Cleveland, Say Hello to the St. Paul Sandwich, an Oddity with Asian-American Roots

click to enlarge St. Paul sandwich at Sesame and Soy - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
St. Paul sandwich at Sesame and Soy

Ever since Paul Yu first mentioned the St. Paul sandwich, I’ve been a man obsessed. It’s not every day that a new type of sandwich rolls into town, especially one with such a colorful pedigree and description. The concoction with the curious name was to be unveiled at Sesame and Soy (2173 Professor Ave., 216-508-1888), the new quick-serve Chinese restaurant that Yu and partner John Tran were opening in Tremont.

By most accounts the sandwich was dreamed up by a Chinese-American restaurant owner in St. Louis, not St. Paul, in the early 20th century. But the truth is murky and getting murkier by the year.

For the uninitiated – which is pretty much every living soul outside St. Louis – the sandwich consists of a fried egg foo young patty tucked into pale white bread with lettuce, pickles and mayo. Diners sought them out because they were cheap, mobile, filling and delicious.

“John grew up eating them at his family’s restaurant in St. Louis,” says Yu. “He had no idea that Chinese restaurants everywhere didn’t sell them. He wanted to bring them here and share them Cleveland.”

Tran’s family recipe features a loose patty barely held together by egg, Yu notes, because their customers preferred a crispier sandwich. The classic versions come studded with either ham or shrimp, but customers at Sesame and Soy can also choose chicken or vegetarian. Set against the soft bread, crisp iceberg lettuce, tart pickles and cool and creamy mayo, the St. Paul is a salty, crunchy and satisfying mashup of flavors and textures.

The only real liberties the owners of Sesame and Soy took with their version ($7) was to swap out the white bread, a decision they are currently reconsidering.

“White bread is traditional, but we switched it because we thought it was too cheap,” says Yu. “I think we are going to switch it to a white Texas toast.”

About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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