Epicurious Eating: Jersey Mike’s Subs
Straight from the slicer
Published Thursday, 20-Aug-2009 in issue 1130
To fully cherish the recent arrival of Jersey Mike’s Subs to San Diego, you have to first encounter a couple of loveless meals at Subway and Quizno’s. Or if you’re a transplant from the country’s “torpedo bowl” (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey), where you never had to scream “no mustard” to mom-and-pop sandwich makers veiled behind ad-plastered glass, you’ll feel especially at home.
Jersey Mike’s is the antithesis of the aforementioned chains. Boar’s Head meats and cheeses are sliced before your eyes per every sub order. The cold sandwiches are garnished with shredded lettuce, juicy red tomatoes and onions, and then showered with olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano. Forget those gelatinous Italian dressings from the bottle. They don’t fly in back-East sub shops. Best of all, the staff radiates a rare dose of enthusiasm, with enough blood flowing through their veins to look you in the eye and crack a few smiles while assembling your sandwich with skillful brevity.
The corporate hats of Subway and Quizno’s could stand to get their hands on this customer-service manual, a quality standard established at Jersey Mike’s some 50 years ago when it first opened in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Today there are more than 400 locations across the nation, including the San Diego shop that made its debut two weeks ago. By the end of this year, the same franchisees will give us additional refuge from the big guys with locations slated for Sports Arena and Mira Mesa.
“I’ve waited 25 years for a real New Jersey sub in San Diego,” effused my native Garden State friend as he chomped on the “Jersey Shore’s Favorite,” piled neatly with thin-sliced ham, cappocuolo and provolone cheese. His request for mayo made it sinfully juicier, a common add-on among submarine aficionados from the Northeast because it mingles enormously better with oil and vinegar compared to sacrilegious yellow mustard, which thankfully isn’t pushed here.
The competition should also turn to Jersey Mike’s for lessons in condiment application. Mayo, when requested, is spread onto the inside of rolls as bedding for the garnishments – a no-brainer. The trons at Subway, I’ve often encountered, squeeze-bottle it across the final layers of meat and cheese or on top of lettuce and tomatoes. And that’s just ludicrous because the misplaced mayo causes the sandwich contents to slip away from the bread when eating it.
Jersey Mike’s bakes its rolls daily. In whole form, they make for whopping 14-inch subs labeled “giant.” Lesser appetites can opt for “mini” or “regular.” The bread isn’t perhaps as yeasty and textured as what a New Jersey bakery produces, but “it’s close,” my friend said.
In summing up two visits that included other companions as well, I got my hands around “The American Classic,” featuring ham, provolone and the default garnishings “plus mayo.” It’s a simple, straightforward construct that sticks to the tenets of Northeast sub making: The ham and cheese draped slice by slice onto one side of the roll; the mayo and veggies on the other half spritzed by oil and vinegar and finalized with a few loose shakes of oregano.
A mini albacore tuna was basic and fine, yet it doesn’t necessarily speak of New Jersey – or any state for that matter. The roast beef and provolone sub, however, was noteworthy. The meat is certified Angus, lean and cooked on the premises as opposed to the pressed roast beef of mysterious origin that Subway uses. There’s also a Jersey Mike’s “famous Philly” dripping with perfectly grilled onions and red peppers. We suspected the meat hails from the same “beasts” that are cooked in-house. If the rolls were Amoroso, the Philly cheesesteakers of the world would likely be fooled.
While New Jersey may preside as “submarine sandwich king,” it loses the crown to California for “wraps.” After eating the Baja chicken wrap, which I received erroneously after ordering Buffalo chicken (similar sounding names easily mistaken in the din of peak hours), I concluded to my friends, “Never again in the face of these excellent subs.”
The wrap contained a watery mélange of lettuce, canned jalapeños, insipid salsa, American cheese and sizable chunks of tender breast meat, unseasoned and unremarkable. It became a messy creature once I started biting into it. San Diegans could truly live without this section of the menu, containing five different wraps that I’d rather see swapped out for a couple of missing “Italian-Jawsey” faves like veal and eggplant Parmesan subs.
Though not forgotten are chicken Parmesan, “original Italian” and meatball-provolone subs. The latter awaits at the top of the list for my next visit.
The eatery’s décor embodies a large mural of a Jersey-shore postcard and a few surf elements. A wooden lifeguard chair stands guard outside the entrance. Surprisingly, there isn’t a speck of Bruce Springsteen in the house. With sleek wood flooring, high ceilings and modern lighting, perhaps Springsteen’s working-class image is too clichéd for a growing, established company preferring to appear all shiny and new. The metal slicers in motion are what really count.