Between Two Slices of Bread, an Enduring Big Red Bond

Two ’06 classmates enjoyed a simple-but-tasty sandwich for decades—then the Washington Post shared it with the world

By Linda Copman

In summer 2020, when much of the country was in lockdown, Natasha Pickowicz ’06 and Alison Leiby ’06 escaped their respective apartments in Brooklyn to meet at the beach, where they swam hard and worked up an appetite.

Alison Leiby and Natasha Pickowicz
Leiby (left) and Pickowicz. (Provided)

They then shared their favorite lunch: a simple sandwich of soft deli bread smeared with avocado, topped with a thin layer of turkey and cheese, and piled high with fresh greens like arugula, spinach, and sprouts.

They call this creation the “Friendship Sandwich”—and they’ve been enjoying it, together and separately, for nearly 20 years. In July 2022, the simple-but-tasty meal reached a global audience when it was featured in a Washington Post food column.

“It’s a salad in sandwich form,” the paper observed, “and it’s a signature of their long-lasting friendship.”

Today, Pickowicz is a pastry chef—a three-time James Beard Award finalist with more than 32,000 followers on Instagram. Leiby is a comedian, writer, and producer who has worked on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and starred in a one-woman show Off-Broadway.

But back in fall 2002, they were newly matriculated Cornellians who met during Orientation Week and immediately hit it off. They’d both go on to major in English in Arts & Sciences; get cut from the Big Red crew team on the same day; and share similar tastes in food, especially when it comes to sandwiches.

The two particularly loved one offering from Cascadeli—the now-departed eatery in Willard Straight—that was loaded with fresh veggies, light on condiments, and made with high-quality turkey.

It’s what they’d always order and, after graduation, make for themselves and each other. When they couldn’t eat it together, they’d stay connected by swapping photos of their individual creations.

Alison Leiby and Natasha Pickowicz
The pals as undergrads. (Provided)

But it wasn’t until the pandemic—by which time they’d been sharing the sandwich for 18 years—that they realized this was a thing. Thinking about what food to bring to the beach, Leiby recalls, “It was like, ‘Oh, this is our sandwich.’”

For her, the main quality that sets it apart is the texture. “Super crunchy is high on the list,” Leiby notes. “We both don’t like a sandwich that is overly bready, or has too many spreads on it—so it gets soggy or loses its structure.”

Pickowicz, on the other hand, insists that the high ratio of fresh veggies makes all the difference.

She also loves the sandwich’s versatility, since its ingredients can be found in almost any grocery store.

“You can throw it together,” she observes. “Although it can be elevated with fancy focaccia, farmers’ market romaine, or homegrown cucumbers, it doesn’t have to be.”

Fittingly, it was a fellow Cornellian (food writer G. Daniela Galarza ’04) who featured the friends’ favorite comestible in her “Eat Voraciously” newsletter in the Washington Post.

We both don’t like a sandwich that is overly bready, or has too many spreads on it—so it gets soggy or loses its structure.

Alison Leiby ’06

She described it as “a sandwich fat as a softball, an explosion of green leaves and sprouts, with a stripe of beige (usually turkey and cheese), a few slices of avocado, and maybe some cucumber or something else with lots of crunch.”

Since Galarza’s story was published, Leiby and Pickowicz have been inundated with questions about the sandwich—with friends and social media followers asking whether they’ve made it right, or if it’s OK to substitute another cheese for cheddar.

“It’s not like if you don’t have sprouts, it’s not a Friendship Sandwich,” Leiby observes. “You can customize it however you want. It’s more about the feeling.”

‘Friendship Sandwich’

A friendship sandwich with chips
The friends’ concoction is endlessly versatile. (Noël Heaney/Cornell University)

Ingredients

4 thin slices sourdough or rye bread

Smoked turkey, very thinly sliced

Sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

Ripe avocado, sliced

Alfalfa sprouts

Cucumber, thinly sliced

A mixture of greens such as romaine, arugula, spinach, and baby kale

Optional: other crunchy veggies like shredded carrot and sliced radish; crispy bacon

Directions

Begin layering the ingredients on the bread: a few slices of turkey, a slice or two of cheddar, and some avocado. Then pile on the crunchy vegetables: a handful of sprouts, a layer of cucumbers, and—finally, and most importantly—more leafy greens than you think. (Other vegetables are welcome, but the focus should be on raw greens—a lot of them.) For a decadent upgrade, add a slice of crispy bacon. Serve with potato chips and half-sour pickles—and share with a friend.

Adapted from Leiby and Pickowicz’s recipe. Yield: two sandwiches.

Top: Video by Noël Heaney/Cornell University

Published August 25, 2022



Comments

  1. Douglas Scott Treado, Class of 1964

    Suggest Swiss cheese…

  2. Myfanwy Mattes, Class of 1992

    I love the cool taste of simple greens paired with the aged sharp cheddar. The best place for cheddar is Wilson Farms (rt 281 NY) where sharpness rates from 1x to 7x. Of course, the avocado is the perfect spread.

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