With the crisp snap of the first bite of grilled sourdough, I can taste the dual combination of smooth goat cheese, and creamy garlic aioli as the intense juice of the heirloom tomato flows over my tongue. My taste receptors are in overdrive as the flavors meld together into my Heirloom Tomato Sandwich on Sourdough with Garlic Aioli–the perfect sandwich bite.

Heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavor are the stars in this Southern sandwich.
Heirloom Tomato Sandwich: fresh springtime tomatoes bursting with flavor are the stars in this Southern sandwich. (All photos credit: George Graham)

You can’t go wrong with ripe heirloom tomatoes bursting with juice and the perfect ingredient to sandwich between two slices of bread.  The pure simplicity appeals to my basic culinary love for the freshest ingredients prepared without pretense.  And it reminds me of my perfect meal.

A few years back, Roxanne, Lauren and I made a whirlwind road trip through the Southeast United States. Atlanta, Nashville, and Asheville were the highlights on our food odyssey of discovery. We pulled over at most every roadside stand, boiled peanut purveyor, farmers market and local eatery serving up a taste of Southern food culture.  For ten days, we ate our way across the Southern foodway and sampled a variety of dishes that have come to define today’s New Southern Cooking.

But it was at the Stable Café on the grounds of The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina that I had my epiphany of discovery–the unveiling of why Southern cooking is so irresistible.  One bite of a skillfully crafted Tomato Sandwich spoke volumes to me about the purity and purpose of Southern food.  It was an instant revelation of food truth and a monumental realization of how impactful simply prepared food can be.

I’ve yearned to recreate that sandwich for years now and have committed the elements of it to memory.  Today you’re in luck.

If you can't find quality heirloom tomatoes where you live, grow your own.
If you can’t find quality heirloom tomatoes where you live, grow your own.

There are numerous varieties of heirloom tomatoes sold in farmers markets, roadside produce stands, and now in mainstream supermarkets. These beauties are not cheap, and I’ve seen them fetch upwards of $6.00 per pound (I bought mine for half that). But, buy them carefully.

The key is threefold: Visually inspect the tomato for brightness and blemish-free appearance. Even one little black spot or small bruise is a signal of the spoilage that might be hiding inside. Gently caress the fruit, and if your touch is met with a mushy feel, keep walking. But if you feel a dense, heavy ripeness, it usually means the tomato is full of juice and ready for eating. And finally, bring it to your nose and smell for a fresh, earthy scent; it should be a slight, pleasing aroma of sweetness. And do not ever buy tomatoes of any kind pre-packaged and wrapped tightly in plastic. My motto: If you can’t inspect them, reject them.

Hand-sliced and brushed with olive oil, my sourdough is ready for a quick grilling.
Hand-sliced and brushed with olive oil, my sourdough is ready for a quick grilling.

For my Heirloom Tomato Sandwich on Sourdough with Garlic Aioli, artisan-made bread (sourdough preferred) is my choice. Buy the whole loaf and slice it to your desired thickness. And with a little brush of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and some time on the grill, you have now elevated a supporting player to star status. Good bread makes all the difference.

And to dress for success, I’m slathering my top bread with goat cheese, and the bottom with a garlic aioli made with one of my secret ingredients, Kewpie mayonnaise. Kewpie brand Japanese mayo is as close as it gets to homemade mayonnaise with a creamy texture and a bit of sweetness that defies conventional thought about this everyday ingredients. Oh, I love my Blue Plate, but when I am in an upscale mode, I pull this one out of my bag of tricks.

Part sandwich, part salad, I serve this Heirloom Tomato Sandwich on Sourdough with Garlic Aioli whenever the ingredients are fresh, and memories of that journey of discovery are fresh in my mind.

I can't decide if this is a sandwich or a salad. Maybe, it's the best of both worlds.
I can’t decide if this Heirloom Tomato recipe is a sandwich or a salad. Maybe, it’s the best of both worlds.
5.0 from 3 reviews
Heirloom Tomato Sandwich on Sourdough with Garlic Aioli
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe by:
Serves: 4
  • 1 large loaf sourdough bread
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 4 large heirloom tomatoes, assorted colors
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup quality mayonnaise, such as Kewpie brand
  • 1 (8-ounce package) goat cheese
  • 2 cups loosely packed baby arugula
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 sprigs fresh basil leaves, for garnish
  1. Slice the loaf bread into thick slices and brush both sides with olive oil. Place on cleaned and oiled grill grates over medium flame. Watch carefully as the bread toasts on one side and then turn and toast on the other. Sprinkle the bread slices with sea salt. Remove and keep warm.
  2. Slice the tomatoes into thick rounds and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt and place another paper towel on top. Let sit for 30 minutes as some of the moisture escapes, and the tomato flavor concentrates.
  3. Meanwhile make the aioli by whisking the minced garlic, lemon juice, and mayonnaise together in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate the aioli until ready to use.
  4. To assemble the sandwich, spread the top bread with goat cheese. Spread the aioli on the bottom bread and arrange the arugula on top. Place the tomatoes over the greens and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil and serve open face with the top bread to this side.
Heirlooms are not always available; feel free to use homegrown tomatoes, or if you live in Louisiana, Creole tomatoes start arriving in the summer months. Kewpie brand mayonnaise is available in the refrigerated section of most Asian groceries; this Japanese product is versatile, and I urge you to explore its uses. Source a creamy (easy to spread) goat cheese rather than drier, aged cheese.
Sandwich perfection!
This Heirloom Tomato Sandwich is sandwich perfection!

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