Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches is a lesson in history

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An Italian sub. —Marnely Murray

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” —James Beard

When faced with foods that have become a part of everyday life in America, I often wonder how and why they got to be so common. Thus I’m sharing a little history on sandwiches today, while I introduce you to one of the best sandwich shops on Island: Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches.

You might think the Earl of Sandwich was the first to mention the word “sandwich,” but the act of putting a filling between two pieces of a baked good was first recorded in the first century B.C., when the famous Hillel the Elder started the Passover custom of placing a mixture of chopped nuts and spices between two matzohs. This was to be eaten with bitter herbs, as a reminder of the suffering of the Jews.

Fast-forward to to the Middle Ages, where instead of plates, thick blocks of stale bread were used, called “trenchers.” The breads were piled high with meats, absorbing the grease. At the end of the meal, diners either ate the trenchers or threw them to the dogs. In 1762, the word “sandwich” first appeared in writing by English scholar Edward Gibbons. This was also about the time that John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, walked the world. Actually, “gambled” might be the correct verb to use. The man would gamble for hours at a time, refusing to get up even for meals. His valet would bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. Since nothing is a secret in gambling circles, the other men were quick to adopt “the same as Sandwich.” Funny how this guy had a respectable political career, yet we only remember him because he might have invented the modern sandwich.

Which brings us to 2016, and Alex King is taking over the sandwich world on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s his 14th anniversary in Oak Bluffs, and 12th year in Edgartown. Both locales make mostly everything from scratch for their incredible sandwiches, the most popular menu items being the Cheeseburger Sub and the Cuban. I had a chance to try the Cuban: layered with house-roasted pork loin, Virginia ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and a chipotle mayo you’ll want to order as an extra side, it’s that good.

The Italian at Skinny’s is also popular — packed with genoa salami, hot capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, and provolone. A sprinkling of olives make this a serious sandwich served on an Italian sub roll.

But Skinny’s offers a whole lot more than sandwiches. The Oak Bluffs establishment has a full coffee shop with a variety of brews, as well as Italian sodas. Freshly squeezed lemonade is made to order, and all baked goods are made from scratch on premises. During my visit the housemade gravy (for the gobbler sandwich) was simmering away, from fresh chicken stock. If you’re not feeling a sandwich, the salads are a great option. While they do have great offerings for vegetarians, gluten-free patrons might not find gluten-free bread at the establishment just yet. Mr. King is still on the search for incredible gluten-free bread that will hold up to his sandwiches.

Mr. King’s right-hand man and sous-chef, Adam Konopisky, is cooking up a storm all week long. On Sunday nights in Oak Bluffs, they serve traditional Serbian foods. Open until midnight on Sundays, it’s a reason to drive to O.B. late-night and treat yourself before the workweek begins.

Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches is located on 7 North Water Street in Edgartown and 12 Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Follow them on Facebook (facebook.com/Skinnychef89) as well as Instagram (instagram.com/skinnysfatsandwiches/). They offer event catering as well, so keep them in mind for birthdays, weddings, and more.