The first class of inductees to this HOF are the icons, the only-in-Cincinnati choices, the old-fashioned and stalwart as well as some newer inventions that other cities haven't gotten hold of yet. And if it's been featured on a national TV show, it's in the Hall of Fame.
Some of these are really more categories of sandwiches, some are specific to one restaurant.
These are the two pieces of bread on which we will build the Sandwich Hall of Fame. Future inductees will be the fillings, the condiments, the pickles on the side. And if you have a favorite Cincinnati sandwich that you feel deserves inclusion, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The chili sandwich
Not exactly a sandwich, but that's what it's called, so of course it makes it to a Cincinnati classic sandwich hall of fame. If you've never had the pleasure, it's a coney dog without the dog. Just chili and cheese in a bun. This one's from Skyline, but of course you can get it at the chili parlor of your choosing.
The quintessential Cincinnati sandwich, usually found in the same places that serve chili. They are a retro stunt sandwich, a sandwich with another sandwich on top! Three pieces of bread! How cool is that? Once that imaginative leap was made to create the double decker, it didn't get much more imaginative. Most double-deckers are on toasted white bread, with two meats or salads: turkey and egg, turkey and bacon, ham and tuna, salami and cheese - plus lettuce, tomato and mayo if you want. It's a lot of meat and a true Cincinnati experience.
This is a sub-category of the double-decker, made with roast beef, ham, cheese, tomato and mayo. There is dispute as to who invented it, but Price Hill Chili does a classic. It's the right surroundings, too. Or try it at Blue Ash Chili as well.
The fish sandwich
This becomes something of an obsession in this burg during Lent. Fried fish (usually cod), tartar sauce, and rye bread. It's that rye bread that places this sandwich right here.
Pretty hard to pin down the best in town, but there are definitely bad, good and better versions. There are variations in the type of fish, how crisp the breading is, how well it keeps its crunch in the sandwich, and whether it's light-seeded rye or dark pumpernickel, for starters.
Some of the traditional leaders in this category are The Green Derby in Newport and The Greyhound Tavern in Fort Mitchell. But you know who gives them a run for the money? Irish pubs. They already do fish and chips, all they have to do is put a piece on rye bread. For instance, Molly's Malone's in Covington.
I'm not saying it's the best in town, because I haven't had them all (though I wouldn't mind it). But it's good, with crisp coating, hot, fresh fish and the right kind of light bread. (Molly Malone's has a sister restaurant in Louisville, and they serve it there on "your choice of bread.")
The Izzy's Reuben
Is it the very best Reuben in town? Could be, though there are other strong candidates. But it's certainly the most famous Reuben in town. It used to be served by Izzy Kadetz himself, who charged what he thought you could afford. Now it can be had in any of the Izzy locations in town, and its cost depends on what's in it, since the original has been joined by fish and turkey and vegetarian "reubens."
The grilled cheese doughnut at Tom & Chee
It's a new classic. After all, it's been on TV. "Man v. Food Nation" loved it, and it was on the "Today" show's website. It comes in various combinations, but I like the classic (if you can call something only several years old a classic) - cheddar on a glazed doughnut. Savory/sweet, soft and melty.
The steamed sandwich from Gilpin's
Hungry students at Miami University of Ohio would for years make a stop at a certain bagel deli near campus, not always in the condition to deal with the chewiness of a bagel. But this deli obligingly steamed the bagel sandwiches, making them soft and pillowy and gummable. And a regional classic was born.
Brad Gilpin took the concept of a hot steamed sandwich and imported it to Cincinnati. Recently, the menu moved away from bagels and now many of the sandwiches are on pretzel buns. Ex-Miamians still love them. So do other people who've discovered the small Downtown shop. They still are great in the middle of the night, but obviously are appropriate at lunch, too.
The goetta sandwich
Ten years ago, goetta was eaten with eggs at breakfast. There's nothing wrong with that, because goetta with eggs is hard to beat. But now we're holding the goetta banner high. We are saying: "We're Cincinnatians and we're proud. Proud of our German oat-pork breakfast meat!"
So now, you can find goetta in burritos and fried rice, even in fudge at Goettafest. And in sandwiches, where it makes all kinds of sense. I like the goetta reuben at Colonial Cottage in Erlanger. (There's also the armagoetta sandwich at Tom & Chee, but HOF rules are one sandwich per restaurant.)
The pretzel sandwich
We're a German town. And what's German? Well, beer is, but to go with beer? Pretzels, naturlich. Servatii's soft pretzels are a popular feature of many local parties, and their pretzel buns make a good bun for a sandwich, substantial and sturdy with a little extra salt. Order them with any kind of deli meat and cheese. And they come with a few cookies on the side.
The Graeter's Chip Wheelie
Not a sandwich you would have for lunch. Or maybe you would. Why not? Notice it's not named as a sandwich, but in construction, it's no different than a ham on rye, so it's definitely eligible. They come in chocolate chip, black raspberry chocolate chip and double chocolate chip.
You know what would be really great? A double-decker chip wheelie.
Written by Polly Campbell, Food & Dining writer at Cincinnati Enquirer.