The sub, the hoagie, the grinder, and the hero: Depending on where you sit or where you’re from, these either describe four distinct styles of sandwich or serve as regional variants, the savory and bread-encased version of the perennial soda-versus-pop debate that can arise at a moment’s notice. The sub can be a handheld operation; the sub can also be the six-foot-long meal that’s served up for you and dozens of guests while watching sports. It can involve cold cuts, cheese, oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper, or it can involve no meat at all; the ingredients can be piping hot or freshly removed from a refrigerator. But what makes one truly great, and how can you make your own?
Geography may play a role in what subs someone considers iconic. A long-running fixture at Rutgers University are the grease trucks, whose staple sandwiches involve taking virtually every form of deep-fried food and placing it within a long roll. (They have their own Wikipedia page.) Some Floridians swear by the subs from the grocery store Publix. The sandwiches from Atlantic City’s storied White House Sub Shop fall into yet another archetype, with meat, cheese, and peppers all in the mix. In New York City, you can find traditional deli subs along with sandwiches from chefs who are taking the form in unexpected (yet delicious) directions.
One of those chefs is Tyler Kord, co-founder of New York’s No. 7 Sub, a place that’s redefined the sandwich for a number of New Yorkers. (And possibly beyond: a cookbook deal was announced last year.) The anything-goes aesthetic at the heart of No.7 Sub seems rooted in Kord’s own approach to the sub. “For me,” he told me, “a perfect sub is a sub roll with whatever the hell I feel like eating inside of it.”
A quick glance at the menu of one of No.7 Sub’s locations reveals an approach that balances the traditional with the unexpected: though you can get sandwiches featuring savory ingredients, whether ham, turkey, or seitan, there’s also a beloved sandwich where broccoli is at the heart of the sub. (Kord has, in fact, written a volume in the Short Stack series on the vegetable in question.) “I look at a sub as being no different from a plate of food: that hero roll is what makes a sub, but anything goes as far as what goes in it” he said. “I think a lot of people think of a sub as being a compilation of Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. That’s totally fine, and that’s what you get at the bodega, but like any food — if you made a plate out of that, that also would not be particularly exciting. It doesn’t change for me too much if it’s between two rolls.”
For Kord, his first notable encounter with a sub came in upstate New York. “It was at a place called Shortstop Deli in Ithaca, New York,” he said. “They are an Ithaca-style deli, they say, but to this day I don’t totally know what that means. I was a really picky eater as a kid, and I would go there and get roast beef with lettuce and tomato on a roll. It was my favorite thing ever. With lots of salt on it.” He went on to make something clear, though: “What I make has very little to do with that.”
When asked what his favorite sub in New York is, Kord's answer gets at the heart of the debates that can arise when talking about subs. “The hot roast beef with fried eggplant and fresh mozzarella at Defonte’s in Red Hook is easily my favorite sub sandwich in the city,” he told me. “But again, I think they would probably take issue with it being called a sub.” Regardless of what you call it, the savory meals that fit within a roll (or sometimes spill out of them) are a favorite lunch or dinner for a good reason. And, as Kord’s approach to sandwiches shows, the possibilities are limitless.
Classic New England Lobster Grinder
- Meat from the claws, knuckles, and tail of a 1 1/4 pound lobster cut into small chunks with any cartilage and the dark vein-like organs from the tail removed
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 4 lemon wedges
- 1 medium stalk of celery, finely diced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
- Pepper (optional)
- 2 pieces of Italian bread or baguettes
- Mix the lobster meat with the mayonnaise and dried taragon in a bowl. It should very lightly coat the lobster. That's all.
- Add a dash of pepper Add the diced celery if you want some crunch. Mix again to distribute the pepper and celery. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
- Fill the bread with the lobster, squeeze lemon on top, serve.
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