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Will Ponzo's or Jersey Mike's come out on top in our side-by-side submarine sandwich comparison?

At the new Kirby store, Jersey Mike's first venture into the Texas market, I order an Original and a hot meatball sandwich. They offer my favorite Italian sub, sausage and peppers, at other locations but not here in Houston, Altmann told me.

The meatballs at Jersey Mike's are excellent; large and well seasoned, they're cut into slices and coated with red sauce before being placed on a freshly baked sub roll and topped with cheese. So far, so good. But the last step in making this sandwich is not done in front of you: The sandwich maker goes around back and puts it in the microwave.

Microwaving a meatball sandwich has got to be a felony in New Jersey. Baking meatball subs gives them their characteristic crusty exterior and warm, sauce-softened, melted-cheese interior. You might say, "Oh, well, it's just a little sandwich shop, what do you expect?" And I would reply: "Had a Vietnamese sandwich lately?" Imagine how long a Vietnamese sandwich shop that microwaved its bread would last in this city. Every little banh mi thit stand in town has got a serious toaster oven. So what's up with Jersey Mike's? Do these wise guys think we Texas rubes aren't going to notice the rubbery bread?

Corporate sandwich maker Dave Altmann thinks big.
Troy Fields
Corporate sandwich maker Dave Altmann thinks big.

Location Info

Map

Ponzo's Italian Food

2515 Bagby
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Montrose

Details

Ponzo's Italian Food, 2515 Bagby, 713-526-2426. Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Original: $6
Meatball: $6
Sausage and peppers: $6
Cheese slice: $1.50

Jersey Mike's Subs, 5819 Kirby, 713-523-3151. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Original: $5.95
Meatball: $5.25

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Great Italian sub sandwiches have been hard to find in Houston, so it's amazing that two shops serving them have opened here in the last few months. There are major differences between the restaurants, of course: Jersey Mike's is really more of an Italian-flavored Subway than anything else, and Ponzo's is essentially a pizza takeout-and-delivery joint. Still, the cold sandwiches were quite similar, so one Tuesday at lunchtime, I decided to do a side-by-side submarine comparison.

I got a Jersey Mike's Original and a Ponzo's Original to go and brought them home for a thorough examination. The Jersey Mike's Original was much fatter, thanks in large part to more lettuce and lots of onions, but it also seemed to have a little more meat. The Ponzo's Original was crustier, owing to a few minutes in the pizza oven, but it was kind of skinny; they forgot to put the advertised tomato on the one I got, and the lettuce shavings were barely noticeable. I took a bite of each and savored them awhile. The Jersey Mike's Original was saltier because of the several varieties of ham. And the Ponzo's Original was slicker with the fatty bologna flavor of mortadella. It was close, but surprisingly, the franchise sub won out.

Maybe the shock of finding a decent sandwich in a fast food outlet psychologically improved the flavor. On the other hand, maybe the seductive aromas of garlicky red sauce, sizzling cheese pizzas and sausage and peppers at Ponzo's ruined my appreciation for cold cuts.

I'll stick with the sausage-and-peppers and the hot meatball sandwiches at Ponzo's from now on, and go to Jersey Mike's for my cold Italian subs. And I'll also try to remember to be grateful while I'm eating them. A few months ago, I could never have guessed that Houstonians would have the luxury of such hairsplitting over submarines.

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