Tastee Sub apostasy

This post might not be received all that well in central New Jersey.

The other day I ordered a sandwich from President Obama's favorite lunch hideout, the Tastee Sub Shop off Rt. 27 in south Edison. I didn't really enjoy it, and the thought then occurred to me that I don't think that I've ever enjoyed a sub all that much from there, and have mainly visited out of habit and convenience. That is not to say that Tastee subs are actively bad; they just seem unmistakably bland and nondescript to my palate, which is a matter of personal preference. Sorry to be so contentious.

Everyone who raves about Tastee will typically cite the sandwiches' meat as an overriding factor. "They just lay it on there, you get so much."

That sentence boils down exactly why there is such a stark difference of opinion here. Let's momentarily delve into culinary folk psychology. Some sub aficionados see a sandwich's meat as the main attraction, with every condiment, topping, and such mainly window addressing that can at best augment and compliment the meat. Under the strongest version of this view, even the sub's bread is merely be a delivery device or container for the meat. Call this contrasting school of thought the "holistic view," because that sounds sufficiently sophisticated and pretentious. Under this theory, each ingredient's importance to a sandwich's quality is directly proportional to the sandwich's actual makeup; they are a series of interlocking, essential parts. If bread is responsible for (hypothetically) 50% of the calories, it is also responsible for 50% of the taste (or lack thereof.)

My observation is that people who fall into the former group love Tastee, and the latter (such as myself) are unimpressed. I want bread to receive co-star billing at the very worst. Of course everyone is partial to their own biases, but my favorite sub shop is this corner Italian deli that drowns its subs in oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Maybe it just boils down to a question of familiarity and comfort then, but that's what I'm looking for in a sub. Tastee Sub isn't bad per se; its reputation just needs to be further qualified and fleshed out. It sets out to accomplish a task, and performs reasonably well in that effort. We just happen to come from completely different places in our normative expectations of what a submarine sandwich should be.

That is not an isolated phenomenon. At the minimum, everyone in New Jersey knows a pizza purist holding extensive, highly opinionated views on pizza. A good percentage of this site's readers probably fall into that category. For that reason I would never dare express any definitive opinions on the subject of who makes the best pizza beyond statements extremely limited in scope. Of the shops I've tried in New Brunswick, my favorite is Kings although their service is extremely slow. I think Skinny Vinnie's is wildly overrated. There are a bunch of random anecdotes like that, like when I was recently driving on Rt. 28, decided to stop at the first pizza joint I saw, and found my slice to be pretty good (Avellinos in Dunellen, for what it's worth.) Saying anything more extensive would probably ignite a level of debate far exceeding any passion this site's readers have for Rutgers athletics, or any other New Jersey topic.

It's with great trepidation then that I make the following admission: I am not a pizza mythologizer. New Jerseyans get up in arms, and develop chips on their shoulder for countless perceived slights, large and small alike. As long as the topic involved doesn't involve so complete an exaggeration that it might as well be fiction, it would probably be for the best to pick our battles. New York/New Jersey pizza is distinct from Chicago deep dish, artsy West Coast, and the assorted chain and store-bought frozen offerings. The real problem here is not one of authenticity, but of type confusion and expectation gaps. Whether located in Iowa or California, any sort of dining establishment should not falsely boast of an ability to replicate a unique regional cuisine if they cannot deliver on the claim.

Tastee Sub does not fail either of these two tests, but its devotees continue to do the establishment a deep disservice by elevating it on a pedestal, and declaring with insistence that it is the one true sub (note the use of "sub," and not "hoagie," which would be prime heresy.) Setting expectations that high will almost certainly lead to disappointment, and motivate critics from near and far. You may well not agree with any point argued above, but if you love and are truly devoted Tastee, be mindful of this unsolicited advice. Try to be more careful and use a proper amount of qualifiers. Tastee is good at what it does, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. That's all.

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