KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – East Tennessee is known for many things including the Vol and the Smoky Mountains, but did you know there’s a special way to make sandwiches?
Steamed sandwiches came to prominence in the region in the 1970s, thanks to restaurants like Sam & Andy’s and Vic & Bill’s. If you have never had a steamed sandwich, you might be envisioning a soggy-breaded sandwich with fixings in-between. However, the bread absorbs the steam to blend all of the flavors together (bread, meat, cheese and condiments) in one single bite.
But why exactly did East Tennesseans develop a fondness for steamed sandwiches?
Others places like New York and Florida also had their own versions of a steamed sandwich, but it it never caught fire like it did here in the Volunteer State.
Jack Neely, a local historian and executive director of the Knoxville History Project, believes that quality and the quickness of consumption attributed to the success of steamed sandwiches.
“I think you can eat them faster than you could a dry bread sandwich. Just like in hot dog eating contests, you moisten the bread to make it go down quicker. I think people were often in a hurry to get to football games or nightclubs. They would just want to fill their stomachs with something and eat it quickly. You didn’t spend a lot of time with a steamed sandwich. It’s something you can eat quickly, but it’s also filling and tasty,” Neely said.
There are several places in East Tennessee where you can pick up this type of sandwich. Parton’s Deli in Gatlinburg is famous for serving them. Gus’s Good Times Deli has been serving them up near the University of Tennessee campus for over 40 years. Nixon’s Deli has served them throughout Knoxville since the 70s.
In Knoxville, the tradition can be tasted at Sam & Andy’s. Owner Chris Captain believes that is the reason Sam & Andy’s has been a beloved part of the area for all these years. The restaurant has racked up a slew of awards for their sandwiches over their 75-year history, has always kept the same products and process for making these subs.
“People just gather to [steamed sandwiches]. Before a UT ball game, you would be on Cumberland Avenue eating a steamed sandwich at Sam & Andy’s. No matter where we [have been located], the support of the community has been tremendous,” said Captain. He continued, “If you’ve never had a steamed sandwich, it’s definitely an experience. It’s a Southern thing, but it’s an experience.”
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If you have a taste for steamed sandwiches, you can head over to Sam & Andy’s to get your fix. Sam & Andy’s is located at 2613 West Adair in Fountain City, and they are open everyday (Mondays-Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). To find out more about their steamed sandwich selection and other items on their menu, you can head to the Sam & Andy’s website for more information.