One of the things I look forward to all year is the Super Bowl. This is not because I care about what steroid-injected hard body is running toward what end zone; it is simply because of the impressive display of food, specifically the big sandwich. All year I dream of the big sandwich, waiting until it once again winds its way across my house, leaving crumbs of cheap Italian bread caked into my carpet.
While height is clearly an important factor with any sandwich (who doesn't enjoy their bread stuffed to capacity?), what I look for on game day is - cover your ears, boys and girls - length. I grew up with Manganaro's six-foot hero stretched out across my parent's dinning room like a slain anaconda, the ends of the beast just barely fitting on the table. And with that in mind, I went in search of new heights, er...lengths. I asked around and couldn't land a six-footer, so instead of putting together my own Franken-sandwich, I decided to check out a variety of Houston sandwich spots in search of the top contenders. At each place I ordered what was "recommended."
Schlotzsky's (4001 Richmond) - Schlotzsky's on Richmond was cleaner than most other fast-food sandwich shops I've been in (check out any Subway for proof of this), and I was advised to go with the original: lean smoked ham, Genoa and cotto salamis, melted cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses layered with black olives, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and mustard. Great for carb-lovers, the thick sourdough bread that Schlotzsky's is famous for doesn't add a lot to the heated meat, but this circular treat is satisfying enough, and the black olives are sure to win me over every time.
Jason's Deli (2611 S. Shepherd Square) - The Club Royal was listed under "Favorites" and came on a dense and flattened croissant with melted cheese that had hardened by the time it reached me. The sandwich was filled with too much mayo and the over-processed flavors of the bacon, ham, and turkey trio ended up competing instead of coming together. Most sandwiches include a seriously lifeless pickle and a bag of the unexpectedly light and delicious house chips.
Antone's (2424 Dunstan) -- After watching another customer berate one of the staff for adding "too much chow-chow!" to his sandwich, I scurried off to eat my dry-as-a-bone poor boy amongst the various jars and cans of foreign veggies in one of Antone's dark dusty corners. The sandwich came on a dull baguette with two measly slices of "smoked" turkey, what looked like it might have been cheese, and a squirt of mayo. When I asked about Super Bowl options, I was told a firm, "No."
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Nielson's Deli (4500 Richmond) - As soon as I bit into the deliciously over-stuffed roast beef sandwich, it was easy to see why Nielson's has been popular in Houston for over 50 years. All of the ingredients (including the spot on sliced pumpernickel) tasted fresh, and, much like the friendly staff, worked well together to complete the product. Sides, including house-made baked beans, coleslaw, beets, deviled eggs, and the famous potato salad, are all first-rate and can be ordered up in a variety of sizes, including Dixie cup.
Which Wich (3815 Richmond) - The staff at Wich Wich had no interest in discussing Super Bowl specials, so I left them my order and waited at the tiny metallic table for my lunch. I was initially giving extra points to the chain for having milkshake as a drink option, but when the chocolate malt arrived tasting like chemically enhanced Yoo-Hoo, I found myself wishing I'd stuck with iced-tea. My Rueben sandwich was decent, but as was the case with Schlotzky's, heat is what gives the sandwiches a boost. Once I worked my way through the sauerkraut, I had no interest in finishing off the rubbery meat or soggy bread.
Brown Bag Deli (2036 Westheimer) - Don't let the sullen tattooed staff at the Westheimer sandwich shop fool you; once I started asking, they were happy to discuss options for game day and serve up a sandwich packed with their succulent chicken salad, complete with large bites of white meat and egg. Although I still find it hard to believe that the hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies are actually made from the same dough used at Dessert Gallery, it's proof that these folks can make anything taste good.
Jersey Mike's Subs (5819 Kirby) - "We don't give Super Bowl discounts," the girl at Jersey Mike's insisted. "I'm not looking for a discount," I explained. "I'm looking for special Super Bowl options." She stared back at me blankly, so I moved on to the Italian mini: provolone, ham, proscuittini, cappacuolo, salami and pepperoni, which despite its many sliced meats can easily fit in the palm of your hand, perfect for on-the-go eaters. Prepared Mike's Way - Onions, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Vinegar, Oil and Spices - the unremarkable bread did not overwhelm the sandwich and the meat and toppings were fresher than I would have expected from such an immense chain. - Sophie Rosenblum