We know what you’ve all been thinking. John Pawlowski has gotten a lot of guff for eating his lunch under Barbara Tucker’s tree on Zimmerman Road in Tonawanda. The story went viral, but after everyone from BuzzFeed to Esquire investigated, one question remains unanswered: How’s the food?
For the past 18 months, Pawlowski has been ordering the same submarine sandwich once a week from Tailgate Deli in Tonawanda: a half sub with turkey and ham with lettuce and Swiss. He’s been eating it under a tree on Zimmerman Boulevard before returning to work in a City of Tonawanda office. We tried Pawlowski’s now-famous order, because in this age of fake news and alternative facts, we believe in doing our due diligence.
Tailgate Deli occupies an unassuming storefront near the corner of a Delaware Road plaza. Call ahead to get in and out fast – it’s a small shop, and the owner prefers a little warning. Tailgate offers the usual selection of hot and cold subs, as well as catering trays and cold cuts by the pound. These subs are huge. There’s at least a pound of meat on one half, and finishing it in one sitting was an undertaking.
For $7.99, Tailgate offers half a hot or cold sub and one side with a drink. We couldn’t finish it all. Sides include seasonal soups, macaroni or potato salad, chips or a cookie. Beverages include both Coke and Pepsi products.
Hot subs include the steak and chicken finger stinger, chicken cordon bleu, Philly steak and cheese, Reuben and beef on weck. Hot subs range from $8.99-$9.99 for whole, any half for $6.25. Wraps are $6.99. Cold subs include all the usual cold cuts, as well as the King with ham, turkey, salami and roast beef for $9.99 and an assorted Italian with ham, capicola and salami ($9.25). All half cold subs go for $5.50, and can be made into a wrap for $5.99.
Tailgate’s bread comes out crunchy and fresh, toasty on the outside and soft in the center. A generous handful of shredded lettuce squeezes out the sides for an impromptu side salad on the bottom of the clamshell. Pawlowski’s ham and turkey came out a little dry without condiments. Full disclosure: I tried a few bites before squeezing on a little mustard. I’m not the hero here.
The hot chicken finger sub featured a vinegary sauce at a great spice level to balance out both provolone and blue cheese. Tailgate Deli serves its chicken finger subs with both, so ask for one or the other if you prefer. Since we don’t tolerate culinary quitters in our household, we enjoyed the cheesy contrast of both.
Both macaroni and potato salads came in large portions, creamy and tasting like Memorial Day in mom’s backyard. The macaroni salad arrived studded with shredded carrots and celery for a little extra crunch. Potato salad can mush if the potatoes aren't done just right, but these were still firm under plenty of creamy sauce. Celery and pimento shreds added texture.
Pawlowski may not be the hero America wants right now, but he’s the inspiration Buffalo needs. You too can order a giant sub from Tailgate Deli and eat it under the tree of your choice. But as we’ve learned this week, unless it’s Tucker’s tree, you might want to ask the owners first. Not all of us want to be internet famous over lunch.
741 Delaware Road, Tonawanda; 877-5401, tailgatedeli.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Must-order: Pawlowski’s favorite (but add a condiment).
Gluten-free options: No