A dressed shrimp po' boy sits on a cutting board. It is dripping gravy

A History of American Sandwiches, Where to Sample in Denver

Clyde’s Sandwiches

At Clyde’s, Lynn Nottage’s fictional diner, the motley kitchen crew dishes out fantastical sandwiches. You’ll crave the skirt steak with peach chutney on a cheddar biscuit. In other words, eating before attending a performance in the Kilstrom Theatre is recommended.

Clyde’s serves plenty of classic sandwiches, too, like a tuna melt or grilled cheese. America is credited with the creation of many of these traditional kitchen staples, including but definitely not limited to those listed below. If you’re interested in a little history lesson, or just want to know where you can grab a lobster roll in Denver before seeing Clyde’s, this list will set you in the right direction.

Click the sandwiches below to learn more.


For a sandwich containing only three ingredients, the history of the peanut butter and jelly stretches back for generations. The sandwich became popular during World War II, when both peanut butter and jelly were on the U.S. Military ration menus. It was a relatively inexpensive, high protein meal that was easy to make and appealed to small children.

Before the war, peanut butter was actually considered a delicacy. It was featured on menus in upscale restaurants and tea rooms, served with watercress or pimento. Peanut butter was popularized in the late 1800’s after Dr. Ambrose Straub in Missouri patented a peanut butter-making machine. This creamy, not-so-sticky, mass-produced peanut butter may have been a new invention, but peanut butter, or ground peanut paste, existed as early as 1200 AD.

In modern times, PB&J takes all forms in the United States. For those with peanut allergies, varieties of nut butters are available. Those partial to strawberry, raspberry, grape, or even pomegranate jam can find a jar in a local grocer. Restaurants will often serve their own variations on the classic during breakfast or brunch – PB&J French toast, pancakes, bagel sandwiches, and more.

In Denver, try The Lightweight at Bodega, available on their weekend brunch menu. It’s served with peanut butter, seasonal jam, and a walnut oat crumble.

Two slices of bread, each featuring peanut butter and jelly. A butter knife is resting on top.

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While impossible to verify, the history of Nashville hot chicken is a bit…scandalous. James Thornton Prince returned home late one evening to his suspicious, angry girlfriend. In an attempt to get even, she fried up some of his favorite chicken with a secret ingredient: a shocking amount of cayenne pepper. In a comical turn of events, Prince loved the meal and asked for seconds.

After perfecting the recipe, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack opened in 1945. The restaurant is still operating today, run by Prince’s niece. The hot chicken trend has swept the nation in recent history, but Nashville has held the gold standard for this blazing hot sandwich for decades. Some restaurants will use a dry seasoning mix and others will use a sauce – some use both. The fried chicken is almost always served on a white bun with pickles.

If you’re not accustomed to spicy food (and Nashville hot truly means appallingly hot) there’s a tamer option available across Denver at Denver Biscuit Company. All sandwiches on their menu can be customized to be “Nashville hot.”

Three Nashville hot chicken sandwiches lined up for their beauty shot

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Have you heard the phrase “chicken and lettuce under bacon”? Well…it’s a clever expression, but not a true description of the club sandwich. A club sandwich essentially describes a cold cut sandwich with additional toppings, and it can vary from region to region, or even from restaurant to restaurant.

The origins of the sandwich can be traced back to elite social clubs in New York during the late 1800’s. Several establishments claim to have invented the sandwich, but there is no way of knowing who was truly first. Today, the club sandwich traditionally contains chicken or turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. However, club sandwiches are found on menus across the United States, and each may have its own combination or twist.

At Steuben’s, a classic American-style diner in Denver, the Turkey Club contains all the traditional ingredients. The club sandwich is also a simple recipe to tackle in your own kitchen, and all the ingredients are readily available at any supermarket.

A triangularly sliced club sandwich on a large plate with french fries

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The backbone of New Orleans cuisine, the “poor boy,” or po’ boy sandwich, has distinct cultural origins. It is widely believed that during a streetcar conductor strike in 1929, Clovis and Bennie Martin, brothers who owned a French Quarter restaurant, started providing sandwiches to the strikers free of charge. As the strike lasted for months, the brothers would call out “here comes another poor boy’” when a striker turned up for a meal. Then, the name stuck.

These original po’ boys were made with roast beef, fried potatoes, and gravy on French bread. Now, po’ boys come in all varieties, from oysters to catfish to chicken. Some places offer ‘dressed’ po’ boys, meaning they’re served with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise.

Nola Jane in downtown Denver offers a list of po’ boys to choose from: roast beef with gravy, fried Cajun shrimp, smoked alligator sausage, and even a vegetarian eggplant po’ boy.

A dressed shrimp po' boy sits on a cutting board. It is dripping gravy

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The cheesesteak was perfected in Philadelphia, PA – but the iconic sandwich is recognized all over the country. Two brothers are credited with the invention, Pat and Harry Olivieri, who ran a hot dog stand in South Philly in the 1930s. Legend has it that the OG sandwich didn’t actually have cheese! Provolone was added in the 1940s.

Die-hard cheesesteak fans will tell you the perfect cheesesteak recipe…and each recipe will be different. At its core, a cheesesteak should feature steak, grilled onions, and provolone cheese. Many include peppers, from bell peppers to banana peppers to hot peppers. Some include toppings such as lettuce or tomato. Some classic Philly restaurants serve it with Cheez Whiz. One thing will always be the same: the roll. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside to soak up all the juices.

In Denver, check out Little Arthur’s Hoagies. There isn’t a brick-and-mortar location, so visit Instagram for his pop-up schedule: @littlearthurshoagies. He serves all kinds of variations on the classic cheesesteak.

A melty cheesesteak with provolone, peppers, and meat

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The lobster roll is a staple of New England summers. Made with – you guessed it – fresh lobster, the sandwich slowly rose to fame between 1927 and the 1990s. No one is specifically credited with inventing the lobster roll, especially as fishermen were likely eating the readily available lobster in this form long before the sandwich truly came to be.

However, a restaurant called Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut perfected the lobster roll, even enlisting a nearby baker to create a special roll for these takeout sandwiches. The trend caught on and spread throughout the eastern seaboard. Now, people have deep allegiances to two different forms of the sandwich: the Maine lobster roll and the Connecticut lobster roll.

The Maine lobster roll is a hot dog-style bun, filled with fresh chunks of lobster, lightly dressed with mayonnaise. Sometimes celery is added for a little crunch. The Connecticut lobster roll is served warm, with butter-dressed lobster in a toasted, New England style bun.

Maine Shack, with locations in Denver and Boulder, serves up many variations on the lobster roll – including both a Maine and Connecticut version.

A fresh lobster roll topped with chopped herbs. Served on a plate with fries.

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Before diving into the history of the sloppy joe, another sandwich must be mentioned. Throughout the Midwest, and especially in Iowa, the loose-meat sandwich is a culinary tradition. Dating back to 1926, the classic Maid-Rite sandwich was created in Muscatine, Iowa. It’s made solely with ground beef (no sauce!), served on a bun with your choice of pickles, chopped onions, cheese, or mustard.

The sloppy joe was developed from these humble origins in the 1930s, just by adding a tomato sauce to the ground beef. The official location of its origin is a bit murky. In Sioux City, Iowa, a cook named Joe added the sauce to his loose-meat sandwich. In Key West, Florida, a restaurant called Sloppy Joe’s (because the restaurant was a mess – not because of the sandwich) served up sauced loose-meat sandwiches.

The sloppy joe is a popular sandwich in the Midwest, but not so common in other regions. Try a dressed-up version in Denver at Smokin’ Yards BBQ, where a Brisket Sloppy Joe is sometimes available.

An overflowing sloppy joe sandwich on a simple white hamburger bun.

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While neither bagels nor lox were invented in the United States, Jewish New Yorkers were the first to combine them. In the 1930s, eggs benedict, a classic brunch dish featuring ham or bacon, poached eggs, and a creamy Hollandaise sauce on an English muffin, was all the rage across New York. Unfortunately, the Jewish community couldn’t eat it, as it isn’t kosher. A bagel with lox was considered an ideal substitute.

It’s a highly customizable meal, but each element should be executed to perfection. The bagel should be a New York style bagel, but can be your preferred savory option: sesame, everything, poppy seed, whole meal, etc. The bagel can be covered with your favorite “schmear” or cream cheese. Then, on goes the lox, which is cured salmon (not smoked salmon). Lastly, the sandwich can be topped with red onion, capers, and/or tomato.

For a classic bagel and lox, visit one of Rosenberg’s locations in Denver. You can customize your own sandwich or order the Standard from the fish sandwiches menu.

A row of open faced bagels topped with lox, red onion, and capers

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The history of the Reuben is hotly contested. It’s a sandwich made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on dark rye bread. Nevertheless, it’s worth fighting over.

In the 1920s, Bernard Schimmel slapped together the first Reuben during a card game at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, when a player requested a snack. In the opposite corner of the boxing ring is Arnold Reuben, credited with creating the sandwich at a New York deli in 1914. Well, the years might signal who the true originator is. However, the plot thickens.

The 1914 Reuben contained ham, cheese, turkey, coleslaw, and dressing. Where’s the corned beef and sauerkraut? Well, a professional cookbook cites the official recipe for the Reuben in 1941, where it contains the signature corned beef and sauerkraut. Yet, the earliest printed mention of the Reuben at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha turned up in 1934.

No matter which side you take, the Reuben is a delicious sandwich and that we can all agree on. Try it in Denver at Leven Deli, where they offer several variations on the classic. You can order a pastrami Reuben, a Rachel (similar to the 1914 Reuben recipe), or a vegetarian Reuben made with smoked beets.

A sliced Reuben sandwich stacked up high. The cheese is melting out of the bread

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Named after France, but originating in the United States, is the French dip sandwich. Whether you believe it was created at Philippe’s or Cole’s, it was definitely invented in Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

Both Phillippe’s and Cole’s restaurants have claimed the origin of the sandwich, but the stories are fairly similar. As legend tells it, each restaurant was serving up roast beef sandwiches, when the roll fell into the beef juices. The soggy sandwich was served to the customer, and the French dip was born.

Traditionally, the sandwich contains only sliced roast beef and is dipped or served with a sauce of meat drippings, or au jus (in French, which literally translates to “with juice”). Many restaurants will also serve the sandwich with melted cheese, hot peppers, and other condiments like spicy mustard.

In Denver, you can try a French dip at American Elm. It’s served with shaved ribeye, horseradish aioli, and au jus.

A french dip sandwich about to be dunked into a bowl of drippings

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