Opt for a rustic pumpernickel, rye, or sourdough--the bread lays the foundation and needs to be sturdy enough to support high-rise toppings. Trim the crusts and go bite-size, or indulge in full-on knife-and-fork dinner fare. Brush bread slices with melted butter or olive oil, and bake at 400° for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp.
Set out a few versatile spreads that guests can mix and match with different toppings; The New Egg Salad and Sour Cream-Herb Sauce are two of our favorites. Other great options include garlic-and-herb cheeses, flavored butters, rémoulade, and country-style mustards.
Toppings can be minimal or lavish--anything goes as long as it looks great and the flavors play well together: thinly sliced meats and cheeses, bacon, pickled shrimp, smoked trout, hard-cooked eggs, crabmeat. Also consider condiments such as bacon marmalade and tomato chutney.
Think color and crunch. Pickled squash and onions, julienned peppers, thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes, peppery watercress, fresh herbs, sprouts and microgreens, grape tomatoes, and slivers of fresh seasonal fruit.