The Mixed Bag That is No. 7 Sub

Inspired food combinations are rarely found under the dim fluorescent lighting of a college food court. But, one night after a few Pepsi’s and Jack, I asked the person behind the sandwich counter to take some chips, crunch them up, and put them in my tuna sub. Two years later, as I was preparing to walk at graduation and walk through Seton Hall’s gates one last time as a student, the sandwich counter knew my order in their sleep.

So, imagine my excitement when number 75 on NY Mag’s Cheap Eat list, No. 7 Sub, was described as the place where “no one has made a more compelling case for the profligate use of Fritos and Zapp’s BBQ potato chips in the sandwich-making arena.”

Frito’s can be a dicey proposition. They’re like the Dr. Pepper of chip-based snacks. Regardless of how many flavors one has or whatever marketing claim the Frito-Lay folks toss out there, they are not as popular as your Lays and Cokes of the world.

no-7-sub-broccoliDespite my neutral stance on Fritos, I’m all in  on adding crunch to the right sandwich by way of chips. With that belief, I convinced my co-worker Maura to order the Cauliflower Cheesesteak. I would order the Frito Kid and we would get half of each.

Both were disappointments. In general, the bread was soft on the inside and the crunchy on the top. It reminded me of a larger version of the baguettes – or as it was called at Price Chopper growing up…french bread – that we had with pasta. And it led me to believe the ingredients stuffed inside the would be just as good.

The Frito Kid rocks cold balsamic chicken, black bean hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, and not surprisingly Fritos. After I finished my half, the chicken was so nondescript that it felt like an afterthought. The lettuce and tomatoes played the role you expect them to play in a sandwich. The crunch effect of the Fritos – both from my own personal expectations and the New York Magazine write-up – was overrated. There is a saltiness to Fritos and the greater thickness than a regular potato chip brought it to the fore and it didn’t have enough to carry the sandwich. The redeeming quality was the black bean hummus. I’m not sure what the individual parts of it were, but it almost makes the sandwich worth it.

The Cauliflower Cheesesteak has no steak. That isn’t a deal breaker. What is a deal breaker is that the combination of cauliflower, roasted green peppers, provolone, vidalia onions, and fried shallots has just one note – the peppers/onion interplay. I never have been much of a cauliflower guy in my life so I have no opinion any which way, but what I do know is that it should not be the focal point of a sandwich.

Even with this double stocked disappointments, I returned on Saturday for the Classic. The Broccoli Classic. Since it was one of the sandwiches explicitly recommended in the listing and it has received the “classic” label, I figured I would save it to last.

The No. 7 I had been going to is located on a transitional stretch of Broadway between Herald and Madison Squares. Nestled next to the Ace Hotel, the storefront has two standing countertops facing what are essentially floor to ceiling windows looking out to the sidewalk. As it continued to pour, I looked out the window at tourists who kept looking back at me. It almost felt like that Twilight Zone episode where the astronaut lands on the Moon or some planet to find human-like life form who end up putting him in a museum so they can view what life on Earth. Instead of Earth, it was as if these tourists, clutching their laminated street maps of Manhattan, peering out from under ponchos, saw me and thought, “So this is what it looks like when New Yorkers eat lunch by themselves on a rainy Saturday.”

When the sandwich arrived, I was nervous. I want to like these places. It is more fun writing about what you like. You want that excitement to be palpable in the words you put down on paper. From the freshness of the broccoli to the consistency of the ricotta salata, the warmness of the bread, to the zip that I imagine came from the lychee munchim, the Broccoli sandwich earned its moniker as “classic.”

I haven’t put chips in a tuna sandwich in years. I won’t be ordering the Frito Kid anytime soon. No. 7 Sub may not be the sandwich shop to end all sandwich chops. The catch is though, if every kid who said they hated broccoli was given this sandwich, broccoli futures would shoot through the roof overnight.

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