This Cream Cheese and Olive Sandwich Doesn’t Have to Explain Itself to You


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I will admit that when I saw a cream cheese and olive sandwich on the menu at S&P, the delightful sorta-new revival of a very old, very classic New York lunch counter, my first reaction was: Hmm. There were so many other, more convincing dishes to choose from. A Reuben! So much pastrami! Carrot cake! But my dining companion was curious, and that three-ingredient sandwich kept catching in the corner of my eye as we planned our order. So we got it. 

I don’t know why I was surprised when what arrived was indeed an enormous pile of roughly chopped green olives, barely contained by two thin pieces of white bread smeared with cream cheese. The olives were almost too salty, and every bite made my eyes widen. But then the fattiness of the cream cheese came rushing in, cutting through the salt and acid, resetting my brain for another bite. The sweet, chewy bread was a welcome reprieve. 

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When I posted a photo of the sandwich on Instagram, I knew the response was going to be mixed. (Olive haters, have you even read this far?) What I didn’t expect was for so much nostalgia. Friends and strangers streamed into my comments and DMs to share stories of their parents and grandparents making some approximation of this dish when they were little. The versions they remembered had the crusts cut off, or the olives chopped more finely and mixed into the cream cheese. But regardless of the variations, the commonalities were unmistakable: olives, cream cheese, bread. 

By no means am I an expert in the cream-cheese-olive sandwich. But I am, newly, a defender of its merits. Maybe you don’t have a grandparent who whips up this old-school dish, or aren’t close enough to try it out at S&P’s charming counter—but you can definitely make one yourself. You’ll need two pieces of soft, unfancy, and most important, untoasted sandwich bread. You will also need pitted green olives (S&P used plain green olives, but pimento-stuffed ones would be great too), and a block of cream cheese (Philadelphia, I beg). 

Finely chop a handful of pitted green olives into pea-size pieces. Smear a generous slick of cream cheese on 2 slices of white sandwich bread. Top with the olives, close it on up, and decide for yourself whether, actually, a cream cheese and olive sandwich is a pretty great thing. 

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