By Mike Thayer
Are there that many people out there eating sub sandwiches but not really caring or understanding that they're possibly not eating at the best establishment? That maybe, just maybe, they're eating only, sadly, at a place they're merely accustomed to, what they've settled to be comfortable with?
It would seem so, otherwise we wouldn't be so inundated with so darn many sub shops around..... Subway, Jimmy John's, Firehouse Subs, Quizno's, Planet Sub, Schlotzsky's, Jason's Deli, McAlister's Deli and others.....
So in the name of 'Food Science' (cough), I took on the task of another Bachelor on the Cheap Challenge: Who makes the best subs? I went through a restaurant list of national chains - sub shops and delis - in my neck of the woods, one meal at a time, sampling sub sandwiches. What? Eat nothing but sub sandwiches for lunch AND dinner? Like I said, done in the name of 'food science'......
Here is "The List" of sub shops/deli joints I visited and evaluated - a total of nine - during the course of this challenge:
- Subway - Day 1, Lunch
- Jimmy John's - Day 2, Dinner
- Quiznos - Day 3 Dinner
- Planet Sub - Day 5 Lunch
- Firehouse Subs - Day 1, Dinner
- Schlotzsky's - Day 2, Lunch
- Jason's Deli - Day 4, Lunch
- McAlister's Deli - Day 3 Lunch
- Goodcents Deli Fresh Subs - Day 4 Dinner
So who has the best sub sandwich of the national chains? The worst?
Starting off with the worst:
#9 Goodcents Deli Fresh Subs: This place completely failed to live up to the hype. I ordered the Goodcents Original, described on the menu as: Freshly sliced ham, bologna, salami and pepperoni. The bread was under-baked, doughy on the bottom half. The meat portion was good, it was even a bit mouthwatering watching the sandwich guy slice up all the meats and cheeses fresh, right there in front of me and layering them out on the bread, one fresh slice at a time. The lettuce was not the freshest though and the mustard and mayo was applied in sloppy fashion, all to one side of the sandwich. I paid $12.55 for the 12" sandwich, chips and a drink. While that is a lot of sandwich ($7.99) in size, that price puts Goodcents at the high end of sub shop pricing. That's not Bachelor on the Cheap friendly. Is the sandwich a repeat buy? No, not what I was given. I'll chalk up the under-baked bread to be an anomaly, but I'm not so sure how well they monitor the veggie freshness at the location I visited.
And I'll pass on the over-priced drink. They do bottles rather than fountain drinks, which drives up that overall price. The service was fast, I was in-and-out with my carry out quickly, but that fast service was without smiles, not friendly. It was matter-of-fact, all business with the folks behind the counter, as in, nobody enjoying the day, nobody passionate about their job. Fast is often good, but fast with attention to detail (caring), smiles and some conversation would be even better!
#8 Subway: For my first sub sandwich of the challenge, I headed to the nearest Subway, the supposed King of the Sub Shop and they are - in terms of sheer number of restaurants and gross sales. A 2016 restaurant sales report shows Subway at the top of this list with about 26,000 stores nationwide, the next closest truly sub competitor (pun intended) is Jimmy John's with slightly less than 2,500 locations. So how was my Subway Sub? Sub-par..... C'mon, you KNOW I can't resist the obvious puns..... Thinking most all sub shops will have a similar sandwich, I ordered a footlong Cold Cut Combo.... What's not to like in some cold cuts, bread, lettuce, tomato, some cheese, a little mayo, mustard, a common sandwich, right? Here's the description of the Cold Cut Combo from the Subway website: The Cold Cut Combo is stacked with a trio of meats — ham, salami and bologna (all turkey based). It's topped with crisp vegetables and served on freshly baked bread. This combo has a little bit of everything. And it only costs a little bit of money: Get it as a Footlong for $4.99. I frankly didn't realize the trio of meats was all turkey based, it's not in regular print on the menu board in the restaurant..... There's strike #1. Ordering that sandwich on whole wheat, my order included lettuce, tomato, red onion, provolone cheese, mayo and classic yellow mustard. The bread was tasty and the lettuce was fresh, but it was an overkill amount of rabbit food....
Not a good veggie to meat ratio, all turkey based meat by the way, not REAL salami, not REAL ham, not even REAL bologna! The tomatoes were not exactly bright red and juicy with flavor and Subway now only puts ONE slice of cheese (provolone) on a footlong sandwich! One? Really? The less-than-red/juicy tomatoes and skimpy cheese were strikes #2 and #3. And that ladies and gentlemen, is why you can get a footlong at Subway for just $4.99. This wasn't a bad sandwich, but it wasn't a good one either. It was, "eh." And I've had this particular sandwich before and I enjoyed it much more on a previous visit. Chalk it up to better assembly I guess, more cheese, mayo and mustard (and less lettuce) perhaps? The price was right but it under-delivered in flavor. The key question then, "Is it a repeat buy?" The answer is "No." The service was good, the staff was friendly and I was in and out of the restaurant with my carry-out order in a reasonable amount of time, but the sandwich, was again, "eh." Inconsistency is a bad thing.
#7 Jimmy John's: Jimmy John's is the #2 sub shop in the nation based on number of locations. They focus on making cold sub sandwiches, no toasting. They also do the scooping out the guts of the bread thing, to enhance the bread to meat ratio. I don't have a problem with that, I actually prefer the bread scooped, but I'll get into more details about this in a bit. Just remember that scooping is optional. I don't know if the two gentlemen taking my order and preparing my sandwich were distracted by something else, but goodness gracious the music in the joint was far too loud (I was the only customer in the place shortly after 5pm on a Sunday) and they just didn't listen! I ordered the Vito, which is described on the website as: Jimmy John's "Vito" Italian sub features genoa salami, provolone, capicola, onion, lettuce, tomato, and an Italian vinaigrette on French bread. Now here's where Jimmy John's dropped the ball and failed to address customer needs..... I ordered the Vito on wheat, I got white. They didn't ask if I wanted it scooped, they just did it. They didn't ask if I wanted to customize the sandwich, that bread was scooped and assembled before I could say I wanted some mayo and mustard added to that.... I also like my sandwich cut in half, I wasn't asked. But since this is an evaluation of sorts, I let things ride. Sure, Jimmy John's is freaky fast, perhaps it's because they don't stop to listen to their customers and ensure the customer is getting exactly what they want! It was like these guys wanted me in and out of there 'freaky fast' so they could go about doing something else probably not restaurant related. Hey Jimmy John's, what is the point of boasting the ability to customize your sandwich if you're not even going to let it happen?
Despite the prepared rush, the sandwich was good. The white bread I didn't order had a nice outer crispy, flaky bite and the inside was 'pillowy' good. The meats were spot on tasty but a bit meager. The veggies were fresh, the tomatoes a nice juicy red, the little bit of lettuce and onion provided that little bit of crisp and the vinaigrette had a nice balanced tartness to it. The provolone was a nice quality cheese, but if only the sandwich guys had asked me how I wanted to customize my sandwich instead of being so freaky fast focused - I wanted some mustard and mayo on that Vito! I paid $7.03 for my sandwich and chips and I believe I was in-and-out of there in record time! That's a Bachelor on the Cheap friendly price, but then again, I didn't exactly get the customized sandwich I wanted. This sandwich had good flavor, but it could have been better and the service while fast, was otherwise inattentive, with tunnel vision. The sandwich I wanted, isn't really what I got.
#6 Schlotsky's: Now some people might argue that because Schlotzsky's doesn't make sandwiches using a traditional 12' inch length 'submarine' sandwich roll that they don't qualify as a sub shop. Hogwash! Submarine sandwiches go by many names, such as hoagie, hero, grinder, poorboy, battleship sandwich and many others. And no, such a sandwich is not restricted to a roll that loosely mimics a submarine. It's best described as a length of bread or a roll filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables and condiments. I went with the Schlotzsky's original, The description from the restaurant menu: Lean smoked ham with Genoa & cotto salamis, cheddar, mozzarella & Parmesan cheeses, black olives, red onion, lettuce, tomato, mustard and our signature sauce. Served on our toasted house-made sourdough bun.
Here was my initial take-away with the first bite: It was a bread sandwich. The bread to meat ratio was, well, all bread and a bit on the dry side at that. I think there were just four thin slices of meat in this sandwich. The flavors were there, I got the meat, the fresh produce, the nice notes of the special sauce, the warm toastiness of the bread...... There was just too much bread. Going into the restaurant to place my carry-out order, I was the only customer in the joint when I was greeted at the counter. None of the staff however was really wearing any smiles and I left with my order in about ten minutes. I understand the toasting conveyor takes time, but 10 minutes in an empty restaurant? I paid $6.44 for my medium sandwich. That's a Bachelor on the Cheap friendly price, but then again, it was mostly bread. This was a big sandwich, but it was for the most part a bread and veggie sandwich with just four slices of meat to speak of. Don't get me wrong, it was tasty meat, there just wasn't enough of it. Overall, there were some nice flavors in the sandwich but with the shortage of meat it was incomplete. Nice bread Schlotzsky's, but that's not really what I ordered. Did I mention it was mostly, bread?
#5 Firehouse Subs: This sub shop puts a unique twist on sub sandwich prep, they steam their meats and cheeses. There's no bologna on the Firehouse menu - I ordered a Firehouse Hero on wheat. The Hero is described as: USDA Choice roast beef, smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, and melted provolone, served Fully Involved. Fully Involved® – Loaded complete with mayo, deli mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a kosher dill pickle on the side. It was a really good sandwich and the joint isn't kidding when they say the steaming process provides another level of flavor. They put a very generous amount of meat on their sandwiches, you can really taste that choice roast beef, savor the smoked turkey breast and enjoy the slightly sweet kick of the honey ham. I also have to say the Firehouse bread is better than Subway's. The sandwich was nicely balanced, the bread, the meat, cheese and veggies. It was put together well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The key question then, "Is it a repeat buy?" Yes and no. Firehouse subs are a bit pricey. I paid $10.28 for a medium sub, chips and a drink. True, there was no bologna on my sandwich and it was all genuine meats, not faux turkey based mockery (Subway). You pay for quality at Firehouse, but $10.28 for a sub meal? That's not exactly Bachelor on the Cheap friendly. And while the service was friendly enough, it was ssssssllllllloooooooowwwwwwww..... I ordered my sandwich at 2:08pm according to the receipt, but I didn't get out of the only moderately busy restaurant with my carry-out order until 2:20pm. With only 30 minutes for lunch and 10 minutes travel time round trip, that left me just 8 minutes to enjoy - key word, 'enjoy' - my sandwich! That's enough time to enjoy a couple bites is all! The Firehouse delivers big on flavor but the slow service and price take a bite (get it, 'bite'?) out of the overall experience.
#4 Quiznos: I went with the Quiznos Traditional for this visit, described on the restaurant's website as: Black angus steak, turkey, ham, cheddar, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ranch, served on your choice of Artisan Breads: White, Wheat, Rosemary Parmesan or Jalapeno Cheddar. Again, staying consistent with ordering when/if at all possible, I ordered wheat bread. And UNLIKE Jimmy John's tunnel vision staff, I was politely asked by the cute Quiznos sandwich specialist how I wanted to customize my toasted sandwich, so I added shredded lettuce and yellow mustard. It was an excellent sandwich! The bread was toasted perfectly, the black angus steak was stand out delicious, the cheddar was melted nicely and the veggies combined with the ranch and mustard was a perfect compliment making the sandwich very enjoyable with each bite. My only knock, is the meat portion was a bit on the skimpy side. There was great flavor in the meat, especially that steak, but a bit skimpy nonetheless. I paid $7.85 for an 8" sub and a bag of chips. Quiznos is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and their Traditional sandwich is a repeat buy. Side note: Miss Vickie's White Cheddar Kettle Cooked Chips are awesome! The service was fast and friendly. I was in and out with my carry-out order lickety split during the dinner hour.
#3 Planet Sub: They have a sandwich called, literally, The Planet Sub, which fits right in with what I've tried to order at each restaurant I've visited, an attempt at consistency of ingredients for fair comparison. It's been impossible to be exact with each sub shop/deli, but it's been ball park. I digress, back to the sandwich and the sub shop..... Planet Sub's, The Planet Sub sandwich is described on the menu as: Premium Roast Beef, Oven Roasted Turkey, Smoked Ham, Bacon, Swiss, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Dijon, Mayonnaise. I went with wheat bread, my M.O., with no other add-ons. This was a great sandwich. The bread was toasted perfectly, the meats delivered on flavor and were portioned nicely, the Swiss cheese was perhaps a better pairing than the provolone I typically prefer and the mustard and mayo dressing was nicely balanced, not too much, not too little. This was a delicious sandwich with every bite. About the only knock I have is just a bit too much lettuce. Don't get me wrong, I love getting a sandwich where I have a tough time getting my big mouth around the whole thing in taking a bite, but in this case, I think it was too much lettuce that put this sandwich it into "Big Bite" status. Make no mistake though, this sandwich is packed with flavor. I've only said, "That's a damn good sandwich," three times during the course of this challenge, and this is one of those times. Thanks Planet Sub! I paid $6.44 after tax for that delicious half Planet Sub sandwich, that's Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and The Planet Sub is DEFINITELY a repeat buy. The service was very friendly, engaging, fast and the restaurant was spotless. I was in-and-out with my carry-out order in just four minutes.
#2 McAlister's Deli: For lunch on 'Day 3' of this challenge, I decided on checking out what McAlister's Deli had to offer. I'll tell you what, their in-store menu pops, when ordering at the counter it occurred to me the place is a nice balance of deli meets technology. After reviewing the eye-popping easy-to-navigate menu, I went with the Memphian, which was tantalizingly described on the menu as: A lot of smoked turkey, Black Forest ham and Black Angus roast beef goes into this sandwich along with provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and spicy brown mustard on a baguette. I must have been in the mood for spicy brown mustard. "That sounds delicious," I said to myself. So how was the Deli Memphian you ask? It Rocked! What a balance of flavor! The ample amount of the three meats, the perfect sandwich cheese that is provolone combined with the fresh leafy lettuce, bright red tomato and all of it dressed with mayo and that spicy brown mustard on a perfectly toasted baguette..... This sandwich was perfectly prepared and perfectly delicious. A well executed balance of deli sandwich flavors. I paid just over $8 for this great sandwich and a bag of chips. McAlister's is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and darn tasty! The service was good and I was in and out with my carry-out order in about 10 minutes, very reasonable at a time when the place was steady busy. The sandwich is definitely a repeat buy, yes, a "damn good sandwich!"
#1 and the winner of the Bachelor on the Cheap Best National Chain Sub/Deli Sandwich is....... Drumroll....... Jason's Deli: I visited Jason's Deli on 'Day 4' of this challenge and ordered the Deli Club which is described on the menu as: Ham, roasted turkey breast, bacon, cheddar, Swiss, leafy lettuce, tomato, mayo, on toasted multigrain wheat. Does that sound deli-icious or what? Did you see what I did there.... 'deli'-icious? So how was my Deli Club? This ladies and gentlemen, is an incredibly AWESOME sandwich. And yes, while it's true bacon makes everything better, I could take the bacon off this thing and it would STILL be an awesome sandwich, just not quite as incredible. Jason's Deli STACKS this thing with meat, the most generous portion of meat on a sandwich I've bit into for this challenge, in fact, I couldn't get my mouth around this thing it was stacked so high. The veggies were fresh, the cheeses - also generous in portion size, were on point and the wheat bread was toasted perfectly. Great ingredients, excellent preparation, thank you Jason's!
I paid $7.94 for this huge sandwich and a bag of chips. Jason's Deli is Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and their Deli Club is DEFINITELY a repeat buy. The service was fast, friendly and all smiles. The best damn sandwich of the challenge!
So there you have it, the best sub/deli sandwiches of the national chain restaurants.