Goodness by the Inch

Some people would be thrilled to have a good sub sandwich shop within several miles of their house so how lucky are you if you live near the central business district of Forest Park and have two great ones within blocks of each other and a third not that far away.

So of course you ask, “Where did the submarine sandwich come from?” Oh it’s those immigrating Italians again who opened businesses along the East Coast and sold stuff to hungry people. Alright don’t touch your screens and here we go wavy lines, wavy lines, wavy lines.

Italians who came to this country at the beginning of the 20th century labored in mills and shipyards along the East Coast. When their fellow workers saw the meat and cheese sandwiches they brought for their lunches they asked if they could have one too and the concept sort of caught on.

The “sub” name dates to 1927 and Chester Pennsylvania where a grocery store owner saw an experimental submarine displayed in a park and immediately said,  “It looks like the sandwich I sell at my store” need I go on? And wavy lines, wavy lines and we’re back.

So the intent of my story is not so much to pick a “winner” but rather to report what my trusty tasting panel found to be the tastiest sandwiches and of course to offer you an idea of what to drink with them. My parameters were only locally owned /family businesses so no way chains, no speedy fast delivery which brings me to three locations all within a mile or so from each other.

subs1Our tasting starts at the rather basic Alpine Food Shop, 7538 W. North Ave. in Elmwood Park. This is a small, storefront style operation really functions as a meat market. The store opened in 1955 and is currently run by the Bonaccorsi family. They feature a sandwich called remarkably enough “The Alpine” with ham, salami, capicollo and provolone cheese. All subs come with lettuce, tomato and their special blend of olive oil and vinegar; you must request mustard and mayo.

The tasting panel thought the “Alpine” had, “good fresh flavors with good Italian seasoning from the oil and vinegar combo that provided a bit of a spice kick in the back of the throat”. They liked the firm Italian style bread with a nice bite to it. It was noted that the sandwich appeared to have the smallest amount of meats and cheeses.  It was rated fourth/fifth out of five overall.

The “Depth Charge” is the most popular sub at; you guessed it, the Submarine Tender located at the corner of Randolph and DesPlaines, according to sub manager and family member John Liveris. The “tender” was started by his father 29 years ago and the name – sorry, just a play on words.

Liveris attributes the store’s success to, “providing good food, good service, and good prices.” The taste secret to their success is a well-made sandwich that first gets oil on the bread then an even layer of vegetables, followed by seven ounces of meats, mayo, mustard, and a slice of a Swiss American cheese blend, not yellow American. Their oil appears to be the secret ingredient with a lighter flavor and a touch of sweetness along with a blend of eight secret spices. Bread comes from a private baker.

subs3“The Tender” was featured on the WGN-TV “Best of Chicago” food program just over two years ago and Liveris says people still stop in as a result of that media exposure. Their garlic fries are killer and they offer a full menu of both hot and cold sandwiches and cater throughout the Chicagoland area.

The panel thought the “Depth Charge” had, “good consistent flavors with nothing overpowering, it’s a good solid sandwich with crisp lettuce and a nice sauce that stays with you”. Its rating was 2.5 out of 5.

“We sell what we like to eat”, says Starship Restaurant and Catering co-owner Paul McKenna, at the deceivingly small location on 7618 W. Madison. A tour of the extensive back kitchen and storage areas reinforces the fact that 75% of Starship’s business is full-service catering that McKenna says, literally “goes out the back door.” The Starship name dates to 1977 and the Star Wars movie, “We were all in a spacy state at that time”, he says, smiling.

The namesake “Starship Sandwich” features ham, turkey, breast, baloney Cheddar and Swiss cheese, hard-boiled egg, yellow sauce, oil and vinegar, onions, green pepper, pickles and lettuce, quite the flavor combo, yet their most popular sandwich is the “Crazy Club” that features about a half pound of bacon. “It’s a man’s BLT”, says McKenna, adding that the sandwich includes turkey breast, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Another popular sandwich is the Lanasa that features Italian flavors of salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone cheese, onion and hot giardinera, oil and vinegar and lettuce and tomato. Different bread for different sandwiches comes from Turano and the Mazzeo bakery in Elmwood Park.

subs5While all “Starship” sandwiches have a strict order of construction, McKenna says that it’s important to maintain a consistent level of meats, cheeses and other products across the sandwich so as to avoid “footballing”, McKenna adds, “So the first bite should taste the same as the last bite.”

Starship is also known for its good soups, in fact there are 120 of them and McKenna says, “We’ve gotten really good at making them after 37 years.”

While the “Crazy Club” may have lots of bacon it missed a bit with the tasting panel who said, “Nice layers of flavor, the bacon offered crunchy texture but maybe covered a bit of turkey flavor, good overall flavor in your mouth.” It was rated 3 out of 5.

The panel was challenged by the “Starship”. “Great ham taste but almost too many flavors, a bit too much green pepper taste, some liked the hard-boiled egg and some missed its flavor, they liked the acid from the pickles but missed the flavor of the yellow sauce. Rated 3.5 out of five.

The tasting panels flavor favorite was the “Lanasa”, “very meaty even though a little salty, big-time Italian sub flavors with lots of meat, a muffuletta style with good vinegar and oil, the giardinera a bit spicy but gave the sandwich a nice crunch and flavor”.  It was clearly rated at #1 out of five.

And what to drink, well if you’re on your back porch with a big old sandwich here are some thoughts from Ted, one of the beer buddies at Famous Wines and Liquors:

  • “The Lanasa’ – Lagunitas Ipa, smooth, highly carbonated and crisp with a lingering hoppy finish, which compliments the spiciness of the giardinera..
  •  “Crazy Club” – Deschutes Black Butte Porter, a malty, roasty brew with a deceivingly light body, this hard-working beer has a smooth pleasant finish with caramel notes that complement   the salty, bacony goodness of this sandwich!
  • “Star Ship” – Revolution Bottom Up Wit, citrusy, light and creamy body with a crisp, dry finish.
  • “Depth Charge” – Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, this country style ale has a malty start with just enough hops to cleanse the palate. This is a very food friendly brew!

The “Crazy Club”

And for wine you could try two French Sauvignon Blancs, the ’12 Thieny Delaunay with low acid, grassy citrus notes and a fresh, fruity finish, $12.99. Another choice might be the’12 Joseph Mellot Destina, good acid that makes it food friendly, with the flavor of fresh melon and lemon peel, $11.99.

That’s my sub-ject, (see what I did there!) But I could be wrong.

Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, drinks and matches wine and food at