By Elizabeth Robinson
Despite its burgeoning food scene, Austin presents limited possibilities for cash-strapped college students. I never noticed how many sandwich shops set up shop in West Campus until I decided I did not want to eat a sandwich for dinner. That immediately cut out half my dining options. Why opt for a type of food one can easily make at home? “If you are trying to impress someone enough to keep coming back for your sandwich rather than just make it in a way that a customer can recreate at home, you have to spend some time thinking about the condiments, salads, dressings and such,” says Addie Broyles, a food blogger for the Austin American-Statesman. “A regular pickle is fine, but a pickled slaw is even better.”
The next time I craved stacks of meat, vegetables and unhealthy amounts of mayo, which place would I visit? And then it hit me – conduct an Italian sandwich taste test. Armed with a credit card, an appetite, a camera and tips on how to take great photos of food with Instagram, I set out on a journey.
1. I will only order the Italian or its equivalent. Some places like to get creative and call their Italian something else. They think it’s clever. With essentially the same contents, I can make a fair comparison.
2. It’s totally fair if the restaurant chooses to add something unique. While it may be a bit unfair if one place has some sort of special sauce while another place simply uses a dollop of Miracle Whip, uniqueness is what sets each place apart. Though largely consisting of the same ingredients (salami, pepperoni, lettuce, etc.), a few novelties will be allowed.
3. I shall charge every meal to my credit card. Since I’m judging taste, not price, I’ll wait until the end of the feast and the monthly billing cycle to look at the dent I made in my bank account.
The Judging Process
I decided to make my judging process simple since we’re not a student body of critical foodies looking for the next world-class restaurant. On a scale of one to five, worst to best, respectively, I rated taste and creativity.
There are eight sandwich shops in West Campus or within walking distance, and I made the first cuts based on the shop’s exclusiveness to Texas or the Austin area. For instance, an UT alumni and graduate started Fricano’s Deli, while Which Wich originated in Dallas. Meanwhile, Subway seems to pop up on a lot of street corners and mall food courts and has three locations on or around campus, all within five minutes of each other. Another integral factor was the availability of the Italian sandwich at each restaurant (sorry, Schlotzky’s).
Paying close to $9 for a sandwich (and pickle) seems slightly outlandish as a college student bound by weekly budgets, but one bite into Fricano’s Italian Club erases even the most distressing of monetary apprehensions. Breaking away from the normal mold of Italian sandwiches, the grilled melt-in-your-mouth sandwich, served in between two thick slices of sourdough bread, consists of salami, pepperoni, pastrami, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, olives and homemade Italian dressing. The result is well-balanced blend of flavors not dominated by a stack of strong meats or array of spicy peppers.
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Differentiating this otherwise normal sandwich from the other Italian sandwiches I’ve tried were the hot peppers, a Potbelly specialty. The peppers added constant spice and a sometimes-sour flavor reminiscent of that in the Spicy Pickle’s didn’t have me craving bite after bite. Unlike the others, though, Potbelly included four meats instead of three, an advantage if you’re looking for the most for your money: capicola, mortadella, pepperoni and salami. At $4.50, the Italian sandwich also included provolone cheese, as well as mayo, lettuce and onions (which you can exclude after ordering the sandwich and type of bread).
Served on floury and soft ciabatta bread, the almost-$8 Wise Guy, consisting of capicola, mortadella and hard salami, puts a spicy spin on a cold-cut classic. Oozing with roasted red peppers and pepperoncini peppers that attribute to its kick and EVOO basil mayo that injects just a hint of sweetness, it was easy to forget that the sandwich also included lettuce, red onions, tomato and an almost too thick slice of provolone cheese. Each sandwich comes with a choice of orange slices or pasta salad and the restaurant’s signature spicy pickle.
Due to the rainy evening on which I chose to test this “wich,” I went for the warmth in the form of a toasted mixture of salami, pepperoni and capicola (what they call the Grinder) on a wheat bun. I tried to limit myself to adding similar ingredients to the other sandwiches I tried: provolone cheese, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes. I also added: pesto sauce (It sounded Italian, so I went for it.), regular mayo, salt and pepper. From the first bite, the herb-flavored pesto sauce was overbearing, but it complemented the Italian meats and quelled the strength of the red onions, making the 7-inch, $4.50 sandwich a delightful blend of savory, fresh and not too spicy.
Fricano’s Deli, earning a perfect score, set itself apart through its unconventional use of pastrami and olives for an unexpectedly delightful meal.
Do you agree? Leave a comment and tell us which is your favorite place to get a sandwich.