A few weeks ago when I was trying to decide what to do with the pound of jumbo lump crab meat I had on hand, I started thinking about one of my all-time favorite sandwiches – the Vancleave Special. The Vancleave Special is a pressed crabmeat and cheese po-boy that was originally on the menu at Rosetti’s, a po-boy place on Biloxi Bay at the foot of the fishing bridge, just off Highway 90 between Biloxi and Ocean Springs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My family ate their regularly when I was a kid, although in those days I was much more inclined to order the equally good roast beef, along with a side of French fries with roast beef gravy and a grape soda. My recollection is that Rosetti’s closed that location and moved to a much bigger and more highly visible location on Highway 90 in the hopes of capturing more tourist traffic. It was never really the same after that, and eventually they closed down. Sometime in the late eighties (I think), the Ole Biloxi Schooner restaurant opened in the old Rosetti’s location with a similar menu, including the Vancleave Special. I don’t think I ever ordered a roast beef at the Schooner – it was all about the crabmeat and cheese.
I didn’t have a lot of hope that I would find a recipe for the Vancleave Special online. Oh ye of little faith! Via the “Old Biloxi Recipes” page on Facebook, I found the recipe on a food blog written by a descendent of Rosetti, Mike and Mary’s Kitchen: Recipes and Memories from Point Cadet. I modified the recipe to make Panini for two. It is a really rich and filling sandwich so you don’t want to make it too big.
Vancleave Special Panini
For the crab cakes:
- 1 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into tiny pieces
- 1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 medium egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons green onion (white parts only), finely chopped
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 loaf french bread
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise (I used Duke's)
- 2 pieces good quality American cheese (get cheese cut in the deli instead of pre-packaged Kraft)
- 2/3 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
- 4 thin slices tomato
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- olive oil cooking spray
- Gently combine the bread crumbs, crab meat, mayo, Wooster, egg, cayenne, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Shape into 4 oblong cakes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
- Heat the butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides. Cook the crab cakes in batches, turning each once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes total.
- Cut two 6- inch pieces of french bread. Slice the bread in half.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet and grill the bread, sliced side down until toasted.
- Preheat the Panini press on high
- Spread the toasted bread with the mayonnaise, and top two of the slices with two crab patties, a slice of cheese, 1/3 cup of shredded lettuce and 2 slices of tomato tomato each. Sprinkle the sandwiches with salt and pepper. Top with the other slices of bread, spray both sides with the olive oil cooking spray.
- Turn the Panini press down to medium and grill until the sandwiches for about 5 minutes or until the sandwiches aer toasted on top and the cheese is melted.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Killer good sandwiches. I made the crab cakes with lump crab meat, but I plan to use claw meat next time. It would be just as good, and a bit cheaper. The American cheese may sound yucky, but don’t substitute, just get the best American cheese you can find. It won’t be the same without it!
At the beginning of the summer, I made Crab Meat Au Gratin for B, who absolutely loved it. He keeps asking me to make it again, but I’ve explained that certain terribly decadent dishes should only be made very occasionally, like once a year. I think this sandwich may have to go in that category as well!