By Bill Citara
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I should start by stating my general disdain for fast-food chains, which I believe exist mainly to provide pseudonutrition for those who don't like to put a lot of thought into what's going into their stomach. Still it's only proper that I keep abreast of national dining trends, and I had been hearing the names, seeing the ads for, and witnessing the openings of various Schlotzsky's and Quizno's for quite some time. Schlotzsky's and Quizno's bring to mind that old tag line: "With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good."
Clever campaign, but I pause to wonder how corporate outfits that can't concoct better appellations than the plotzing Schlotzsky's and quizzical Quizno's can possibly be capable of making good sandwiches. It was clearly a matter to investigate, and at the same time I might also find the answer to the question on everybody's mind: Which national chain makes a better sandwich?
I started at the Schlotzsky's Deli off U.S. 1 in South Miami. Red brick walls, hardwood floors, and big wooden tables make you feel as though you're eating in a real restaurant -- you know, like Bennigan's. Television screens are mounted around the room, and a trio of iMacs fronted by stools provide a mini Internet café. Nice touch, but unfortunately at this point it's probably too late to go online and look for a better place to eat.
Schlotzsky's attempts its own Smucker-esque tag line: "Funny name. Serious sandwich." They also claim to be "home of the original sandwich" ("Gee, this place must be old," I said to my wife, who returned the observation with one of her array of sarcastic glances). Turns out to be the home of the "Original" sandwich, a mix of ham, Genoa salami, and cotto salami, with mozzarella, cheddar, and Parmesan, along with chopped black olives, slivers of red onion, lettuce, tomato, and cheap yellow mustard, on toasted sourdough bun. Without the mustard it might've passed muster, though I don't see the sense of sending cold cuts through a fiery conveyor belt -- and yet that is, as I would discover, the very novelty behind the success of both sandwich shops.
Schlotzsky's toasted sourdough bun is tasty, and its choice of alternative buns impressive -- wheat, dark rye, jalapeño cheese, and rosemary. The prices are low, too -- $3.69 for a small, $4.69 for a regular. Then again, you can order the "deluxe Original" and get "more than twice the meat of the Original" FOR ONLY THIRTY CENTS MORE! That says all you need to know about the quality of cold cuts employed.
"Welcome to the best sandwich you've ever had." That's what the sign says outside of the new Quizno's on Washington Avenue in South Beach. Like Schlotzsky's, this franchise also features a second slogan to fall back on in case the first doesn't quite convince: "Mmmm ... toasty!" Quizno's décor is that of a moderately warm, minimalist modern sandwich shop -- sort of like Subway or Blimpie's, but nicer. A sign on the wall boasts of the high quality of ingredients used. For instance the turkey they utilize is "real turkey," and the cheese "real cheese." Younger readers may not realize there once was a time when such things were taken for granted.
I sampled a "signature sub," the "Classic Italian," on sesame-flecked semolina bread. The bread is fresh and benefits from a pass through the toaster conveyor, and I could live with having the salami, pepperoni, capicola, ham, and mozzarella heated as well. But since they add lettuce at the end, why not put all the cold components in at that time, like tomato, red onion, black olives, and especially red wine vinaigrette? One more suggestion: Pepperoni is a good idea, and adds a level of spicy flavor absent from Schlotzsky's rendition, but in the future please peel the piquant sausage so the little rings of plastic sheath don't have to be removed from the mouth, piece by piece, with each bite.
A "classic club with bacon" mix of ham, turkey, bacon, and cheddar is, I grudgingly admit, a somewhat tasty bugger, particularly on whole wheat bread (though, again, I'd advise applying the mayo post-toast with the lettuce). The prices are slightly higher here than at Schlotzsky's --$3.99 for a "small" (meaning half sandwich); $5.39 for a "regular"; and $7.49 for a "large" (or one and a half) -- but most would agree that Quizno's makes a much better sandwich. I prefer to say it makes a sandwich much less worse, and will leave the Schlotzno's and Quizky's for those who enjoy this sort of stuff.
Schlotzsky's Deli, 6290 S Dixie Hwy, South Miami; 305-740-4474 (with other franchises in Doral and Fort Lauderdale). Open Sunday to Wednesday 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Quizno's Sub, 1218 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-2031 (and many other locations). Open seven days, 11 a.m. to midnight.