Pot Luck

Tunnel Explorer: Lenny's Sub Shop

It hasn't been intentional, but my tunnel trail-blazing has thus far been pretty systematic, tackling one section of tunnel at a time. Most of that is simply due to time-constraints; it's just easier to go to places that are relatively close to my office. Some of it is simply a matter of passing notice. On my way to a particular tunnel destination, I'll see another eatery that piques my interest for some reason or another, and put it on my list.

Such is the case for this week's episode of Tunnel Explorer. While "researching" the great dumpling battle of '11, I passed Lenny's Sub Shop (1001 Fannin) a couple of times. I noticed that they were slicing the meat to order, for every order. That's a good thing. I also noticed a not-insignificant line queuing up for sandwiches. Even in the CAFO-esque confines of the tunnels, a food line is at least some indication that there's something good to be had.

Lenny's took a back seat for a while, always lurking in the back of my mind. Recently, I pulled the idea forward, and stopped by for a sub. It wasn't half bad, and has Subway beat, hands down.

If you're one of those gluttonous types who always orders a large when it's an option, you might want to reconsider that tendency with regard to Lenny's. I usually find myself in that camp, having been taught by years of sub-shop training that a regular six-inch sub simply won't suffice. When I placed my order for a large Italian Sub, all the way, the guy behind the slicer gave me a quick appraisal and the briefest of "you sure you know what you're doing?" looks before shruggingly assembling my sandwich. I should have paid more attention to those subtle cues.

I also should have paid more attention to the menu board, as the $12 total came as a bit of a shock. Had I put together the high price and the wary look of the sandwich man, I might have scaled back my order. As it was, I paid my $12 and watched as the deli man sliced several small mammals' worth of meat onto my sandwich.

Back at my desk, I quickly divided the 15-inch behemoth into four pieces, each sufficient for a light lunch, and set two aside for the following day. If you're willing to eat the same sandwich four days in a row, a large sandwich from Lenny's will almost get you through a work week for $3 a day. I was not content to do that, and so consumed about half a pound of meat and cheese.

The sandwich wasn't the best I've ever had, but it certainly beat out most if not all chain delis I've been to. The bread was fresh and even slightly crusty on the top, without that weird and imminently off-putting cotton texture that sub-shop breads so often have. The sandwich necessitates a sturdier bread as, fully dressed, it comes with oil and vinegar and a hefty dose of hot pepper relish. An insubstantial, batting-filled bread would soak through, but Lenny's held fast.

The vegetables were crisp, fresh and flavorful; the one, seemingly constant exception being the pallid slices of pink and grainy tomatoes, which offered nothing worthwhile. The meats were reasonably high-quality, tasting as they should, and without any stale, slightly chemical flavor I find so prominent in pre-sliced cold cuts. The prosciutto surprised me by actually having a bit of cured and dried funk to it, instead of being just a saltier slice of ham.

I'm not sure Lenny's was good enough to warrant a repeat visit, but if I found myself craving a sub, I'd beat it to Lenny's before the thought of Subway even flashed across my brain. They're not doing anything genius, here, but what they do, they do well enough to be proof that not all chain restaurants have to suck as much as they do. Thank you, Lenny's Sub Shop, for not sucking.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall