There are many cities in the United States that have a signature sandwich, or claim to. My goal is to one day try them all. For some reason, when I recently had a layover in Cleveland, I was convinced that Cleveland’s claim to sandwich fame was the “Hot Brown.” It wasn’t until I returned home and looked up the history of the Hot Brown for a refresher that I was reminded it is actually Kentucky’s signature sandwich, not Cleveland’s. Nevertheless, I was able to find a type of Hot Brown represented at Cleveland International, and adopted a “when in Rome” attitude toward the endeavor.
A bit of background info on the “Hot Brown”: traditionally, this is an open-faced sandwich with turkey and bacon, covered in a bechamel cheese sauce and broiled until the sauce is browned. Leaving aside the obvious fact that an open-faced sandwich is not a sandwich, the “Big Nasty” on offer at McAlister’s Deli is a Hot Brown in spirit only, similar to how a Twinkie could be viewed as a type of eclair.
“The Big Nasty” is roast beef and cheese piled atop a quartered foot-long baguette, and the diner is presented with a tub of gravy to pour on top, and a knife and fork with which to consume the beast. I could have attempted to assemble the bread quarters into a couple of makeshift “gravy-dip” sandwiches, but that is not what we do here. It is our business to consume menu items as presented, and as intended, be they sandwich or merely masquerading as one. I am pleased to report that, although far from being a sandwich (and looking like a horror show), “The Big Nasty” — as is the case with many truly indulgent foods — tasted miles better than it looked. The baguette was fresh and withstood the dampness of the endeavor, the roast beef was tasty and plentiful, and the gravy was wonderful and tied everything together. Not a sandwich, not a Hot Brown, and not in the correct city, but I feel I made the right choice.