The One Thing Anthony Bourdain Couldn't Stand About Club Sandwiches

What's the deal with the extra slice of bread in a club sandwich? It's a question for the ages. Even world traveler and adventurous eater extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain found it confusing, musing to the Los Angeles Times in 2016, "I'm really irritated by that useless middle slice of bread on the club sandwich. It's been there forever; it's not a trend. It's lasted for decades and why, when we can so easily dispense with it." According to Thrillist, the late chef, author, and television was consistent about his disdain for the third piece of bread in a club sandwich, ranking it No. 2 on his list of "7 Crimes Against Food."

To be clear, Bourdain's dislike of the club sandwich had nothing to do with the ingredients. It was the construction of the multi-tier sandwich — and the tendency for the layers to slip-slide in opposite directions — that triggered his ire. And love it or hate it, anyone who's ever struggled to eat a club sandwich while fumbling to keep the layers of bread, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise aligned knows from experience that it's a structural nightmare.

What's the point of the third slice of bread?

Some reports suggest the club sandwich originated as a between-meal snack served to peckish patrons whiling away the afternoon in the lofty confines of late-19th-century men's clubs. That may explain the name, but it doesn't account for the extra slice of bread. Even early-20th-century cookbooks describe the club as a sandwich with fillings layered between two pieces of toast. Some food historians believe the Pennsylvania Railroad added slice No. 3 in the 1930s as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the multi-level club cars where it was served to travelers in transit while others believe it was incorporated simply to separate the fillings.

Whatever its genesis, Bourdain wasn't alone in his disdain for the middle slice of bread. According to What's Cooking America, iconic chef, author, and culinary instructor James Beard bemoaned the bastardization of the creation he once called "one of the great sandwiches of all time." In his 1972 cookbook, "James Beard's American Cookery," Beard wrote, "Nowdays the sandwich is bastardized because it is usually made as a three-decker, which is not authentic (whoever started that horror should be forced to eat three-deckers three times a day the rest of his life)."