Tucson is home to the Sonoran hot dog and chimichanga, but it is also a place to get some great club sandwiches. Be it from a diner with countertop seating or a bistro replete with white tableclothed tables, I have eaten my share of clubs over the years in a variety of locations. It’s a hard job but somebody has to do it.
The late great comedian Mitch Hedberg had a classic bit about the club sandwich.
“I always get the club sandwich and I am not even a member.”
Then in that quick yet lazy drawl of his, Mitch plays an imaginary back and forth.
“I like three slices of bread on my sandwich.” “So do I!” “How do you feel about frilly toothpicks?” “I am for them!” “Let’s form a club.”
I ate my first club sandwich in the late ‘70s from a coffee shop in Eagle Rock, California. Sure, it’s normally a lunchtime staple but why not enjoy one for dinner? If your club has ham added to it that kind of suppers it up, right? Heck, it traditionally features bacon and toast so there have been many a morning when I have eaten that triple-decker cut twice and formed into a circle with either chips, fries, or potato salad placed in the middle sandwich for breakfast.
Now, the list you are about to scroll through isn’t exactly a Top 10, but it is a compilation of some of the best club sandwiches I have had over the past few months. If at the end of this post you find your head twitching while loudly muttering “Hey! What? But you forgot…”, rest easy, dear reader of Tucson Foodie. After the holidays, I am continuing my quest for a “part two” and any and all suggestions are welcome. In fact, this catalog of clubs is going in alphabetical order to prove even more squareness between the triangular sliced obsession of mine.
There was only one true stipulation going into this post: the sandwich had to be called a club. Some examples of sandwiches I didn’t include had names like the Triple Threat, the Ivan Drago, Towering Turkey Hero, or the Manly Ham Stack. All fine, all clubs by description, but they weren’t called a club sandwich.
Ironically enough, the club at the Arizona Inn was my last stop on this sandwich vision quest but first on the tally here. Chef Aron Fonte-Grushka has elevated the club game to a whole new level with his creation. This sandwich is beautiful and so much fun to eat — really big, too. When people ask me what’s the difference between club sandwich A and club sandwich B, my answer is always the quality of ingredients, care of the product, and how fat they pile on the goods. No fries or chips here, but rather a refreshing salad with house vinaigrette and seasonal produce. The Audubon Bar and Patio at the Arizona Inn is super comfy with a very impressive spirits selection. This club sandwich could be best enjoyed with a Del Bac whiskey, on a cushy couch, and listening to live piano music. Yes, I’d like to sign up for the “I’ll See You Again Tomorrow” forever package, please.
For more information, visit arizonainn.com.
Before delving into the madness of eating club sandwiches on the regular, I had a good amount of people telling me where to go, some even being chain restaurants. National chains? No. Local? Absolutely. Curt’s Club at Beyond Bread has always been one of my go-to's. There is a location right up the street from the house and when I’m feelin’ the club, but don’t want to make the trek too far, you can bet I’m at the “double B” on Campbell Avenue. It has never disappointed after all of these years and that is exactly why Curt’s Club is part of this club sandwich club.
For more information, visit beyondbread.com.
And here is where things are about to get weird. Now, Bison Witches on Fourth Avenue is the flagship restaurant, seeing as it was up in the Phoenix area for a spell and has spread to the likes of Lincoln, Nebraska and Norman, Oklahoma. But Tucson had you first, Bison. At the suggestion of a barkeep long ago, I got their club on a baguette and, child, I have not looked back since. White, wheat, sourdough, rye, and (sure) multi-grain are all fine choices of bread for your club but have you considered the baguette? Well, please do. When you visit the Witches and are craving the club, try your hand at the tubular soft bun-like glory that is not cut twice but just once. This sandwich rules.
For more information, visit bisonwitches.com.
Marcus Van Winden, chef and owner of The Dutch, has obviously thought deeply about the concept of the club, deconstructed it, reconstructed it, broke down the rudiments, stared into the void for longer than necessary, and then fabricated a sandwich that is both traditional and futuristic. Remember me saying a great aspect of a stupendous club is “piling on the goods?” Well, this turkey, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and cheese apogee, accompanied by a smattering of some of the best fries ever, literally haunts me in my dreams. Have you ever bit into something so yummy before your eyes roll back and your knees buckle because of the sheer glory dancing on your teeth and taste buds? Yeah. This.
For more information, visit thedutchtucson.com.
You go to Elliott’s on Congress for the infused vodkas that infuriate, tantalize, or totally eviscerate your palate(in the best way possible), but then you stay for those addictive parmesan cheese and garlic butter fries. Those stringy champions challenge and in the end you lose by totally winning. Just give in. Yes, order another shot. Wait, does your club sandwich involve marinated duck rather than turkey or ham? That is insane. The Duck Club at Elliott’s is sweet, tangy, jovial, and a complete blast to get acquainted with. This entry is going to be the “richest” on the lot but rest assured, after a few cocktails concocted with horseradish or jalapeño steeped vodka, Elliott’s club has your back. That’s usually been the case for me.
For more information, visit elliottsoncongress.com.
Franks was actually the inspiration for getting me started on this Tucson club sandwich rant. When I was tasked to cover the 40th anniversary of this breakfast and lunch institution under the reign of owner Mark Smith, I immediately knew I had to order their club sandwich. That’s how I generally judge a diner such as Franks — the merit of their club sandwich. It’s like going to a well-established Italian joint and the spaghetti marinara isn't that great. Well, I am more than ecstatic to say that Franks does the club sandwich correctly. By the way, in a place like Franks, always order a coffee with any meal. It just feels, well, correct to eat an iconic sandwich with a cup of strong coffee poured by a server that has been working there for decades. It’s just so gosh darn American — I can hear bald eagles screeching in the distance.
For more information, visit franksrestaurant.com.
The storied history of Gus Balon's is so cool that getting there, miles away from the homestead, to eat the club sandwich, makes the trip very worth it. Did you know that Balon's was associated with the Greek mafia for years? It’s an interesting supposition but owner and chef Kelli Phillips just laughs it off. I’m not one to go into details about that hype but I will attest that the club sandwich is dope. It's clean and simple, it’s a club, it’s there for you, and be sure to eat that side of coleslaw. Plus, those historic pictures on the wall there add to the whole mystique of that slice of club heaven held between your fingers. That experience always brings a smile to my chubby, clubby-loving face.
For more information, follow Gus Balon's on Facebook.
When seeking out a pure vegan club sandwich, I like to avoid a “meat” element that was created using a mad scientist chemistry set. Lovin’ Spoonfuls encompasses a well-seasoned chick’un patty wafting in glorious modesty of unwanted complications. Plus, what I said earlier about multi-grain bread for said club sandwiches with an air of cynicism can be tossed straight into the bin. Everything that goes into Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ vegan club sandwich, including its bread, works on levels that would make a mad scientist furrow its brow and scratch their head. This is just a wonderful and craveable club sandwich, actual meat-centered or not. Again, like Beyond Bread, Lovin’ Spoonfuls is in my ‘hood so I am greeted with a smiling “You again?” approach when I walk through the doors. If you’re a regular, it’s likely you’ve seen me in there. Also, I’m not scorned at the tempeh bacon and housemade vegan mayo either.
For more information, visit lovinspoonfuls.com.
For absolute funzies, I had the honor of writing about the fare at the bar and grill, sometimes mistaken for a strip club, known as The Red Garter. Hands down, The Red Garter serves some of the best food in Tucson. No, really. The burgers are stunning and the drinks are potent, but the club at the Red Garter — oh, sweet gods of a BLT gone three-tiered meta unit — is sheer perfection. With flat screens and a projection screen airing Wildcat and Cardinals games, they know that you will need yet another beer along with a sandwich to help with the ensuing table thumping heard while watching our teams do what they do. The club sandwich at the Red Garter is that flavor phrase you share on Instagram or immediately text to a friend because this meaty magnus triumphs in the midtown score. Oh, and get the club with tater tots. Because when an amazing bar and grill offers you tater tots the only rational response is to scream “Yes!”
For more information, visit redgartertucson.com.
Not only is today National Sandwich Day (November 3), but it is also a Thursday, and you know what that means, don’t you? Of course. It’s the day when the club sandwich at the Sausage Shop is the sandwich special of the day. This corner meat market on Prince Avenue is the kind of counter deli and butcher shop normally stumbled upon in a small Midwest town, and we of the Old Pueblo fold are fond and appreciative to have them here. The Sausage Shop club sandwich is a marvel mainly because the utilitzed turkey and bacon come from their own collection of locally sourced ranches. Lots of folks want to join this club because there’s lots of love for the Sausage Shop. Its wall of sandwich options is staggering but one of the standouts is most definitely the club. That’s why the restaurant dedicates a day just for it! We’re familiar with Taco Tuesday but what about Turkey Club Thursday? Having a club sandwich from the Sausage Shop will inspire us westerners to embrace the universally accepted siesta because your belly will be happy, and when you wake up you’re just going to want another club sandwich. Simple as that.
For more information, follow the Sausage Shop on Facebook.
Stay tuned for Mark's "part two" of this guide. In the meantime, keep an eye out for him as he hunts down more delicious club sandwiches throughout the city.
Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine...