While I am generally loathe to consider sandwiches from national chains for the best sandwiches in Houston list, I still want to try out any place that makes a point of crafting great hoagies. The California chain, Ike's Love and Sandwiches, is the second such place that has opened in Houston I've tried in the past few months. The other was the splendid Mendocino Farms.
Unlike Mendocino's decidedly foodie aesthetic, Ike's is more like a classic sub shop. The relatively new Heights location (1051 Heights Boulevard) is simple, just a giant board of sandwiches behind the counter, a smattering of tables and chairs inside and on the patio, and a condiment/drink area. The no-frills approach doesn't, however, mean their sandwiches are simple. Quite the opposite in fact.
First, they have a LOT of sandwiches on the menu, 35 by my count if you aren't including the make-your-own varieties. Many have celebrity and athlete names as varied as the Steve Jobs and the Sally Ride. There is a lean toward the tangy and spicy in many of the sandwiches, which would seem to fit in well here in Texas. In Houston, they have a couple that feature Pinkerton barbecue and there is BBQ sauce on many of the sandwiches.
I chose the Menage a Trois, mainly because I thought it would be funny to tell my wife I had a menage a trois at lunch. It was not.
But, also because it is on Eater's list of the 100 things to eat before you die. Any sandwich on that list seemed worthy of a try and it certainly was.
Served on a choice of bread — I chose their "world famous Dutch" — it is packed with Halal chicken, Swiss, cheddar and pepper jack, honey, honey mustard (not a typo) and BBQ sauce. You can get lettuce and tomato as well, but I eschewed the tomato.
The thing is a mess to handle. It is huge and warm and loaded with stuff that inevitably falls out to some degree while being consumed. This is not a drawback. Some of the best sandwiches are the ones that you can barely grapple. Fortunately, the Dutch bread held together nicely without being tough.
The Menage is a pretty sweet sandwich. The honey plus honey mustard plus sweet-ish sauce definitely has an impact. But it's not dessert. There is plenty of richness and tang from the cheese as well as savory, earthiness from the chicken, that it does come out far more balanced that I might have guessed.
It was one of those subs I kept eating despite my best intentions. It's a whopping 1,050 calories and my goal was to consume half, but, well, stuff happens. Each bite revealed layers of flavors and I really had no desire to stop. As such, I crushed it.
Ike's is a bit like a really sophisticated Subway. It's fast and simple, but the flavors are bright and rich, and the sandwiches are anything but ordinary.