Debunking the Earl of Sandwich

The reality can't match the hype in "The Original 1762." And neither bears any resemblance to the original sandwich eaten by the fourth Earl. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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.

The first New York location; there are already four branches in Florida, four in Texas, and one in Nevada.

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."

The interior seems very British.

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My Voice Nation Help

This is the worst sandwich shop I have ever visited.Greasy, revolting sandwiches, indescribably awful soup (oh ok I'll try - tapeworms floating in salty phleghm...) and the service would have been faster if a pair of limbless otters had been behind the counter, and friendlier if Jeffrey Dahmer had greeted us. 

I am British. It does not look British at all.  There's not even a picture of the Queen.

"Earl of Sandwich" has now become a by-word for anything spectacularly sub-standard in our house.  Thank goodness I live in London and don't ever have to see this place again.


Be fair -- I didn't spit it out.  But I didn't take a second bite either.  I'm very sensitive about how I'm portrayed in the media, after I shut down that pizza place with a flippant word.

Furthermore: "Our secret is to bake the bread when you order"  How fucking long does THAT take??? 


Ma-and-pa can't afford that rent. Blame the lower crime rates & revitalization of Manhattan. At least someone is coming in to occupy the space and hire some people.


Too true -- and then sending all the profits out of town.

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