Sgt. Pepper's Subs: Upscale Digs, Old-School Subs, Hosts Sub Contest Sunday

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With its grand-opening party this Sunday, Sgt. Pepper's Subs is announcing to the world that it is here to stay. Owner Nelson Couso originally opened his shop on SW 183rd Street and remained at that location for 15 years. He later opened a second store near Dadeland Mall, which stuck around for five years, until the recession curbed people's spending habits. In its new location off South Dixie Highway and 172nd Street, Sgt. Pepper's has found a permanent home. We were invited to get a sneak peek and try some menu items before the grand opening.

Although it hurt to lose the Dadeland store, Couso embraces the lessons he learned there and has applied them to his new location -- the prettiest, sleekest, and cleanest sub shop you'll ever set foot in.

This Sunday, Sgt. Pepper's Subs is hosting a block party and a "Design Your Own Big One" contest with a live tasting from noon to 3 p.m. The winner gets an iPad Mini, his or her creation added to the menu, and a year of free dining.

The menu reflects Couso's stint in Dadeland. In addition to traditional sub-shop fare, Sgt. Pepper's offers wraps, flatbreads, and Italian coffee. You're not likely to find these items at your neighborhood sub shop. But in a way, Sgt. Pepper's retains the feel of your local sub spot. Customers are called by name, and some are so loyal they've had menu items named after them.

When Nelson tells you about his time at the Loew's Hotel or about his first job at Taco Joe's, his uncle's Tex-Mex restaurant up North, you can hear the traces of a New York accent that refuses to disappear. "My employees are like family. My customers are like family. We treat everyone the same here."

We tried a few steak and chicken subs along with a meatball sub, a burger and fries, and a flatbread pizza. At the end of our meal, Richard Castro, one of the employees, brought us some cookies. We discovered later that they were delicious, but at the moment we were so full we couldn't take another bite.

Interestingly, enough, Sgt. Pepper's Subs seems to shine when it comes to its chicken subs. There's a chicken caesar with bacon ($6.99 to $7.99) that blew me away. The peppery, noncloying sauce perfectly complemented the chicken and quality bacon. Also, although I thought the honey-mustard chicken sub ($6.29 to $7.49) was a bit too sweet for a sub, it's all a matter of taste, as my dining companions proved when they both swooned over it.

We tried a flatbread ($8.95 to $16.95), the TG4ED, loaded (and we mean loaded) with toppings, sausage, pepperoni, ham, and so on. It's a shame we didn't get to really enjoy it, because the crust was burnt to a crisp. The shop was busy, so we don't think it's a regular occurrence, but we will be back to try it. The toppings were plentiful and looked incredibly fresh.

The steak subs ($5.49 to $7.99) were pretty standard, expect for the Pepe's On Fire (named after a longtime customer). Steak, hot sauce, and hot peppers -- really good if you're into that sort of thing, which I am.

The meatball sub ($4.99 to $6.99) is a standout, mainly because of the quality meatballs. Unlike the meatballs at other sub shops, these aren't of the low-quality, frozen variety.

The Sgt. Pepper's burger ($7.99) was fantastic and topped with blue cheese and plenty of bacon and accompanied by perfectly cooked, nongreasy seasoned curly fries.

As far as taste goes, the subs were pretty standard, but the quality and freshness of ingredients make a notable difference in overall enjoyment, as does the friendly service and upscale-casual ambiance.

The block party and live tasting take place at Sgt. Pepper's Subs (17225 S. Dixie Highway, Palmetto Bay) this Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. Call 305-238-SUBS (7827) or visit sgtpepperssubs.com or Facebook.

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