(Yuck. Do you want to eat this? A steamed sandwich from Sam and Jerry's)
Also, I finally bit the bullet and figured out how to make a sub worth eating here in Knoxville. You can read that here.
Now I live in Knoxville, and the first thing that I do when I go home is drive to Casapulla's in Elsmere and get an Italian sub. Then the next day I go back and get a cheese steak. It's almost worth the 10 hour drive...
After my last trip, I decided that maybe it would be worth while to see if I could find a decent sub somewhere in Knoxville. The main hindrance is that the local culture here seems to encourage steaming the sandwich in this steamer thing. Why? After asking some native Knoxvillians, the answer seems to be this: There's not enough sub culture to maintain a business whose sole job is to make good sub bread. Maybe this is a lack of Italians. I don't know. Anyway, the sub rolls are bad -- typically flaccid, and slightly stale. The practice of steaming is to hide the bad bread. Also, it melts the cheese and heats the meat, which are good things. Unfortunately, it turns the bread into amorphous goo and the lettuce into mush.
Personally, I haven't had a steamed sandwich that's worth eating, but tastes do differ, which must account for the prevalence of the practice. Unfortunately, a place asks if you want your sandwich steamed, you're pretty much bound to say ``yes, please.'' Why?
Just cut your losses: get it steamed; eat a bite; throw the rest away. All of this leads to rule of thumb number 1:
Note that I haven't gotten into cheese steaks, because I think it might be a lost cause.
On the UT strip: 1707 Cumberland Avenue, 525-1500.
This is a budding franchise from (duh) New Jersey, and hopefully I have given them enough business personally to keep them here. It's not Casapulla's, but grades at about 80%. Certainly reminiscent of the subs I used to get when I lived in New Jersey.
They have a web site: http://www.jerseymikes.com/, daily specials, and accept fax orders.
5102 Kingston Pike, 584-1204. Just west of Kroger in the Homburg area of Kingston pike. Across the street from the Gourmet's Market.
Until Jersey Mike's came into town, this was the hands-down winner of sub-making in Knoxville. Instead of asking the dreaded steaming question, they put the meat/cheese on a bun and grill it for a bit. This heats the meat, melts the cheese, and gives some mouth feel to what would probably be a pretty mediocre bun. Then they put the rest on, for an excellent sandwich that is dirt cheap. They also have pizza, and the ubiquitous ``steak in a sack'' (i.e. in a pita), but I haven't tried them. Excellent fries too. You can fax them your order if you want.
I like these guys enough to scan in a take-out menu. Mention this web site when you order, and maybe someday they'll give me a discount....
The sub from Little Italian.
4107 Kingston Pike, 584-8739. Across the street from Little Italian Subs & Pizza.
It's too expensive, and not a real sub, but their ``heroic submarine'' is at least worth eating. Standard Italian sub meats on a hard french roll. The real question is: why would you get this when Little Italian is right across the street and you can get a better sub for less than half the price? Well, perhaps you're eating lunch with someone who wants a gourmet pasta salad with fancy coffee. You must learn to survive.
All that these chains have going for them is that the food is of uniform quality throughout the globe, and that quality is better than many other ubiquitous places like McDonalds or Shoneys. I'd give these two the nod over Scholtsky's and Nixon's too.
Why does Subway tout that they make their own bread when that bread is so bad? Why do they make the sub in front of you so that you can see that the meat has been sitting in those wrappers pre-sliced for god knows how long? I don't know, but these are very successful restaurants, so the answers must be good ones.
709 Market Street (downtown on the corner of Market and Church, with entrances to each). 637-9700.
This is a vegetarian-friendly kind of place catering more to the XX's than the XY's. As such, they have good salads and sometimes good specials. They used to have pretty good sandwiches on this bread that they either made locally or had someone make for them. But it appears that the bread went away, and the sandwiches now aren't nearly as good.
Regardless, they'd still go into this category because in order to fill up, you have to order two sandwiches, and that would get you up into the $8 to $10 range. Still, if you're downtown and you're sick of the Soup Kitchen, and Tomato Head has too long of a wait, Crescent Moon is a good place to go -- you can drive-through Buddy's on the way home if you're still hungry...
They are very child-friendly too, and have good desserts.
4809 Newcom Ave (that's behind First Tennessee and the Common Market in the Homburg area of Kingston Pike).
"Would you like that steamed?" Ugh.
1800 Cumberland Ave -- on the strip at UT.
They are revered locally as a place full of tradition. Why? I have no idea. Not only did they ask the dreaded ``steam'' question, but they didn't appear to be prepared for the answer.
6409 Chapman Highway (on the right, before Walmart), and 3522 E. Gov John Sevier Highway (Forks of the River).
I assume they bear no relation to Sam and Andy's above. Unlike Sam and Andy's, the people here are really nice, which made me not want to order a sub from them, because I saw two steamers sitting prominently next to the grill. To their credit, they didn't ask; they just steamed, and yes, it tasted just like all the others. Looks like you should order a burger or dog from these guys.
4622 Kingston Pike / 710 S. Gay Street.
Their bagels are fine, but recently I tried their ``Cajun Chicken Sandwich,'' which deserves mention in this part of the list. All I can say is that it was as bad as a McChicken sandwich -- flaccid bread, bland chicken breast, iceberg lettuce and tasteless swiss cheese. I saw some reddish spices on the chicken breast, but they too had no taste. Three bites and into the trash can. I can't believe anyone orders this twice, but perhaps I am mistaken.
Unlike you, I did acquire a taste for the steamed sandwich. After I left Knoxville, I really missed them and rigged up a steamer of my own. Steaming may be unique to only Knoxville as far as I've seen.
There is really only one combination I like. Turkey, smoked cheddar, mayo on a dark bun. That's it. Certainly no lettuce or tomato. It's not a sub, but a sandwich.
When I go back to Delaware, I go to Casapulla's on 202 (Hockessin's closed) or to Capriotti's which are everywhere. But the little shop just north of Casapulla's in Hockessin is really good and they make their own bread. I think it's the last shop before you turn left to go to North Star.
So anyhow, just wanted to say that in Houston (been here since '77), no native knows what a sub (steamed or otherwise) is, and Subway sandwich shops are it, and there are no dark buns for those of us who want to steam. Only dark sliced bread.''
Ordinary "cold" sandwiches are a dime a dozen, but nowhere else can you get a steamed sandwich than Knoxville.
I grew up in Chicago and absolutely LOVED Knoxville's delis when I first moved here (back in 1983). In fact, the first place I take a friend when they visit Knoxville is to get a real deli sandwich. And so far, everyone I've taken has loved it.
In fact, I have a friend that moved from Knoxville to Atlanta and he is toying around with the idea of starting his own Knoxville-style deli there because their delis are all generic, plain, new york delis.
Chicago has it's pizza. Philadelphia has it's Cheese Steak. Knoxville has it's steamed subs. MMMmmmmm.....
Why do you think Knoxville delis are so popular and have MUCH longer lives than most mom and pop restaurants?
Maybe someday you will see the light. ;^)''
When I asked what he likes to order, the response was: ``I normally get a reuben. The sloppier the better for me.
(Actually, when I first moved here from Chicago, just hearing the name "steamed" sandwich sounded very unappetizing. But, after working in the cafeterias at UT as a student, I couldn't avoid them and soon fell in love with them. I remember some customers asking us to double and triple steam their sandwich... kind of sounds like a dry cleaner. ha ha)
By the way, do you know why only Knoxville area delis use these steamers? I have yet to see any other part of the country use them, especially so abundantly. I was just wondering if anyone has done research on this topic??''
Also, on every trip to my wife's home in Middle Tennesse...we are certain to stop for lunch or dinner and Sam and Andy's (er...I guess it's Slappy's now). She's a UT grad (I never saw so many orange clothes before), and this is the highlight of our nine-hour drive. In fact, I'm the one insisting that we stop more than she does.
However, in summary, while we both really enjoy both, I agree that one isn't a replacement for the other. Just two different delicious choices... and things to look forward to as part of the fun of "going home."''
... [an addendum when I asked what Ken ordered] ``I like the (steamed) smoked turkey and cheddar...and my wife gets the kielbasa and mozzarella. I suspect part of what I like about it is that I like almost anything that has melted cheese on it...and that's what you don't get in a Delaware (cold) sub and the hot subs their tend to be limited to steak and cheese, meatball, etc.''