Saturday, August 02, 2003

AT A POTBELLY SANDWICH WORKS location the other day, a manager explained the lack of macaroni salad thusly:

"We had some problems with the recipe. They're working on improving it."

Whoa. It wasn't great macaroni salad, but for a chain establishment it was just fine. What are these mad scientists formulating?

I guess this would be as good a time as any to finally deliver the chain-sandwich-shop review I promised, oh, about a year ago.

The problem with reviewing chain sandwich shops, at least for me, is that when I find one I like, I overpatronize it until I get sick to death of it -- and then I spend months cleansing the palate with the reassuring blandness of Subway. Anyway, here's an approximate ranking.

1. Schlotzsky's Deli. Maybe it's just because there's no Schlotzsky's convenient to my home or office that the place is such a special treat, but I don't think so. The Original, a take on the classic New Orleans muffaletta, rules. The price isn't great, and the nutritional information is frightening, but that is one great sandwich.

2. Quiznos. The Traditional has an olive component in common with the Schlotzky's Original, and the toasting really does make a difference, especially with the sesame-seed rolls. Mmm. Come to think of it, Schlotzky's toasts its buns, too, but not to the extent that Quizno's does. The Traditional is less an Italianate cold-cut extravaganza than a good ol' American sampler: roast beef, turkey and ham. With ranch dressing. Everything's better with ranch dressing. I was also fond of a limited-time-only sandwich called the Spicy Monterey Club, featuring Chef Jimmy's Three-Pepper Chili Sauce, but that one appears to be no more.

3. Cosi. At Cosi, you get to choose from a slew of fillings to be stuffed into a freshly baked flatbread pocket. The bread is crunchy-ish -- think thin-crust pizza rather than naan -- but it's pretty darn good. Expensive, though. To paraphrase Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," "That's a pretty fuckin' good [$7] sandwich!" I've gravitated toward the tuna/romaine/cheddar/vinaigrette number, but there are too many good choices for me to firmly recommend just one.

4. Potbelly Sandwich Works. Again, there's toasting. But Potbelly distinguishes itself with prices that are very low even considering its relatively (and refreshingly) small portions. The menu is pretty small, but, as the kids say, it's all good. Potbelly's Original/Traditional equivalent is the Wreck -- salami, roast beef, turkey, ham and Swiss -- but I go all over the Potbelly menu. There's even a PB&J.

5. Subway. Sigh. It's Subway. How do they make everything so uniformly flavorless? This is the most conveniently located chain to, well, everywhere, so it's hard to avoid eating there. It's better than the candy machine, and there is a lot of variety.

6. Blimpie. I had high hopes for Blimpie, until I ate at one. It's not disgusting or anything, it's just Subway without the variety.

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