.
Closer still, Maine Beer Co. (525 U.S. Route 1) brews Peeper, a hoppy American ale that provides “a nice contrast to a lobster roll’s sweetness,” and as luck would have it, visiting requires passing Day’s Lobster Pound (1269 U.S. Route 1 in Yarmouth). By the way, I love MBC’s Mean Old Tom, a stout aged on vanilla beans, that makes a great coupling with a few needhams—Maine’s homemade answer to a Mounds bar.
Back in Portland, there are more breweries, of course, such as the pair in East Bayside, known by fermentation fans as Yeast Bayside. Rising Tide (103 Fox St.) specializes in American ales and farmhouse styles while Bunker (122 Anderson St.) proffers nano-brewed lagers and ales. For variety, Urban Farm Fermentatory (200 Anderson St.) ferments delicious kombuchas (fermented teas) and ciders, including Hopped Cidah finished with Cascade hops. All three are within blocks of each other. Food trucks frequently found in the area include Small Axe and Wicked Good, but personally, I wish Bite Into Maine would roll up so it would be possible to sink some teeth into their off-kilter takes such as a wasabi or chipotle lobster roll.
Finally, one spot where fresh beer and lobster rolls are served in unison is Sebago (211 Fore St.) in the Old Port as the Portland installment of this brewpub’s four locations around Southern Maine. Sebago’s hearty, fresh jumbo lobster roll is fairly classic, but if you’re rolled out, you can also get your lobster in quesadilla or bacon mac ’n’ cheese form. Wash down with its red or brown ales.
Des Moines, IA: Loose meat
Maid-Rite is an Iowa institution that began in 1926 in Muscatine near Davenport. It offered something like a hamburger but not formed into a patty. Instead, the ground beef was served loose over a bun. It’s known eponymously as a maid rite. In 1927, Canteen Lunch opened in Ottumwa, and its menu consists includes the same sandwich, but known as the canteen. Likewise, legend has it that Ye Old Tavern in Sioux City developed the recipe in 1924, hence the recognized moniker, tavern. Any way you griddle it, this Iowa creation is a loose meat. Then again, leave it to renowned historian and Iowan Maureen Ogle to debunk the whole notion. Ogle is author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer and the brand new In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America—thereby making her an expert in beer, beef and Iowa. “Loose meat as the Iowa sandwich is a fiction,” she says.
Humph. No matter how you slice it, this unsliceable precursor to the sloppy joe is pure Iowan at this point even though there are over 30 Maid-Rites in the Hawkeye State and, blasphemously, there are even more outside its borders now. Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you that the best loose meat near Des Moines is found at Taylor’s Maid-Rite, 50 miles northeast in Marshalltown (106 S. 3rd Ave.). The ground beef is seasoned solely with salt, and the sammich is adorned only with mustard, pickles and chopped onions. The mere sight of ketchup is a newfangled option at Taylor’s and an offensive one to regulars. Beveragewise, your best bet is a milkshake. In fact, I know of no such loose meat spot that offers beer, nor any brewpub that includes a loose meat on its menu.
For fresh beer brewed on premise and the next best thing to loose hamburger meat on a bun, hit Court Avenue Brewing (309 Court Ave.) for its standard, frill-less Brew Burger that goes great with a pint of its Pointer Brown Ale. Less than a mile away is Exile Brewing (1514 Walnut St.), which serves a decked-out burger called the Father Guido Sarducci topped with pancetta, Parmesan crisps and Italian dressing. The beers are all named after females, such as Ruthie, the gold lager, named after another bygone legend, Ruthie Bisignano, famed for serving customers glasses of beer from the ample beer trays God blessed her with! “I’m dead certain my dad would have stopped by to grab a drink at her workplace,” Ogle remarks.
Also within walking distance is El Bait Shop (200 SW 2nd St.), which claims to boast “the biggest selection of American Microbeers in the world!” At 120 taps, that may just be right, but the various publications who’ve dubbed this joint one of the best beer bars in America certainly aren’t wrong. You’ll find plenty of Hawkeye brews on draft from the likes of Confluence Brewing (1235 Thomas Beck Road) right in town to Millstream Brewing, located in Amana, a city of about 400 people closer to Iowa City. Millstream (835 48th Ave.) is Iowa’s most GABF-medal-rich brewery, with 10 such awards, seven of which are for Schild Brau Amber. That’s the thing about Iowa’s brewing scene. “The vast majority of the craft breweries are in really tiny towns … a rural phenomenon,” says Ogle, adding that it “takes some guts to do that, you know?”
Incidentally, most Iowans, Ogle included, will tell you the state sandwich is the pork tenderloin. But that honor belongs elsewhere. …
Indianapolis, IN: Tenderloin
Just after the calendar flipped into the 20th century, it is believed, Nick Freienstein was the first to tenderize a cut of pork, bread it, fry it up, then serve this oversized chunka meat on a regular bun that, in comparison, appears comically small. It’s as if you were serving cheese ’n’ crackers with Ritz and a wheel of Gouda. Nick’s Kitchen remains a landmark in Huntington (506 N. Jefferson St.) some hundred miles northeast of Indianapolis where Sandy Cockerham, a national BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judge, guides us through Indy’s beer and tenderloin scene with some assists from family member Rob Hall.
To start, Cockerham rightly begins with places that feature great sandwiches and suds.
First there’s Plump’s Last Shot (6416 Cornell Ave.) in Broad Ripple Village that’s widely regarded as slinging one of the best (and best seasoned) in town. In fact, some folks have taken to sharing a single sando, given its monstrous proportion. What isn’t monstrous is Plump’s craft beer list, but you can always find worthy selections from Hoosier breweries such as Indy’s own Sun King (135 N. College Ave.) and Upland in Bloomington. And for dessert, there are two brewpubs in Broad Ripple, making for an easy walk to Broad Ripple Pub (842 E. 65th St.), the state’s first brewpub, which has been known to offer “porkless tenderloin” sandwiches for the tofuheads, and/or head down a few blocks to Broad Ripple Avenue and soak up some Thr3e Wise Men (1021 Broad Ripple Ave.) on site at the brewery, though it also makes the beer for the state’s Scotty’s Brewhouse pubs, where the tenderloin is a house specialty.
Cockerham works in two British-style pub recommendations both for their awesome loins and tap lists. The Aristocrat Pub and Restaurant (5212 N. College Ave.) isn’t just a favorite among her niece and nephew the Halls, “the ’Crat” earned a five-star rating on the tenderloin blog. It offers the option to order the sandwich grilled instead of fried, but that makes as much sense as not starting with its beer cheese dip served with pretzel bread. It’s no trouble finding the right beer to wash the food down, considering there are 60 taps, though Three Floyds (9750 Indiana Parkway) from Munster just before the Illinois border makes sure they’re hopped up on Zombie Dust, a lively, hoppy pale ale. Then again, its Gumballhead wheat makes an easygoing companion. The other pub flying the tenderloin and craft beer flag is Union Jack Pub (note it’s not dot-com, 924 Broad Ripple Ave.) where the breaded porcine wonder gets sandwiched in a kaiser bun. Union Jack always has great local beers on draft from the likes of Bier (5133 E. 65th St.), which excels in Belgian and British styles and makes not one but two pilsners, and Flat 12 (414 Dorman St.) where more adventurous American styles prevail.
Last but not least on Cockerham’s list is Oaken Barrel (50 North Airport Parkway in Greenwood), where both the loin and the libations have been among her favorites since it opened in 2010. Although the menu is loaded with regional American classics, if you’re visiting the Hoosier state, stick with the Hoosier Tenderloin—again with the foolish option of fried or grilled— which comes on a corn-dusted bun for a “solid, belly-filling sammie” and the “great beers” include Indiana Amber or Cockerham’s suggestion, Gnaw Bone Pale Ale.
I’ll also mention that if you make the pilgrimage up to Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo (Bellsbeer.com, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave.) right before you cross the Michigan border, check out the Hall of Heroes (58005 County Road 105 in Elkhart) a superhero museum, as well as the RV/Mobile Home Hall of Fame (21565 Executive Parkway), but be careful: We all know RVing and drinking don’t mix.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.