Debunking the Earl of Sandwich
The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, is broadly credited with having invented the sandwich. As the story goes, he was a heavy gambler, and in order to continue playing cards rather than go to supper, he ordered his manservant to simply stick some slices of cold roast beef (left over from dinner that day, one presumes) in between two slices of bread, thereby allowing himself to eat with one hand and hold his cards in the other. The bread also served as an edible napkin, keeping Montagu's hands clean so he wouldn't besmirch the cards.
That the sandwich was named after the Earl of Sandwich we can have no doubt. What is dubious is that he invented it. It seems to me that the idea of a sandwich is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon that many cultures can claim. Of course, you have to be flexible in your definition. I don't think, for example, of falafel in a pita as a sandwich. Or a stuffed-crust pizza. For the purpose of this original ur-definition, I'd say that a sandwich on a roll is not really a sandwich, either; it really should be two slices of bread cut from a common loaf.
Which is why I was perplexed at the new sandwich chain in town called EARL OF SANDWICH (typography theirs). Located just north of Rockefeller Center on 51st Street, within easy striking distance of MOMA, the first branch to hit NYC occupies some high-end real estate. (There will soon be another in the Wall Street area.) The Earl would have liked it that way. This fast-food establishment is so typical of the Age of Bloomberg, when not only have American-bred fast-food chains come to dominate certain parts of the city, now foreign chains are worming their way in, competing with the American chains for real estate that might have once been occupied by homegrown ma-and-pa eateries. We have been conquered wholesale in the fast-food department. Thanks, Mike.
Anyway, this ridiculous chain claims a direct connection with the Earl of Sandwich, via the 11th Earl of Sandwich, who sells out his name and reputation as a shill for fast food. Here is his signed statement on the website: "Our family knows about great sandwiches: we invented the sandwich and have been eating sandwiches since 1762. Using 250 years of experience, today we have set up EARL OF SANDWICH® to make delicious sandwiches for you. Our secret is to bake the bread when you order, roast our meats every morning and use the traditional family recipes. We are a family who loves making sandwiches and sincerely hope you enjoy eating them."