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April 28, 2009

Sub Mission

“I’m on a submarine mission for you, baby”

- Sex Pistols, “Sub-mission”, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Southerners have the reputation of loving a good meal. Speaking from the vantage point of someone who doesn’t care a lot about food (indeed, we have eaten the same meal for luncheon 11 years straight and have naught the slightest desire to change our meal one whit), the South sure has some great places to eat—even if their fare does exhibit the glaring flaw of varying from our usual lunch selection.

Prior to the Southern Expedition, there was concern that even urban/e Atlanta would present difficulties for the (roughly) 50% of our office that are vegetarians. Rumor was meat makes the meal, and not the murder, in the ATL.

Despite rampant meat love, vegetarian-friendly meals haven’t been a problem. Waffles are always plentiful, and the Mexican/Cuban/Asian restaurants (and there are many) are rife with choices. Yet for all the gluttony—cheese grits, waffles, biscuits, gravies, pork-stewed collard greens, fried chicken, molasses, fried fish, fried cheese waffle chicken bacon pork biscuit gravy—there is one indulgent menu item that has been difficult to locate. One item that, as a native of the cold and obese northern rust belt regions, is conspicuously absent as a great food stuff in the obese southern lap band regions of Atlanta, leaving the bountiful cornucopia of food choices naked as a dogwood tree in winter. That item: the submarine sandwich.

A Sub by Any Other Name

Call it a sub, submarine, hoagie, grinder, bomber, or italian sandwich, its presence is near-universal in our beloved Buffalo, NY. Atlanta has its share of sub and sandwich places. It’s not entirely for want of venue that we go unsated.

First, however, a word about the dining customs here. Many restaurants operate according to a practice less familiar to us simple, displaced Northerners. Subs/sandwiches are served only at meal-specific hours, and restaurants close curiously early. Sandwiches may be served, but only from 11am-4pm. Dinner places in good and/or college neighborhoods that close at 5, 6 or 9 pm… on a Saturday night? Unheard of. Useless. Ridiculous.

Furthermore, many of the so-called “sub” places do have subs—but exhibiting such a meager and paltry variety of options that any true Buffalonian—like your Baby Joe Mesis or your Robby Takacs—would scoff in disgust… before placing their order. If you don’t like the six choices at the local place, maybe you’ll like the five options at the regional chain down the road a-piece.

Submarine Sandwich Homesick Blues

It’s not just the sub choices that are surprisingly weak. The subs themselves are pretty bland as well. Comprised of ingredients whose quality ranges from average to edible, what we’ve had so far manages to be—to paraphrase—almost wholly, but not quite, unlike a sub.

Confusingly, most places have no options for vegetarians. If they do have a non-meat sub, it appears to be made by someone who has no concept of what a vegetarian might like. These veggie subs seem to contain every non-meat topping the restaurant may have, without regard to the desirability and/or taste of the combined items. It’s like a veggie sub designed by committee. You also run across “vegetarian” versions of standard fare—which will be the same, just minus the meat. No meat substitute, ala the veggie Whopper. This is pretty lame.

But, even more curious, is the absence of that handy and hardy default standby of vegetarians—the cheese sub. One wonders why. Easy to make, all the ingredients already in stock, filling, streamlined, satisfactory to children or fussy eaters or vegetarians (and any combination thereof), digitally restored, strong, durable, hardy, wonderful colors, beautiful patina, aromatic, delightful company, fast transfer speeds, extended range, more miles to the gallon, and overall pleasant personality, it would seem incredibly obvious to have it on the menu. REALLY, INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS. In a place where they love fatty/fried foods, cheese love would seem natural. Perhaps it has something to do with expense or the heat or being generally unloved or some other deep-seated regional psychosis? No idea. Some places have a “Swiss Cheese” sub—a single cheese choice that feels as unnatural as being forced to have only one Replacements album or one wife. A few places have Peanut Butter and Jelly as an option. An inspired choice! but PB&J does not a dinner make.

The hunt continues. Foodie Buddha is currently conducting a Sub & Sandwich tour of Atlanta. Their list was helpful in selecting places to scope out, although none seemed able to meet our relatively simple criteria:

  1. a passable vegetarian option
  2. the possibility of a meatball sub, and
  3. open beyond the 6-9 p.m. range on a Friday or Saturday night

As if This Wasn’t Enough Already, Here’s Our Highly Opinionated Critique Thus Far:

Unique Pizzeria: The first attempt, born out of desperation. Saturday night. Everywhere closed. No cheese sub. This was before knowing better. We asked them to make one and they asked “what sort of cheese do you want?”. When we listed multiple, they asked again. Ah. One sort of cheese, like the “Swiss Cheese Sub” above. Still full price, too. The subs came wrapped in aluminum foil. We later learned this may be in emulation of Chik-Fil-A. We admired the pluck, but won’t return.

Savage Pizza: Had the advantage of being open late—by which we mean they were still open at 9pm on a Saturday, and not closed at 5 pm as if it were a country Sunday, the way other places do. Even though the only vegetarian option was an Eggplant Parmasean sub—a notoriously dodgy dish—we gave it a go. The result? Eggplant sub was mushy, tasted, vaguely, like a general representation of what one would call an “italian” flavor. Mostly tomato sauce. Edible with chips. The meatball sub was a loser. The meatballs were made with huge, unwanted/-advertised chunks of onion in them. Why do restaurants do this? Places that don’t warn about onions in their dishes are invariably run either by grandmas, or balding, mustachioed men, dressed in garments that don’t breathe, whose apartments smell like chain-smoking, luncheon meats, and the 70s. Never again.

Dave’s Cosmic Subs: Has a 60’s rock vibe, provided by both the name and web backstory. Out of the many places web-surveyed, they seemed to have one of the better menus. But, upon pick up, the Dave’s Original Garden Burger (Hot Subs!) sub was only lukewarm. That may be our fault. The roast beef sub was middling. That was not our fault. Odd fact: they use shredded cheese on the subs, not sliced. Best overall experience, so far. The only place that might get a second shot. Maybe a pizza sub next time, though.

The 2007ish Phrase UR Doing It Wrong Comes to Mind

Look, lousy sandwiches wouldn’t be so strange if Atlanta didn’t have a rich and varied multi-cultural selection of great food, but it does, and this (apparently simple) food item is very hard to find. I can honestly say that you could pick any three sub places in the Buffalo, and not get subs this bad.

Discouraging, to say the least. So discouraging, in fact, that we’ve given up looking for now. We’ll be watching the web and streets and tweets for any excellent selections. Until then, it’s just another peculiarity of the Southern Expedition.

posted at 09:25 AM | find it forever

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