In The South, There's An Art To Making The Perfect Tomato Sandwich

Some summer foods are so perfect in their simplest form, it would be bordering on travesty to even think about adding a touch of this or a pinch of that in the name of elevating a classic. Such is the case with a fresh-from-the-garden tomato sandwich. In some parts of the United States, the deliciously straightforward sammie is the equivalent of summer on a plate — a nostalgic throwback to the easy, breezy, seemingly endless days of childhood memories. It's unclear — to us, anyway — why anyone would want to mess with perfection. But every year, just when garden tomatoes are approaching the perfect shade of ripeness, someone comes along with a list of suggestions meant to elevate the classic.

They'll tell you to try it on focaccia or sourdough bread. Add bacon and maybe a bit of lettuce. (Umm ... that's a BLT.) Maybe stack the tomatoes with cheese and basil. (Sounds more like Caprese on bread.) We've even heard of well-intentioned attempts to reinvent the classic as a po' boy. (The loaf was too crunchy.) And while some variations gain a following — Ina Garten's recipe with basil mayonnaise has a five-star rating on Food Network — the perfectly simple tomato sandwich popular throughout the southern United States will always be the winner in our books.

What's in an old-school Southern tomato sandwich?

Gwinnett Magazine, a regional publication covering North Atlanta news and lifestyle, recently turned to its readers for insight into what does — and maybe more importantly, what doesn't — go into a quintessential tomato sandwich. The final word, at least according to a reader survey? Two slices of white bread, an unpeeled, fresh-from-the-garden ripe tomato, black pepper, salt, and mayonnaise. That's it — pure and simple. Of course, there are nuances; the fresh white bread, never toasted, has to be so soft it "sticks to the back of your teeth," and it's always mayonnaise, never a mayo-ish alternative. The survey's respondents even debate on exactly which brand of mayonnaise is the go-to. Duke's is the No. 1 choice, followed by Hellmann's and Blue Plate.

In many respects, the simple combination of these ingredients is kind of a no-brainer. You have bread; you have fresh tomatoes; you have mayonnaise — voila! You have lunch. But every sandwich has its history, and it's pretty clear why this one has stood the test of time. (It's a pretty safe bet the tomato sandwich predates its first written reference, but the Virginia Chronicle is widely credited as the first publication to mention the summer delight in print — in 1911.) Try variations if you wish, but if you want to enjoy the tomato sandwich Southern-style, simple and classic is the way to go.