As someone who tries to limit their consumption of meat, I’m constantly looking for vegetarian-friendly menu items at restaurants. As far as sub sandwiches go, I always seem to fall back on the veggie at Jimmy John’s, with provolone, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, mayo and yummy avocado spread. I decided to try the Jacob Bluefinger at Erbert & Gerbert’s, which packs the same ingredients as Jimmy John’s minus the cucumber. Maybe it was an off day, but what I got was basically a bread and lettuce sandwich. The thin sammy is the only vegetarian choice listed, and there was no option to substitute the provolone with a vegan cheese. Even adding oil and vinegar, the taste was bland. Cucumbers were an extra 25 cents, sundried tomato 50 cents and pickles $1.49. Positives: I do like the bread guts on the side, plus my Sprite bottle was wrapped so it wouldn’t spill everywhere, a nice touch. Each sandwich also comes with a fun, made-up story. Apparently, Jacob Bluefinger saved the Declaration of Independence from the evil Comet Morehouse—who tried to burn the document—by handing it off to an eagle who put the flame out and became our national symbol. Too bad Erbert & Gerbert’s didn’t put a little more fire in the sandwich itself.
The upshot: If you want a basic, no bells or whistles veggie sammy, Jacob Bluefinger is your guy. Erbert & Gerbert’s could stand to liven it up with a special sauce or ingredients such as bell peppers and spices. If I go again, I’ll make sure to pay extra for the sundried tomato and pesto mayo. —C.E.
The Hook & Ladder sub at Firehouse Subs is as iconic for the brand as, well, the hook and ladder trucks are to firefighters. The No. 1 sub at the very top left of the menu does not disappoint. It’s not a complicated thing: ham, turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and some condiments. Altogether, it sings. The honey-glazed ham has just the right sweetness, and the deli mustard brings a whisper of warmth. The Duke’s mayonnaise (iconic in its own right) is pure flavor, even if it’s right at the edge of indulgent in volume. The veggies add a little crunch and depth of flavor, but not enough to get in the way of the protein and cheese at center stage. It’s all warmed up on the conveyor toaster to melt the cheese and the condiments into the surprisingly flavorful bread.
The upshot: While simple, the Hook & Ladder is what happens when a bunch of good ingredients become great when they’re all toasted together with melted Monterey Jack cheese. —N.U.
The puns are groaners at Cheba Hut, the sandwich maker with a pothead theme that Cheech & Chong would love. Serving “toasted” subs in “nug, pinner and blunt sizes,” plus munchies, grape Kool-Aid for “cotton mouth” and sandwiches named after marijuana strains, the chain celebrates the weed counter-culture. But now that suburban soccer moms can buy legal recreational marijuana in 11 states and counting, how relevant is Cheba Hut today? To learn what the young crowd thinks, I enlisted my college-age son to visit a two-month-old store, the first in Chicago. “It is really corny, but it’s kind of endearing,” he said, especially the friendly staffer who described her favorite five sandwiches. Beautiful murals, cool music and a standup bar made this the most inviting shop ever. The price, $12.79 for the “blunt” size (which my son deemed “really stupid, just the fact they force us to say it”) was too high for a student. But the fillings were generous, with our favorite being the Jamaican Red: spicy chicken breast, jalapenos and hot sauce.
The upshot: “20 years and still rolling” is the slogan at Cheba Hut, which makes up for its dated counter-culture positioning with an enduringly mellow vibe. —B.E.