by Mr. Bibb
Like most good southern boys, I grew up eating “boloney” sandwiches. Big thick slices of bologna on soft white bread (otherwise known as “loaf bread”). The condiment of choice was either yellow mustard or mayonnaise depending on availability and my mood. Occasionally, we might have a slice of cheese thrown in but this really wasn’t my preference. While on most sandwiches I might like cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickles, etc… a boloney sandwich doesn’t need these extras… it can stand on it’s own with just two pieces of loaf bread and a slather of mustard or mayo. Heck, in a pinch, I can even enjoy one without the condiments at all. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. In fact, I love just taking a few slices of bologna, slicing them into quarters and eating them on plain soda crackers.
I grew up in the country outside of Covington, Tennessee, a small town about an hour north of Memphis. My best friend growing up was Tim Rice. Known then as Timmy (and I as Skipper), he and I met on the first day of the first grade and we have remained best friends ever since. Every day of the summer months when we were between the ages of eight and 10, we explored and conquered the pastures and cotton fields around our small community. Often at midday we would find ourselves at Rice Grocery, a small country store owned by Tim’s aunt and uncle situated about halfway between Tim’s house and mine. Tim’s Aunt Ruby would slice off a thick serving of Starling bologna and set it between two slices of loaf bread slathered with mayonnaise and serve it to us on white butcher paper. We would grab an Orange or Grape Nehi soda out of the ice box and sit on the bench outside in front of the store to eat our boloney sandwiches. It is one of my fondest boyhood memories.
According to Wikipedia, bologna sausage, also known as boloney, baloney or polony, is an American sausage derived from and somewhat similar to the Italian mortadella (a finely hashed/ground pork sausage containing cubes of that originated in the Italian city of Bologna. U.S. government regulations require American bologna to be finely ground, and without visible pieces of lard. Bologna can alternatively be made out of chicken, turkey, beef, pork, venison or soy protein.
I have heard bologna called many things in jest, including “Poor Man’s Steak” and “Tennessee Round Steak.” All I know is it is a big part of my southern culture experience.
I have to confess I have even used it to judge a person’s character. Once when I was passing through Memphis with my girlfriend Cyndie I took her to Neely’s Bar-B-Que and introduced her to Neely’s barbecued bologna sandwich. Cyndie is a California girl and she didn’t know but it really was a test of sorts. We were fairly new in our relationship at that time and I wasn’t sure if a girl from L.A. could hold her own with this southern boy. But when she took her first bite and I heard her “mmmm” with delight, I knew I had me a girl to keep!
Granted: Neely’s does one of the best. They take a slab cut of bologna and slow-smoke it, then serve it on thick slices of “Tennessee” toast (aka Texas toast) with homemade coleslaw and Neely’s barbecue sauce. It is a bit upscale by my standards but it is truly one of the best boloney sandwiches I have ever had. Neely’s has excellent barbecue, too, but I will save that for another post.
Bologna has made a bit of a trendy come back. You can find it in some form or another on many southern pub menus. One of our favorite places for a fried bologna sandwich here in Nashville is at the Corner Pub in Green Hills.
Plain, fried, smoked, barbecued … sandwich or with crackers … it’s all good to me. When I see it on the menu I find it hard to resist. I’ll order it without shame because I know it won’t be the first (or the last) time I have been accused of being “full of boloney!”