Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Tuna Fish Sandwich

St. Louis.  1968.

My uncle Henry (who will be celebrating his 89th birthday later this year!) drove me and my father to St. Louis for the day, from his then-home in Iowa. 

I don't know at what point we ate, but my choice was a tuna fish sandwich.  Back when I was a child and a teen, I loved tuna and I'm surprised that I never turned into a fish.

The tuna sandwich I had was not like any restaurant-made tuna sandwich I had ever had.  No, this was sweet.  It had a taste that was absolutely wonderful.

Several years later I was back in the area and ordered a tuna sandwich at a diner and it had the same taste.  What was it? I couldn't quite place it.  My spouse, an excellent cook, went by my description and guessed it had sweet pickle relish in it.  I suspected it might also have Miracle Whip as an ingredient. 

Miracle Whip is - well, it is something like American mayonnaise, but unless you live in the U.S. (or, apparently, Germany) you won't find Miracle Whip.  I've found it to be a regional taste here in the United States.  My midwestern relatives use Miracle Whip in things such as potato salad that call for "white stuff in a jar".  My New York relatives use American Mayonnaise in dishes needing "white stuff".

It's been years, over 30 years, since I was in the St. Louis area, but my spouse and I ended up staying last night in St. Clair, about 50 miles west of St. Louis.  This morning, I decided to drop in on a local cafe called the Lewis Cafe. Their menu was in our motel room (the Budget Lodgings, a gem - check it out if you ever travel the Mother Road), and it advertised that the owners raised their own beef.  And, it had been in business since the 1930's.

And, they made their own tuna fish salad. 

They were closed yesterday (due to Labor Day) so dinner there was impossible.

But, they opened today at 5am. Our motel's desk clerk called them about 8:30 am (after sharing her recipe for tuna) to make sure they made sandwiches to go that early - they did.

So, what did we find?

Just the friendliest service you would ever want.  We were offered seats, and plenty of ice water while we waited.  The young lady who waited on us even suggested we use the restrooms.

Here are a couple of pictures of the interior of the Lewis Cafe.

The young lady put together our "to go's" including a slice of pie, plenty of  napkins, forks, my husband's fried cube steak (fantastic, according to him) and this:

Heaven.  I've waited over 30 years for this sandwich. And it just wasn't the tuna.  This wasn't store bought rye bread, I'm convinced.

So how does the desk clerk at Budget Lodgings make her tuna?  Sweet relish (one point for spouse).  Miracle whip (one point for me). Chopped sweet onion.  Chopped hard boiled egg.

Spouse tasted my sandwich and I made him promise he would duplicate it as best he can.

And, I would be remiss if I didn't include a picture of our room at Budget Lodgings. (these are double beds, by the way).

Is there a regional specialty food you found on vacation and wish you could have more often?


  1. My husband makes the best tuna salad in the world and what you have described are just exactly the ingredients he uses. I can confirm that the taste is heavenly.

  2. Thanks so much!!! I love tuna fish and have always used sweet pickle relish in mine just like my grandma did! Please let me know how I can be the best resource for you!

  3. Love your description of the tuna sandwich. Yes, rye bread imparts a wonderful flavor of it's own. I've never had a tuna sandwich containing the ingredients you list. Sounds interesting. Don't think I'll ever try it though. My days of flying ore over. Wait! What about in my dreams?

  4. I have to admit that I don't like tuna, I'm not a fussy eater but it's one of the foods that I'm not keen on!

  5. Alana,
    I think that's one of the fun things about travelling--discovering (or rediscovering!) foods different from what you can find at home. I'm so happy that you had such a nice trip!

  6. You're making me hungry! I like to add a few real bacon bits. Then again, I'll add bacon to most anything!


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