One of my very favorite sub sandwiches is also one of the simplest: good, crusty, Italian or French bread sliced in half and slightly hollowed out, spread with soft butter and dabs of Dijon or stone-ground mustard, then filled with ham and cheese.
The entire thing is then wrapped in plastic and you gently lean on it to warm it and to press it down (according to food writer M.F.K. Fisher, her cousin used to sit on his).
It’s a perfect sandwich (partly because of the fun twist). And what I’ve discovered about sub sandwiches and the sandwich shops that offer them is that each has its own, unique twist. Subway’s niche is healthy sandwiches; Firehouse offers thick, heavy, cheesy and mayo-heavy “comfort” subs; and Jimmy John’s steps it up with terrific bread and my own favorite, Hellman’s mayonnaise.
During a recent Saturday kayak trip with our friends Brett and Grace, we decided to grab a quick picnic lunch of subs prior to our launch at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. But instead of these tried-and-trues, we stopped by a new place on the way: Jersey Mike’s.
The franchise launched in 1956 in Point Pleasant, N.J., and today has more than 600 locations across the U.S. The location we visited on Fury’s Ferry Road is the second local franchise; the first opened in Grovetown in 2011.
Its distinguishing characteristic? Authenticity. According to its Web site, Jersey Mike’s uses top-quality premium meats (the Angus Beef top round is trimmed and cooked right in the store). Bread is fresh baked and, like other sub shops, each sub is prepared to order right in front of you.
The menu includes a variety of cold subs, grilled hot subs, wraps, kids’ meals and even a Sub in a Tub salad – all your meats and fixin’s in a plastic tub instead of a bun. Subs can be ordered in regular (about 7.5 inches), giant (15 inches) or mini sizes (4.5 inches).
The Fury’s Ferry location, which is bright and clean, with a shaded patio, was buzzing – and Brett and Grace said that is typical. They’d gone a couple of Sundays earlier for lunch, and they waited in line for nearly an hour for their fresh-made subs. Our wait wasn’t quite so long – but it did take some time for those used to the fast prep at Subway or Jimmy John’s.
Once you order, you can have your subs Mike’s way – with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, oil, vinegar and spices – or customize them with the above options, plus your choice of mayo, pickles, jalapenos, banana peppers, mustard, cherry pepper relish, mushrooms, bacon or extra cheese or meat. You can also make your sub a combo with the usual drink choices and chips or add a cookie or brownie.
As newbies, Sean and I must have seemed very interested in the prep of our subs (I chose the cold roast beef and provolone sub for the hot June day, while Sean went with the hot philly steak). I hadn’t seen a meat slicer up close in a while, and it was fun watching our meats get freshly sliced, then piled on the bread.
After we indicated the toppings we wanted and inched up the line, the prep guys laughed and said, “Make sure we get it right!”
We laughed back. It was a fun, easygoing atmosphere – even though the line was about eight deep, there wasn’t the usual feel of hecticness. Soon, everything was popped into a brown paper bag and we were off.
We opened our lunches on the dock on the canal portion at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
After my first bite, I knew why people were willing to wait. I still probably like the bread at Jimmy John’s a little better, but I had to give it to Jersey Mike’s for the freshly carved premium meat … it really made a difference. And the regular was huge: Sliced into three servings, I could eat only two (and was sad that because we’d be on the river, I couldn’t save the last one). And the cool, crisp lettuce and tomatoes made mine win out over Sean’s, which was tasty, but a little too heavy, hot and damp for outdoor dining in Augusta’s summer heat.
Later, I was glad to note that they have easy online ordering to help avoid a sometimes lengthy wait. But for us, the easygoing atmosphere at Jersey Mike’s was a great way to start a lazy Saturday of floating down the canal.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Jersey Mike’s Subs, 403 Fury’s Ferry Road, Martinez; and 4010 Gateway Blvd., Suite 4, Grovetown
HOURS: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: Fury’s Ferry location, (706) 210-0096, Grovetown location, (706) 650-1806, jerseymikes.com