GTPulse: Traverse City’s Favorite Sandwich

I’m a bread and pasta person. My favorite kind of food is Italian and it is 100% because a large portion of it consists of garlic, cheese, pasta and bread. Since I have moved to Traverse City I have not stopped hearing about this Turkey Gobbler sandwich, and people really talk up the bread. I work a second job as a bartender and I first heard of the sandwich from my bar manager. As he was describing to me what sounded like a pretty unremarkable turkey sandwich, some of the guests sitting at the bar chimed in and insisted that I had to try it and write a story on it. I have since had more locals tell me about the Turkey Gobbler and Wednesday when my stomach started lurching I drove over to Mary’s Kitchen Port to experience what seems to be Traverse City’s favorite sandwich.

Kathy Baier co-owns Mary’s Kitchen Port with brother Mike Boudjalis. Mary was their mother and the original owner of the shop, she. Mary’s Kitchen Port began when Mary started a catering business out of their home in the 1970s. Mary learned  how to cook from her father.

“It was back in the 70s so we started out with canapes. It turned in to full meals and just kind of grew from there.” 

She also ended up owning a kitchen shop. In 1982 she brought everything together under one roof which is today’s Mary’s Kitchen Port. Eventually, the catering stopped, but the takeout sandwiches stayed.

The Turkey Gobbler didn’t come onto the scene until sometime in the 1990s, originally starting out on a croissant. 

“It’s hard to say when that sandwich started. We used to make lots of different sandwiches and they were all on crosissant. Sometime in the 90s we started making focaccia bread. We just started using it and it seemed like, more and more that’s what people wanted,” Kathy said.

Switching to the focaccia bread was also a smarter move because making the croissants slowed down the sandwich moving process.

“Croissant is a long process, where bread is a long process and we do make it from scratch, but the croissant just took longer to make and our sandwiches were selling faster and faster so we  needed to make something that we had more control of.”

The shop sells 100s of sandwiches a day so having control of the sandwich slinging process is important and honestly, the bread is something to write home about.

At first glance I thought exactly what I had been prepared to think. Plain, boring, unremarkable. It reminded me of these turkey and cheese sandwiches that I used to get in summer school. Saran wrapped to a piece of black styrofoam and unexciting. I decided to eat the sandwich in my car the parking lot, the guy I parked next to was doing that as well as another young woman. 

The sandwich consists of turkey, lettuce, tomato, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese and a layer of Hellman’s. The bread, however, is soft, slightly gold and crusted with bits of salt. It was a damn good turkey sandwich, and truly…it is the bread. As I enjoyed my car lunch, me and the guy eating lunch next to me just people watched the rotating crowd of people. Parking, running in to Mary’s Kitchen Port, coming out with the white and red bag in hand and driving away.

There are regulars who strictly come for the Turkey Gobbler.

“When they don’t get the Gobbler, they let us know. They’ll tell us they’re stepping out of their comfort zone.”

I get it. I really do. In a world of aiolis, reductions and weird seeded bread…it’s nice to have something simple.  The world is a better place because of the Turkey Gobbler and I’m going back, indefinitely.

“It’s just a great sandwich, there’s nothing crazy about it. Everybody comes in and they’re so happy. We’ve seen their children grow up and now they’re bringing their children in. We’ve seen generations.”


Categories: GTPulse