I had my first slaw-'mato sandwich in 2006, on a summer trip to see my Memaw and Papaw in Blairsville, GA. Walking through a downtown summer festival I passed a tomato-and-coleslaw sandwich stand. To be clear, it was less a "stand" and more a "folding table covered by a vinyl tablecloth next to a Chrysler PT Cruiser charity raffle." While I did not win a PT Cruiser that day, the gift I received was far more valuable. The couple making sandwiches behind that folding table gave me the first of what would quickly become my favorite summer sandwich—a delicious enhancement of the summer classic tomato-and-mayo number.
As I handed the wife a dollar, the husband set to work assembling my sandwich. On a decidedly non-sustainable styrofoam plate, he laid two slices of industrial white bread, slapped down a layer of mayo, and nestled a generous tomato disc on top. Moving quickly, he scooped on some fine-cut creamy coleslaw, lightly sprinkled some salt and pepper, and dashed on some Texas Pete hot sauce before closing the sandwich. He passed it over to me with some paper towels and a warning, "Move quickly; that won't last."
He wasn't wrong, on two counts. Yes, the coleslaw and tomato juices immediately penetrated the soft white bread and made those paper towels deeply necessary. But also? I inhaled that sandwich. I immediately ordered another and watched his sandwich building technique more closely. Turns out, these people weren't food professionals—they just grew lots of tomatoes in their garden every summer and came down to the festival to share their favorite treat with their neighbors.
The first time I had a slaw-'mato sandwich, I assumed it was a summer treat widely-beloved by all, but new to me. But when I searched for "tomato coleslaw sandwich," and every possible iteration of that phrase, I came back with nothing. Had these sandwich geniuses invented a perfect summer delicacy on their own? Did I imagine that entire interaction? Had I entertained tomato angels without realizing it? And where did they get the idea to put coleslaw on a tomato sandwich, anyway? Sure, Carolina-style BBQ sandwiches get topped with slaw, but still, this broke whole new boundaries.
Though I can't thank them by name, I honor the work of these sandwich pioneers by making as many slaw-'mato sandwiches as I can, for as long as I can, each summer. My humble requests as you make your own tomato coleslaw sandwiches:
1. Find the best tomatoes you can. I'm talking big slices of beautiful heirloom tomatoes. No halved cherry tomatoes. The magic of this sandwich only works when tomatoes are at their peak and the weather is hot. Please don't try and force this in the winter.
2. Don't get fancy with the bread. Ideally, it's soft white bread with crusts that are distinguishable from the rest of the slice only in color. Whole grains have no place here.
3. Make your own slaw. This sandwich is so damn simple, you owe it to yourself to make the slaw. In my mind, the slaw should be creamy and chopped fine, but I'm open. If you don't already have a favorite slaw, check out our very own Anna Stockwell's handy guide to making coleslaw without a recipe.
I find that slaw-'mato sandwiches pair well with something salty and crunchy, like a mountain of thin-cut potato chips. But hey don't pack well, and would make an awful beach lunch. After all, these are treats with a time limit. A tomato-coleslaw sandwich is special for the same reasons summer is. You wait all year for it, there's a very short window of time in which to enjoy it, and when it's gone—you just want more.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious