I ate it for the first time at the counter of a tiny diner, somewhere in Center City Philadelphia, sometime in 1983 (at least I think it was 1983—it was a long time ago). I was there with my friend Jeff Hunt to play in the Eastern Regionals of the US Chess Championship (3rd in my division, which I’ll admit was the lowest, thank you very much). One of the things I remember most vividly about the trip was a guy walking right up to me while I was standing in line at the hotel coffee shop and trying to sell me some cocaine. No sideways glances, no checking for the fuzz (did we still call them that by then?), no fear. “Hey man, you wanna buy some coke?”
My declination of such a generous offer notwithstanding, the most enduring memory of that trip (besides the $900 I won, which was basically infinite money back then) was the sandwich at that little diner.
Bacon and cream cheese.
It’s been my favorite sandwich ever since. I don’t eat it all the time, but when I want one, I really want one. It’s usually after a few days of eating vegetarian or limited amounts of anything with fat in it, and my body is screaming for bacony goodness.
I’ve never before adulterated the sandwich: always just bacon, cream cheese, and bread. Not too long ago, it occurred to me it could be quite a platform. I’d like to brainstorm a little on how we might dress it up and make it suitable for serving to the Monday Night Gamers. My only question is which of these choices do I try out first before putting it in front of someone else?
Jelly/Jam: Adding a level of sweetness could really turn the sandwich on its ear. Apple seems like the right choice off the top my head. One of my friends made an apple/pear/cinnamon jelly that I’m definitely going to try with it. I’m going to consider cranberry sauce as a jelly here, both the stuff in the can and something chunkier and homemade. Is there such thing as Bourbon jelly? That’d be AWESOME.
Hot Pepper Relish: People pour hot pepper relish on top of cream cheese and serve it as an appetizer. The addition of the heat to go along with the smoke of the bacon seems like a match made in heaven.
Avocado: You can’t really go too wrong with avocado. Add a nice, fatty, ripe one to mirror the fattiness of the bacon, and we’re off to the races.
Maple Syrup: I’m not sure how I’d make this into a sandwich that you didn’t have to eat with knife and fork, but I know lots of folks love maple syrup with bacon. It’s probably a little too sweet for my tastes, but you never know.
Nutella: It came to mind. Chocolate and bacon is the all rage. It’s an idea I tossed for myself almost immediately, but it might really resonate with the Nutella lovers out there.
Tomato: I’m not sure how the acidity in the tomato would play with the cream cheese, but I’d be willing to give it a try.
Mustard: I’m thinking a nice, earthy stone-ground mustard, the kind with the seeds still in it. Straight Dijon might be too far over the top, but again, I’m willing to take one for the team.
Arugula: I’m often worried that we use it as too much of a go-to element, but the peppery freshness of arugula would be an outstanding addition here. Adding it to another spicy element, like the hot pepper relish, we could really be onto something. It’d certainly also go with the avocado.
The bacon and cream cheese sandwich. Solid in its own right, and a platform for experimentation. As those experiments happen, I’ll be sure to let you know what worked and what didn’t.