Monday, June 15, 2009


I only eat them in the summer. It’s a simple and classic sandwich but demands the best ingredients to be successful: vine-ripened tomatoes—preferably home grown; crispy, smoked bacon; and crunchy head lettuce leaves stacked between freshly toasted bread with plenty of quality mayo.

I only eat them in the summer because of the tomatoes. For me, tomatoes are the fruition of the season. To be sure, those hard, green things sold in winter have improved in recent years. But the perfect bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich is naught but shear fantasy without a flawless tomato—red and ripe, firm but juicy and properly acidic.

It’s not that I don’t care about the other ingredients. Thickly sliced, applewood-smoked bacon is my favorite but other varieties will suffice so long as probably cooked—tomatoes are soft, so the bacon shouldn’t be. I prefer head lettuce to field greens—it holds up better on the sandwich. Toasted home-style bread—white or whole wheat—is preferable to the squishy, mass produced stuff. I also don’t like French bread that’s so hard it breaks your jaw. The mayonnaise doesn’t have to be homemade but real (no brand endorsement implied). You can, however, easily obtain all of these ingredients all year long.

I grew up eating bacon and lettuce tomato sandwiches. My mother made them, of course, but I didn’t like the Miracle Whip she used instead of mayonnaise. Since she didn’t much care for meat, she made a much more successful vegetarian version, substituting peanut butter for the bacon. It sounds like a weird combination, but I still occasionally put one together just for nostalgia sake and have to admit I always enjoy it. The sandwich was standard fare at luncheonettes which every drug stores and dime store had. I can still remembers sitting at the serpentine counter, chubby legs dangling in the great void between stool and floor, slurping a Green River phosphate and nibbling on a BLT. It was a time when a sandwich was more likely made on toast rather than a bun … and a wrap was only an article of clothing.

The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich today is most often something consumed at home, but there are several restaurants here that take the art form seriously. Here is my list of Best of Madison BLTs:

Classic BLT: The Old Fashioned. You won’t find it on the regular menu but only as a daily special when Heirloom tomatoes are in season. The best tomatoes ever matched with fine, hickory-smoked bacon from Bavaria Sausage on toasted country bread.

Foodie’s BLT: Marigold Kitchen. Scrap the lettuce and substitute arugula plus some whipped cream and pepper jelly on their signature rosemary bread.

Fishy BLT: Bluephies. So they call it a crab sandwich but it’s really a BLT with crab, guacamole and chipotle aioli. Yum!

Vegetarian BLT: Monty’s Blue Plate. Marinated and grilled tempeh strips with lettuce, tomato and cumin-chipotle mayo served on toasted jalapeño-cheddar cheese bread. Where’s the meat? Who cares?

Best Club Sandwich: Nick’s. One of Madison’s oldest diners piles up a traditional club, a double-decker BLT with the addition of sliced home-style roasted turkey.

1 comment:

Kyle/thebookpolice said...

I'm not sure you can craft a list like this and not include Alchemy Cafe's BLFT. Hot, savory, straddling the line between decadence and prudence, huge and relatively cheap.

My BLT-loving significant other says it's her favorite BLT since the days of Radical Rye.