Learning something about subs and teens

January 22, 2003|By ROB KASPER

AS THE father of a teen-ager, I often find myself wondering where my kid is. The other night I got a partial answer. Chances are good that he and his friends are in a sub shop, eating.

I came to this conclusion last Wednesday after accompanying my 17-year-old son and his 17-year-old buddy, Hugh, as they ate their way through a handful of sub shops in northern Baltimore County. They ate six sandwiches at three establishments in a little less than an hour.

The outing was my idea. I wanted to check out the so-called submarine wars, the battle between Subway and Quizno's for customers in the fast-growing market of custom-made sub sandwiches. Ads for both franchises have been bombarding TV viewers, especially in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

At the Quizno's in the 1800 block of York Road in Timonium, they polished off a mesquite-chicken sub with bacon and a honey-mustard-chicken sub with Swiss and bacon in four minutes. The quick demise of the subs was evidence, I was told, that the guys both liked the fare, and were really hungry.

At the Subway at York Road and Chesapeake Avenue in Towson, the chicken-teriyaki sub with sweet onion, tomato and mushroom was deemed "too sweet," but the BMT sub with salami, pepperoni and ham, lettuce, tomato, onion, green peppers, banana peppers, mayo and honey mustard was praised as a "salad with meat and bread."

At the Real Thing on 412 York Road, a Towson eatery that my son and his buddy seem to regard as a second home, they crossed up the counterman by ordering two "small" cheese steaks that measured a mere 6 inches. Usually, the counterman said, the guys live large and order the 9-inchers.

There were no leftovers. When Hugh was unable to finish the heel of his cheese steak, my kid swooped down on it, picking out pieces of hated onion, and dispatched the remains. When it comes to cheese steaks, the guys said, the Real Thing rules.

I agreed. I liked the Real Thing's cheese steak, its flavorful meat or chicken on warm bread. I also liked the crisp, toasted bread that surrounded the Quizno's subs.

On a frigid winter night, the cold Subway subs suffered from being compared with hot fare. Nonetheless, I was surprised by how intrigued I was as I watched the Subway counterman apply myriad toppings to the sandwich. It was like watching the glass elevators go up and down in a Hyatt lobby. It does not seem that interesting, yet you can't take your eyes off it.

I did not eat as much as the teen-agers. I took sample bites, but mostly I watched, listened and paid.

Like many college-bound high school seniors, my son and his buddy are preparing their parents for next fall's separation by making rare appearances on the home front. They like to go "out" on weekends. I like to think they are attending the area's many uplifting cultural events, but I don't ask. Instead, I negotiate when they will be back.

However, when I proposed the sub-eating expedition, the guys said they could squeeze me into the schedule. My son even offered to drive, an offer I accepted because lately I haven't seen much of the family station wagon, at least after dark.

We got off to a slow start when an evening rush-hour traffic jam slowed the northbound Jones Falls Expressway. I rerouted the expedition up Greenspring Avenue, and somewhere around Smith Avenue, one of the guys piped up, "I think we got lost here once, looking for a party." I stopped listening.

The guys certainly knew their way around Timonium, snaking through back roads and shopping-center parking lots before popping out on York Road, just above the Quizno's.

Bread is a crucial component to the success of any sandwich. Subway bakes its bread on the premises and Quizno's uses a bread that is designed to be toasted as the sandwich slides along a conveyor belt through a convection oven. Sub shops now feature a variety of breads.

The ones I sampled at Quizno's and Subway had good crusts, but the body or crumb was lacking. I like chewy bread, but then I also prefer heavy, dark beers to the much more popular light brews.

The teen-agers had no problem with the Quizno's bread, except that the sandwich was about 3 inches too short. Next time they came, they would order a bigger sandwich, they said. My son announced that he could drive over to Quizno's from school for lunch. I wanted to say, "Shouldn't you be using that time to study physics?" But I didn't.

I also did not burden the teen-agers with my sub research. I did not tell them that Quizno's is the name the founder of the chain made up after reading a Wall Street Journal article that said Q's and Z's were the least-used letters in the alphabet and therefore more memorable.

I did not tell them that the sub sandwich got its name from the fact that its shape resembled the submarine. It is also called an Italian hero, a grinder, a poor boy, a zeppelin, a Dagwood and a hoagie.

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