Let's hear it for the sub sandwich.
Let's hear it for what is essentially an enormous hunger buster, a huge hunk of bread plentifully topped with, well, anything that happens to strike the cook's fancy. Most notably -- any number of meats, cheese, veggies, condiments and seasonings.
There are a lot of places to get a sub -- aka the "hoagie," aka the "grinder," aka the "hero," also known in some locations as a "po'boy," "muffuletta" or even a "wedge" in other parts of the country.
And there are a zillion places to get a sub in Western New York.
That's the point, we guess. With so many subs around here, we could not help but wonder -- can there really be that many differences among them?
We created a tasting panel to help us find out. The short answer?
Some background first: Nobody knows exactly where the sub originated -- John Mariani in his book "America Eats Out" (Morrow, 1991) says that the name at least originated at the U.S. Navy's submarine base in Groton, Ct. During World War II sailors on that base, ordered some 500 sandwiches per day. That may or may not be true.
But wherever they came from, sub sandwiches are ubiquitous. In the Buffalo area, you can indulge practically anywhere you look. The big chain, Subway, is well-represented with a staggering 79 stores in the immediate four-county area. (Subway has more than 18,000 stores in the country.)
But now we've got an upstart called Quiznos which opened just months ago. The U.S. Restaurant News is calling Quiznos the fastest growing sandwich chain in the nation. They have four stores here, but a recent Buffalo News report said the goal is to open at least eight more by the end of the year.
And then there is the traditional John & Mary's, with nine franchises in the area, and Dibella's out of Rochester, with two locations. Not to mention that almost every pizzeria offers the sandwiches and so do many supermarkets.
What's a poor sub fan to do?
To complicate the situation, there are many ingredient variations. Turkey, salami, capicola, ham, bacon, chicken, even vegetarian.
Subway and Quiznos also offer low-carb adaptations. But even though we're talking about a bread-based product, most managers in other stores insist that this particular diet craze has not affected them.
"We haven't seen anything significant," insists Amy Reynolds, marketing director of Dibella's. "Although we're just as happy to just pile the ingredients in a container without any bread if that's what the customer would like," she adds.
There are real differences among the subs offered, at least according to our panel. We presented five people with three fresh subs from three different venues. They were the basic "Italian" or "Assorted" subs - one each from John & Mary's, Quiznos and Subway.
The restaurant was not identified to the panelists, who rated the subs by taste, appearance and general satisfaction. The sandwiches were rated on a scale of 0 to 3 in each category, so the highest rating a judge could issue would be 9.
Meet the panel (sub fans each and every one):
Bryan Tramontana of Hamburg, account manager of a new business, Buffalo Ink Recyclers.
Buffalonian Tim Vogel, who runs a landscaping service.
Nora Egan of Buffalo, designated immigration officer at the Canadian Consulate General's Office.
And Brendan Miller and Ebony Wiles of Buffalo, who are students at Emerson School of Hospitality. Both are planning food service careers.
Admittedly, this was a strictly unscientific tasting with a very small sample. But here is what they said:
Assorted Sub from John & Mary's, 2363 Millersport Highway, Getzville. A 12-inch sub sold for $6.
Overall rating: 17 points
Ingredients included ham, salami, and capicola, provolone with lettuce, tomato and a mayo dressing. This was considered the least attractive of the three subs because the bread looked almost sunken.
Pluses: Fresh vegetables.
Egan was appalled by the look of this one. "This sub looks terrible," she said firmly. "It is completely unappetizing." She also thought that the sub needed more flavor.
"At least the lettuce is crunchy," she finally said.
"Unusually unappetizing in appearance, " said Tramontana.
Vogel felt it was not as zesty as the other subs.
"And it seems to be more bready than the other subs, too," he noted.
Miller thought the sub was "very dry and not visually appealing; Wiles awarded low marks for appearance and satisfaction as well as taste.
Classic Italian Sub from Quiznos, purchased at 8080 Transit Road. Twelve-inch sub selling for $7.49
Ingredients: Salami, pepperoni, capicola, ham, mozzarella, lettuce, red onion, tomato, black olives, with additional peppers.
Overall rating: 33 points.
Pluses: Taste as well as appearance
Minuses: Very few.
This was the only sandwich that was toasted - for 45 seconds, according to the restaurant's publicity. And the panelists immediately noted that fact.
"I like the toast idea," said Vogel. "And I liked the sesame seeds on top as well."
"Very tasty with a great appearance," Wiles said.
"Very flavorful," said Miller. His words were echoed by Egan.
"Spicy," she added. "And there was lots of meat."
Cold Cut Trio from Subway, purchased at 2325 Millersport Highway, Getzville. A 12-inch sub selling for $4.86.
Ingredients: Bologna, spiced salami, spiced ham, provolone, cheese vegetables.
Overall rating: 23 points.
Pluses: A "healthy" taste and feel.
Minuses: Meat was not much of a taste presence.
Wiles thought the sandwich looked very good.
"The vegetables are great," admitted Tramontana. "It tastes really healthy," he said. But at the same time Tramontana had some reservations.
"I can't really taste the meat," he complained.
"I can't taste the meat, either," said Vogel. "There are more condiments and less flavor. And I think that the bread is soggy, too.
"Really crunchy ingredients," said Egan. "Almost too crunchy," she added. "The meat was tasteless."
Miller had trouble with the the meat, also, "But the vegetables were very fresh." Then he thought a moment. "But why do I want just a vegetable roll?"