Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Purely American - Accept No SUBstitutes

  The USA Men’s soccer team was eliminated from the World Cup last week in the round of 16 (the first rounds after group play) by Belgium. The team’s World Cup was widely lauded as a success since the US had survived the so-called ‘Group of Death’ containing perennial World Cup powers Germany and Portugal as well Ghana, who had defeated the US in the past two World Cups. Hopes are high that the US will become a force to be reckoned with on the world soccer stage and this World Cup will become the springboard for future successes and heightened interest in soccer in the United States.

  20 years ago the World Cup was held in the United States and the national team made it through group play and lost in the round of 16 1-0 to a Brazilian team that was playing 10 men vs. 11 for most of the match. Brazil went on to win the tournament but hopes were high that the US had become a team to be reckoned on the world stage and that the World Cup hosting experience and success of the US team would be the springboard for future success and heightened interest in soccer in the United States.

No further proof of the sad state of American soccer is needed that this spontaneous celebration over beating Ghana in a World Cup soccer match...

  It didn’t happen then and I don’t think it will happen now. The interest in the U.S. team at the World Cup is almost entirely due to the fortuitous scheduling of the Cup before the beginning of pro and college football and after the end of the after NBA season. I don’t even see the U.S. World Cup performance as particularly successful. The team played four games with a lone victory was against Ghana by the score of 2-1, a 2-2 tie against Portugal in which the US allowed a goal in the last 30 seconds, and two losses to Germany (1-0) and Belgium (2-1, but scoreless after regulation play). I can accept a close loss to Germany (a country of 80 million people where soccer is by far the most popular sport), but a loss to Belgium and a tie against Portugal? Pardon my jingoism but these two countries each have populations of 11 million people and even if every Belgian and Portuguese child grows up practicing their soccer skills non-stop there are just so many more people in the United States and so many kids playing soccer in this country of over 300 million people that the U.S. should be able to field a far superior soccer squad even if Portugal has quite possibly the best player on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo. If only 10% of the US population was fanatical about soccer we would have still have three times the population to draw from. And I’m not turning cartwheels over beating Ghana once a decade even though soccer is the most popular sport in that country of 24 million. I’ll know soccer is turning the corner in this country when our national team not only defeats tiny countries like Belgium and Portugal on a regular basis but defeating them or holding them to a tie won’t be seen as a mark of success and close losses won't be seen as moral victories.

  On Friday I was able to take a break from thinking about how beating Ghana, tying Portugal, and suffering close losses to Belgium and Germany passed for a successful result for U.S.A. soccer and watch a sport where America is not only competitive but quite possibly dominant: The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest at Brooklyn’s Coney Island Amusement Park.

The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest - where America can compete and even win...

  The contest had been won by Japanese contestants Hirofumu Nakajima and Takeru Kobayashi in 8 of 9 years between 1997 and 2006 but American Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut has now held the title for the last 8 years. I like watching the contest even though the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event is a bit over the top but as an experienced hot dog eater myself the only thing I don’t understand about the competition is why the contestants are allowed to eat the hot dog separate from the bun and then dunk the bun in a cup of water. That is not how anyone I know eats a hot dog and I tend to think a real hot dog eating contest should not only include some toppings on the dog or at least a little mustard but require the participants to eat the hot dog like a hot dog and not broken down to its constituent parts of meat and bun. In any event after watching the World Cup and Wimbledon Tennis (where no Americans made the round of 16 for the first time in a century) it was nice to watch some American success in international competition even if it was competitive eating.

  With the Fourth of July occurring last Friday I decided to stay home with the beagles rather than accompany Kathy to visit her sister in Missouri for the weekend. Last year July 4th was the day Daisy and Baxter had their beef stick convenience store comparison, but with only the Jiffy having a safe place to hitch the dogs to the contest will wait. Because the victory by Joey Chestnut put me in the spirit of the holiday (and I did need to eat, after all) I decided to conduct a survey of an American institution (at least according to Wikipedia) : the submarine sandwich.

The menus at Jimmy John’s, Sub City, and Subway. (click to enlarge)
Subway devotes an entire wall to their menu.

  I decided to sample the subs at the three dedicated sub shops in Marshalltown: Jimmy John’s, Subway, and Sub City. There are other places to get a sub sandwich like Casey’s and Wal-Mart but since they don’t specialize in sub sandwiches and there were only three days in the weekend I felt I needed to stick to the basics.

  My first stop on Friday took me to the newest sub shop in town, Jimmy John’s. I’ve been to the Jimmy John’s in Des Moines and always liked them and felt a Jimmy John’s would be a great fit by the Wal-Mart but when one finally appeared in Marshalltown it arrived in the K-Mart shopping center just a few blocks from the High School. I took Kathy there once when the shop first opened and the Tuna sub that Kathy ordered had so little tuna that we never went back. On Friday night I headed to Jimmy Johns and ordered the biggest sub they had – the $7.60 JJ Gargantuan. The Gargantuan has five different kinds of meat (capicola, roast beef, turkey, ham, genoa salami) and provolone on the signature 8 inch sub roll with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, and Italian dressing. There were two or three slices of each kind of meat and cheese on the sub. The turkey and roast beef had thick slices but everything else was cut paper thin. There was plenty of mayo and lettuce. The sub tasted good and I was full after eating it with my only complaint being there was way too much mayo. It was so filling that I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the night which is what I would hope for after spending $8.13 (including tax).

Jimmy John’s Gargantuan sub - a full plate of meat (much of which is very thinly sliced)

  On Saturday I went to the other franchise sub shop in Marshalltown - Subway. There are two Subways in town, one inside the Wal-Mart and the one I visited which was on the other side of the street from the Wal-Mart in the corner of a half-empty strip mall off a frontage road. I got to the Subway at 6pm and was the only person in the strip mall except for two Subway workers, one of whom was outside smoking. The other clerk was very friendly and when I asked him how he was doing he said he wished he was busier and had only made four sandwiches since his shift started two hours ago. I ordered the $6 Italian B.M.T. foot long sub which had pepperoni, genoa salami, ham, and one of a choice of cheeses (I took provolone). Subway offers a large variety of toppings and breads. I’m pretty conservative so I had Italian bread and lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and some hot peppers. I got my sandwich in just a couple of minutes and $6.42 later I was on my way back home with my sub.

  The B.M.T sub looked bigger than the Jimmy John’s Gargantuan sandwich and tasted just as good but on further inspection it had a lot less meat and a lot more bread, lettuce, and tomatoes. All the meat was sliced super thin and even though the sub was a foot long I didn’t feel especially full after finishing it and I didn’t think it was worth the $6.42.

Subway's Italian BMT - the lowest price but the least meat...

  For my third and final sub I went to Sub City on Main Street after work on Monday. I would have preferred to go to Sub City over the weekend but the shop is a family operation and was closed on Friday for the holiday and never open on Sundays so the owner decided to stay closed on Saturday as well for a long weekend. That’s the downside with a small family owned sub shop as opposed to a large franchise chain – they aren’t open on Sundays and holidays. The upside is that since Sub City doesn’t spend money on advertising and pre-printed cups, napkins, straws, etc.. the quality and quantity of the food has to be better or else there is no way they’d be able to stay in business.

  I got to Sub City a few minutes after six. There was no one in the shop except me and two workers. Sub City has no fancy sandwich names like the B.M.T or the Gargantuan. Every sandwich has a number and I picked my favorite, the #17 – Pepperoni and Provolone. It takes Sub City a little longer to make a sub than Jimmy Johns and Subway because while the cold cuts at the franchises are pre-sliced, at Sub City the meat and cheese is taken out of the refrigerator and sliced individually for every sandwich. The bread was cut and the lettuce, tomato, onion, and hot pepper was laid on one side of the sub while the pepperoni and provolone was sliced and laid on the other side. A few seconds and $8.29 later the sub was wrapped and I was on my way home.

  The pepperoni and provolone was sliced thin but it wasn’t a cost cutting measure – the sandwich was piled with meat and the sub roll at least 6 inches longer than the Subway foot-long. I disassembled all the subs when I got home and as you can see there was as least as much meat on the Sub City sub as the Jimmy John’s sub and way more than the Subway sub. I ate half the sub for dinner and I was so full that I had to save the second half for the next day’s dinner. Maybe if I was one of those competitive hot dog eaters like Joey Chestnut I would have shoved all the meat and lettuce down my throat and dunked the roll in water and finished the whole sub in one sitting but I’m pretty happy to have two meals for the price of one sub sandwich.

The MASSIVE Sub City #17 - Pepperoni & Provolone - Half a yard long and Beagle approved!

  I admit that I’m biased towards Sub City but I’m biased for good reason – it’s the most filling and best tasting sub on the planet and even at $8.29 is the best sub sandwich value in town. Sub City easily won my informal sub sandwich survey but there’s no reason for Jimmy John’s or Subway to feel bad. They both made excellent subs and if there was a World Cup for sub sandwiches they wouldn’t have squeaked into the round of 16 like the U.S. soccer team – both would have been in the quarterfinals at least.