2010-01-07

Sandwich chains from a veggie perspective

A comparison of the vegetarian sandwiches offered by various sandwich shop chains

Sandwiches are a major staple of my diet. At home, I make all kinds of sandwiches (meatless, of course), in different styles, and on a variety of different types of bread, such as sliced Columbo sourdough (one of the best sourdough breads in the world), loaves of Safeway French bread cut to sandwich sizes (Safeway makes consistently excellent French bread -- maybe I should write another comparative article about differences between French bread from store to store), focaccia topped with cheddar and jalapeƱo, or topped with parmesan and olives, and ciabatta. Other ideas I've picked up from sandwich shops include using interesting salad dressings instead of mayonnaise, sprinkling with olive oil and freshly ground pepper and other spices, and using different kinds of mustards (I've generally settled on Maille dijon mustards, with or without horseradish).

So, as you can see, I like my sandwiches hearty and flavourful. Here, I'll give my impressions of the sandwiches offered by several chains that I've frequented.

Quiznos

Quiznos, one of the many stores with an S on the end of their name but no possessive apostrophe, offers one vegetarian sandwich on their menu, under their Signature Classics header, unambiguously called "Veggie". Available in the usual three sizes that all their sandwiches can come in, it offers guacamole, black olives, lettuce, tomato, red onions, mushrooms, cheddar, mozzarella, and a vinaigrette sauce on your choice of bread. I prefer swapping the raw red onions with grilled onions, and sometimes adding pickles.

The bread is soft and moist, good for toasting, and tasty on its own. Quiznos has a very good rosemary parmesan bread that I prefer for this sandwich even though it costs extra. Good bread can make the difference between a blah sandwich and a delicious sandwich, and Quiznos seems to understand that.

The guacamole and the olives make this sandwich very flavourful, and the onions, whether you choose raw or grilled, give it a nice heartiness as well. Additionally, Quiznos toasts their sandwiches (adding the cold ingredients like the lettuce, guacamole, etc. after it has been run through the toaster), which adds a very good additional appeal. This sandwich is best eaten there rather than being taken home, for that reason. But even cold, this is a very tasty sandwich.

If there's one thing that I have to criticise Quiznos for, it's their specials. They occasionally have specials with discounts on their specialty sandwiches, but these specials never include the veggie sandwich. Thus, I'm always paying $2-3 more for my sandwich than someone who wants a huge meatball sub or something along those lines. Doesn't meat cost more than vegetables? Perhaps the guacamole puts it on equal footing, with the rising cost of avocados, but it still doesn't seem right.

However, this criticism is mitigated by the coupons you can get by signing up for their newsletter. Since I've been getting them, at least one of the two coupons provided is good for a veggie sandwich, be it a general "second sandwich for half price", or deal on a combo, or whatever.

Subway

I used to like Subway's "Veggie Delite" sandwich. That was back when they cut their bread by scooping a U-shaped wedge out of the top of the bread, allowing it to be piled high with ingredients. I remember the changeover, when they switched to just cutting into the side without fully separating the pieces, ensuring a limit on the amount of fillings. They used slanted language seemingly intended to influence the customer to prefer the new cut by calling the old version a "U-gouge", in comparison to their new "hinge cut".

But it wasn't until I tried sandwiches from other restaurants that I realised how dry and tasteless Subway's bread was, no matter which one I picked. They all looked good, and had tasty-sounding names, but all tasted like cardboard. Let me give a little disclaimer here -- I haven't eaten at Subway for several years now. And from looking at their menu right now for the purposes of accuracy, I see that they appear to have changed the recipe for their Veggie Delite (again). So it's possible they may have also improved their bread in the meantime.

The bread is clearly not as important when you have richly-spiced meats livening the sandwich up, but since some of these places don't provide equally rich meatless fillings, it calls a lot of attention to the stuff that makes up about 50% of the sandwich, whereas sandwich shops that use excellent bread really don't need to dress it up very much.

The current recipe touts lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and a choice of fat-free condiments. "It’s like a salad sandwich", says the web site, perhaps to explain why it no longer includes cheese. Personally, I like cheese on my salads (my prohibition against meat does not prohibit milk products), and there are a lot more things I like on my salads as well, which this sandwich doesn't seem to offer. And if the bread is the same as last time I checked, Subway's bread would make poor croutons for this "salad sandwich". The sandwich was poor before, and I'm not tempted to try this new version either.

Mr. Pickle's

I tried this place for the first time today, and it's what inspired me to write this comparison. This is a fairly local chain, limited to Northern California and Nevada, though I've only seen two franchises total, in two different cities. I assumed it was a single local shop until I saw this second one.

As with almost all of the other places, there's only one vegetarian sandwich on offer, the Veri Vegi, which includes cheese, cucumbers and avocado. When I asked, innocently, "Are there any other vegetarian sandwiches?" the attendant responded, "How many ways are there to make a veggie sandwich?" Assuming the reason you're reading this is because you're interested in meatless sandwiches, I'm sure you readers can offer a few dozen suggestions. At least it makes it easy to decide which place to eat at, when it's an all-or-nothing choice.

A highlight of this sandwich is the choice of cheeses. There's only one size sandwich, rather than the small/medium/large you see at other places, and so they all come with 5 slices of cheese. They offer swiss, jack, pepper jack, cheddar, and american. For my sandwich I chose 2 swiss, 2 pepper jack, and 1 cheddar. There are in fact more included toppings than the three specified on the menu -- mayo, mustard, garlic sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles (naturally, considering the name of the place), peppers, and onions. I don't eat mayonnaise due to the eggs, and the onions were raw-only, no grilled option, so I had mine without mayo or onions, with italian dressing added to make up for the missing mayo. Of the choices of bread (dutch, sweet, wheat, and sourdough), I picked sourdough.

I'm not sure if this is a case of shrewd business practise or absent-mindedness, but I noticed that the man behind the counter didn't indicate that the sandwich includes a cookie until after he asked if I wanted any sides. Only after I said "no" did he pick up a cookie and add it to my tray, explaining that it comes with the sandwich.

The sandwich was very bland, despite me being very hungry at the time. The sourdough wasn't sour, the avocados desperately wanted a dash of salt and pepper (and there was no table of condiments for customers to add to their own sandwiches, like at Quiznos and other places -- not even any salt and pepper shakers on the tables), I couldn't taste the cucumbers, and the sandwich was overwhelmed by the taste of the yellow mustard. I won't be eating here again.

Panera Bread Company

After all my talk about the importance of bread, it should come as no surprise that Panera gets high marks from me.

Unlike most of these places, Panera offers two vegetarian sandwiches. The first is their Mediterranean Veggie, with hot peppers, feta cheese, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cilantro hummus on tomato basil bread. I've eaten this sandwich at least once, and it was quite good, though I don't remember the hummus containing cilantro when I did. I usually have a bad reaction to that vile herb unless it's in very small quantities. I especially like the inclusion of feta.

The other is their hot toasted tomato and mozzarella panini, which contains mozzarella (obviously), roasted and fresh tomatoes, basil and sun-dried tomato pesto on ciabatta. A very hearty sandwich, and I've ordered this several times.

Each sandwich comes with your choice of either a bag of chips, an apple, or a hunk of one of their other breads. I usually choose the apple. I took the bread once, but combined with the sandwich it was just too much bread.

Aside from the tasty sandwiches, the highlight of the place is its comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. The seating area is large, and resembles a living room more than a restaurant dining area. There are the usual booths and small tables, but also couches, thickly padded easy chairs, and a fireplace! The spaces vary from areas of privacy and intimacy to areas of openness, especially near the large windows. Panera welcomes local clubs and groups to have their meetings there, and offers free wireless internet to all.

The downside to Panera is the number of locations. There are none local to me, and the two nearest ones are about 25-35 minutes out of my way. Whenever I'm relatively near the area, though, I take the opportunity to visit.

Togo's Eatery

This is another place that I've avoided for years because of the bread. Most of the times I've eaten there in the past, I've been turned off by the chewy bread that's hard to tear off of the sandwich, causing the fillings to spill out the other side unless you wrap it tightly. My parents prefer this place, however, so your mileage may vary.

The advantage to Togo's is that they offer four vegetarian sandwiches (five if you count the egg salad, but I don't), which is more than any of the others, and one of only two of these shops that offer one with hummus.

I ordered a sandwich here within the past month, and asked for their softest bread. This wasn't bad, actually, but I don't know which one it was, so I can't specify. I chose the hummus sandwich, and it came to me neatly wrapped and inviting. It was flavourful enough, but a few slices of cheese would have improved it greatly. I believe I will try another sandwich from here at some point, with that in mind.

The winner

Quiznos. It was hard to decide between Quiznos and Panera, both of which offer delicious sandwiches, and each has its own strengths in other areas, but Quiznos wins mainly for repeatability and number of locations. I have yet to get tired of Quiznos' veggie sandwich, and suspect I could eat one every week without getting bored of it. Panera's sandwiches, as good as they are, seem like something I could get tired of more easily.

However, if I lived in a town with a Panera location, it would certainly see a lot more of my business.

2010-01-02

Wish for the new year

All I really want for this new year, I think, is for some of the ghosts of my past to stop haunting me. My regrets aren't all that many, but they have accumulated over time, and too few of them are ever forgiven, or reach closure. The ones that remain weigh heavy on my heart. Not all the time, of course. Only on occasion, in fact, such as when I hear a certain song, or find a memento. They reminds me of mistakes I've made with such vividness that I feel the full impact of those regrets all over again. I've had to put away old notes, papers, or trinkets left over from happier times because of the memories.

My only shield is that things have been going very well for me. I'm on track for a lucrative career, I've been making new friends, and I've had good success in relationships. If not for those things, the weight of my regrets could threaten to crush me. If 2010 has a gift for me, I hope it's to free me from some of them. Not entirely, of course. What would it be to not care about the consequences of my mistakes? To never learn from my mistakes or strive not to make them again? Not the kind of person I'd like to be, I think. Just the chance to achieve closure with some of them would be enough.

2008-11-07

Human rights

The purpose of the Constitution is to protect the minority from the whim of the majority. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. The Constitution is there to make sure it's not going to be the sheep.

The trouble comes when the wolves rewrite the Constitution, as the pigs in George Orwell's Animal House did.

2007-05-20

Mo' Betta Vista

The Vista search function is easily worth the price of admission. I was worried there for a while because for years I've been using an indexing system I developed to keep track of my hundreds of backup and archive DVDs. A very simple and elegant solution of assigning each DVD a number, and using a simple directory dump to a text file for each one. Then, any time I needed to find an archived file, I simply do a search of my index folder set to search within the text files' contents. The results would show the archive numbers my search term appeared in, and I could simply open those text files (if more than one appeared) to check their contents to see which one had the file I wanted.

This worked in Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. So I was worried that the new searching methods might break this system. Au contraire! It's even faster and more efficient now! Microsoft has clearly recognised the importance of searching in modern day computing, as had Google with their Desktop Search and other companies with similar products, and having it built into the OS is quite a boon. The old way, I had my Indexes folder in my Favourites, so I would go Start>Favourites>Indexes, then hit Ctrl-F to search that folder. Results would come up in a few seconds. Now, I can search directly from the bloody Start menu, and results come up instantly. A tap of the Windows key is all it takes.

As if the speed wasn't enough, let's say I'm not sure whether a given file has been archived already, or is still on the hard drive somewhere. Old method, I'd try searching the indexes first, and if I didn't find it there I'd search the whole hard drive, as slow as that would be. New method, I do that same search from the start menu that I just mentioned, and it shows both indexes containing my search words, and any matching files on the hard drive. Instantly. And we're talking about a nearly-full 290GB drive.

And the ways you can sort and organise your search results or just folder views with virtual folders/saved searches, view filtering, and tagging makes this a dream come true for keeping my massive quantities of files manageable.