By JIM WILLIS
PieHole popped in at the Red Bank Sub Shop on Monmouth Street to grab a couple of sandwiches for takeout. We ordered up a half a #5 – your classic Jersey “Italian” sub with ham, capicola, prosciuttini and provolone ($6.95) – and a half a turkey sub ($6.95).
As in any respectable sub shop, the sandwiches are made to order. While waiting for the meat to be sliced and the sandwiches made up, we noticed a few things that set owner Canio Paradiso’s place apart from other sub shops in town. The menu, for starters, features a couple of combinations that we were glad to see.
The #11, for instance, with its sliced roast pork, provolone and warmed broccoli rabe ($6.95), has been a favorite of ours since our last visit to Dinic’s in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. This sandwich, like the humble but always delicious #16 (bologna and cheese, $4.95), is one of those B-side rarities that deserves much wider play in the sandwich community, and we are glad to see not only that it’s a featured menu item, but that the sliced pork is a regular weekly special on the sub shop’s menu ($6.50, comes with pickle and soda).
The other thing that really caught our eye was the outrageous selection of soda available in the shop’s coolers. We’ve seen the occasional Tab or Sunkist orange around town, but Mellow Yellow or Cranberry Sprite or even our beloved Fresca sold cold by the can put this variety in a league of its own. We decided on a bottle of the store’s own brand of orange soda.
The pleasant surprises didn’t stop there, though. When we got home and lifted the thoughtfully wrapped #5 out of the bag, we were shocked by the satisfying heft of the sandwich. Any regular sub eater knows that sub shops can easily fall into one of two camps: lightweight, stingy portions of quality meat, or dense and heavy layers of questionable, off-brand cold cuts. Red Bank Sub Shop is that rarity that generously lays on just enough (there is such thing as too much of a good thing) reliably good Boar’s Head meat and cheese.
The turkey sub also had a generous heft to it, though was a bit lighter than the Italian. In both cases though, merely holding the sandwich was enough to confirm that this is the real deal. Without getting all Robert Pirsig on our dear and hungry readership, quality – like obscenity – is one of those things that is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. We’ve had enough mediocre subs lately to know that the moist and fragrant Italian sub we held before us was the sandwich that all mass-produced, corporate-approved subs aspire to be.
Lately, PieHole has been subject to a run of lightweight imposter sandwiches, and we’d almost forgotten the pleasure of crispy shredded lettuce and hot cherry peppers jutting out from under the bread to provide crunchy foil to a dense and complex array of sliced meat and cheese tastes. The idea that each sliced meat brought its own personality to the sandwich – the heat from the capicola, the salty and pleasantly ripe prosciuttini, the sharp hit from the appropriately thin slices of provolone – these are subtleties that get lost in lesser sandwiches made of mushy, bland meats that have barely indistinguishable, vaguely salty “lunchmeat” taste.
We ate way beyond being full, simply to continue to enjoy the way these flavors worked with the oregano and pepper as a complex symphony of tastes. Our dining companion was equally satisfied with his turkey sub, but upon tasting the Italian noted that it – not surprisingly – lacked the complexity of tastes but still had the same indescribable quality to it.