Regular visitors to my blog know that I occasionally dabble in submarine sandwich reviews. I’ve not reviewed a new sub place in a while, so this should serve as a stopgap until the next write-up. In all of my reviews, I use a “Yummie Scale” to rate the overall taste, appearance and value of the sub. At the bottom of this scale is Subway which rates a 1. At the opposite end of the extreme is Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs based in New York and Ohio which rates a 9. I grew addicted to Dibella’s when I went to school at R.I.T. and have never found anything that comes even close to them anywhere else. My friend Talos recently went up north for Thanksgiving and was kind enough to bring back Dibella’s subs for all of us at the Iconfactory, which gave me a chance to do this detailed guide explaining just what makes Dibella’s so good.

With my Dibella’s Godfather sub in hand (thanks to Talos), I made the rounds to some of the sub shops I frequent around Greensboro. The three that I chose were Giacomo’s Italian Market on New Garden Road, Subway (does it matter where?) and Jimmy John’s at the Quaker Village Shopping Plaza. I ordered the same basic Italian sub at each location to try and level the playing field as much as possible. The first tell-tale sign of a good sub is the cross section. Click the thumbnail image here to get a detailed look at the four subs by cross section as well as how they stack up by price.

Everyone from students to working folk appreciate the value of a buck. How that buck stretches when it comes to subs varies from place to place. This photo shows the dramatic difference of just what six bucks will get you around the Triad and how that compares to Dibella’s. If anyone knows a place in Greensboro or Winston that has 14″ subs for $7.50, please write and let me know.

The key to any good submarine sandwich is the bread. In my opinion, as your humble sub reviewer, sub rolls should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Some places like Subway have what amounts to pathetic excuses for bread and it’s important that you know the difference. The sub places around the Triad seem to all use similar bread recipes and it’s starting to tick me off. If you own a deli, for the love of the sub, look here and study well. Our stomachs will thank you later.

So there you have it. The next time I get a chance to write up a Triad Sub Review, you can refer back to this handy comparison chart to get a better sense of all those things I’ll be talking about. Of course, you may not even enjoy submarine sandwiches, in which case you probably didn’t even read this far in the first place. What do I look like a mind reader?

This past Saturday, Anthony and I headed toward downtown Greensboro and Tate Street to check out the submarine offerings of Manhattan Pizza and Subs. The shop was recommended to me a couple of times and I finally decided to check it out. I was looking forward to visiting a sandwich shop that was outside my normal hunting grounds, but I’m sorry to report that what I found left both of us less than enthusiastic.

The Location

Manhattan Pizza and Subs is located practically on top of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s campus in the heart of Tate Street. Being so close to the college, Manhattan seems to have a clientele built in, which might help to explain how the place stays in business. When we arrived, we actually almost missed the restaurant completely. Manhattan’s street sign is faded and worn, with only a single large neon “Subs” sign on the building itself. If I had not been looking for it, I think we would have driven right by. This isn’t something a restaurant owner wants to hear, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.

Like the sign, the interior of Manhattan was a bit worse for wear. Its obvious the shop has been around a while and the seating, while spacious, was a bit on the run-down side. It seems as if the “high traffic” location next to UNCG has taken its toll on the little sub shop over the years and for some reason, the owners have not kept up with renovations. The entire dining area could use an update or at the very least a good scrub down. This, plus the fact that the dining room seats both smoking and non-smoking customers, lowered my expectations right away.

The Subs

As usual, I spied the classic Italian deli style sub on the menu and ordered an 8″ hoagie along with the Manhattan Special. The only difference between the Italian and the Special was the addition of roast beef on the latter. The size of the sub and its appearance seemed decent, especially considering the price. Both subs were just $4.29 and had a good amount of meat and cheese. Compared to the $6.00 sub I ordered at Giacomo’s from my previous review, I thought I was in for a bargain.

Unfortunately, unlike the fresh ingredients at Giacomo’s, the meats and cheese used by Manhattan were not particularly flavorful. The roast beef wasn’t very rare and didn’t pack a lot of that herby flavor you expect from a good deli roast beef. In fact, the addition of the roast beef didn’t seem to make any difference in taste from the Italian Sub and the Manhattan Special, both came with lettuce, tomato, onion and house dressing. The dressing itself tasted like a store bought Italian salad dressing and definitely over powered the natural tastes of the sub. When all was said and done, I would have gladly paid a bit more to have higher quality meats and cheeses on my sub instead of the rather bland fare we received. On the bright side, the bread Manhattan offers was indeed nice. I dare say it was homemade and was crunchy, fresh and just right for a sub roll.

The Wrap Up

There is a big part of me that would just like to report that Manhattan was a decent place to eat this past Saturday. The owners were pleasant and friendly, and seemed to care about the food they served. Manhattan has continued to offer up sandwiches and pizza to the good students of UNCG despite the fact that there is both a Subway and a Jimmy John’s Subs not half a block from their front door. I would have no problem recommending them and looking past the decor of the shop if the food had been outstanding, but it just wasn’t.

While Anthony and I ate, several students came and went. Many seemed to be ordering slices of pizza or munchie foods like cheese sticks and onion rings. Manhattan is what it is – a college joint. It caters to students on a budget and offers quick, standard food fare to those on the go. Due to its proximity to the campus, I suspect it will do brisk business into the future, but its simply not good enough to travel more than a mile or so for. As we were leaving Tate Street and heading back home, we drove past a place called Yum Yum’s that was packed to the gills with people. I’m told that its “the place” to eat for UNCG. I wonder if they have subs…

Think I’m off my rocker about Manhattan? Wanna send me to your favorite Triad sub shop? Post your suggestions in the comments thread and give me the low-down!

This week we’ll be looking at Giacomo’s Italian Market (North side) on New Garden Road. But before we get into that, I just wanted to share something special that happened in the two weeks in-between. Two of my longtime friends from college, Anna & David, visited Greensboro this past week, and they were good enough to bring sandwiches from our favorite eatery – Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs. I’ve mentioned them before, but I had forgotten just how good they were. For the price of $7.50, you get a sub that is as long as your entire arm! The sub is packed with the best quality meats and cheeses and the bread is simply the most wonderful sub roll you’ll ever eat. All of us at the Iconfactory were all amazed that even after a two day journey in a travel cooler, Dibella’s still kicked the butt of any sub we have here in the Triad.

It is unfortunate that Giacomo’s subs are being reviewed after the Dibella’s visit, but that’s the breaks. Since I’ve decided to use Dibella’s as a yard stick for all reviews, I don’t feel I’m being unfair. On with the review!

The Location

Even before Hugh recommended Giacomo’s in the comments of the Penn Station review, I had wanted to try their subs for some time. I visited the High Point Road location when I first moved to Greensboro over a decade ago and remembered the market offering the freshest ingredients, although I don’t remember actually having one of their subs. So when I visited the New Garden location a total of three times this week, I had high hopes.

Giacomo’s is exactly the kind of small, mom and pop operation you might expect to see anywhere in New York or New Jersey. The New Garden Road Giacomo’s has several tables out front for fair weather dining, and the interior is warm and inviting, if a bit cramped. The deli itself proudly displays all forms of delicious looking fare including home made mozzarella & tomato salad, marinated egg plant, and a wide range of stuffed olives. Giacomo’s is probably best known for their traditional Italian sausages, meatballs, breaded cutlets and other staples. I’ve personally had several of the salads, various olives and even cooked up their meatballs. All of them are very good and worth a try if you get a chance.

The Subs

Unlike Penn Station, Giacomo’s offers a wide range of cold, deli subs to choose from. During my various visits, I tried the Italian Stallion (salami, capicola & provolone), the Nicoletta (salami, hot capicola & fresh mozzarella) and the Paesano (marinated eggplant, salami and provolone). At Giacomo’s one size fits all, so any sub you order is an 8″ hoagie on a crusty roll. All subs come with lettuce, tomato, onions and oil & vinegar. I didn’t see any additional toppings I could ask for, which was disappointing.

Both the Italian Stallion and the Nicoletta were similar in appearance and taste. The deli meats are top notch and unlike Subway or other sub shops I’ve been to recently, they are not shy with the amount they pack into the sandwich. I have to say that the bread is some of the best I’ve had anywhere. Its crunchy, but gives when bitten and does a great job of containing the sandwich without being overly doughy on the interior. My only complaint here is that the rolls themselves are small. When they say 8″, they really mean 6″ since the ends taper drastically and the contents usually don’t spill out from the edges. The small size makes ordering a sub from Giacomo’s seem more like an actual sandwich, which I was a little let down by.

While the meats and cheeses used on their subs are top notch, the oil, spices and dressing they use don’t seem unique and vary greatly from order to order. The Italian Stallion was heavy with dressing to the point that it tasted like commercial Italian salad dressing. By comparison, the Nicoletta had barely any oil and spices and allowed me to enjoy the fresh Mozzarella that they make on site. All three subs however, even the eggplant based Paesano, tasted similar to each other. It would be difficult to tell them apart in a blind taste test. I also did not get an opportunity to try one of their hot subs, like the Meatball Parmesan sub that Hugh recommended so whole-heartedly. Next time I visit I will give these hot sandwiches a try.

The Wrap Up

Its obvious from my few visits to Giacomo’s that the owner(s) care a great deal about what they do. They have gone out of their way to provide their customers with top notch food that is both delicious and authentic. If there is a down side, its that to get this official taste of Italy, you pay a premium. The subs are all priced at $5.95 and while they do contain a good amount of meat and cheese, they are small and do not come with chips or a drink. Many people would say however that the extra price is worth it if for no other reason than to help support an independent Italian market in the Triad.

The two locations in Greensboro are convenient to get in and out of, and are pleasant to visit. The establishments are clean and friendly and constantly busy (always a good sign). I suspect however that Giacomo’s is more appreciated for their behind the counter offerings such as sausages, salami, veal and cheeses than their subs. I give them full marks for baking their own, nearly perfect bread, as well as their homemade deli meats and cheeses, but something is missing. Since all subs come only with L,T,O O&V, most of them end up tasting nearly identical. This would definitely get old after only a short time. Standing head and shoulders above many other sub shops in the Triad, Giacomo’s is a great Italian Market and a solid sub shop. Its not however, the hoagie nirvana I was hoping it would be, and so my search continues.

Have a special place in the Triad that you think serves up the best subs? Hugh sent me to Giacomo’s and you can send me to my next destination! Post your suggestions in the comments thread and get my feet moving!

I’m starting a new set of posts on a subject that is near and dear to my stomach, submarine sandwiches. Some call them hoagies, some grinders but most people call them subs. Ever since I moved to the Triad in 1994 I’ve been looking for somewhere that offered sub sandwiches at least as good or better than the place I fell in love with them – Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs in Rochester NY. In over 10 years of looking around the Triad, nothing has even come close. So to try and help my fellow denizens, I’m going to review sub sandwiches from various eateries around the Triad. The first in the series is a new place that just opened off of 68 called Penn Station East Coast Subs.

The Location

The Penn Station restaurant I visited is located off of highway 68 in High Point, NC near the Deep River shopping center. Its currently only one of two shops open in a new plaza so traffic to and from the restaurant was no problem. The restaurant itself is quite small with tables lining one side and a few booths in the rear. This makes moving around inside Penn Station rather cramped with no real places to wait if you have placed a “to go” order. The number of subs to choose from was rather small, so I ordered the signature “Philly Cheese Steak” sub as well as a standard 10″ Italian as a good baseline for the review.

The Food

The heart of any great sub is its bread. You can usually tell how good a sandwich is going to be by the freshness of the hoagie roll it comes on. Since you can’t specify a type of bread with your order, you have to hope the standard white roll is good. Penn Station’s bread was fresh and crunchy, but not something you’d write home about.

The meats on the Italian sub were hearty and flavorful. The sub itself was packed with ingredients, although way too many onions for my liking, but good overall. The oil and spices used brought out the nice flavors one would expect from an Italian sub and didn’t make the bread soggy or overly greasy.

Since the cheese steak sandwich is the selection that the chain is supposedly famous for, I also ordered a regular 10″ cheese steak with no extras such as mayo, mustard or (eegad) pizza sauce. The result was adequate, but not overly wonderful. A bit greasy and heavy on banana peppers, I’m sure that true Philly residents would balk at the notion of this hoagie being a real “Cheese steak” sandwich. If I returned to Penn Station again, I would like to try their Reuben or Artichoke subs just to see how the less popular subs stack up. Their french fries were nothing spectacular, although the fresh squeezed lemonade was indeed quite good. Not too sweet and not too tart.

The Wrap Up

Overall my visit to Penn Station East Coast Subs was enjoyable. I got in and out with my food in a timely manor. The staff was courteous and the subs themselves were better than average. The price of each 10″ sub was $6.49, which is about what I would expect to pay. On the downside, the food selection is rather small, and the dining area is tiny and cramped. Lastly, although I noted that the restaurant received a 96.5 health rating as of February 2007, I did see some troublesome spots both in front of and behind the counter. Spilled drinks, unclean trash areas and several messes in the kitchen didn’t inspire my appetite as I was leaving.

All things being equal, I would return to Penn Station again and try some of their other subs and I would definitely recommend them over Quizno’s almost any day of the week. Perhaps my largest disappointment was the lack of “true” sub-type sandwiches. Most were the toasted, heated, types of gourmet sandwiches that seem to have taken over today’s sub shops. Even the Italian sub I ordered came toasted, and while not really a bad thing, it made Penn Station seem like just another Quizno’s. My search for the perfect Triad sub continues…

What about you? Have a special place in the Triad that you think serves up the best subs in town? Post them in the comments thread and point me in their direction. I just might review them here!