Coming back from a workout at FFC, I grabbed a quick bite at Potbelly, the sub sandwich franchise that moved in where Barbara’s Bookstore used to be. I’ve bemoaned this sub source as an example of how our local character is being sapped by cookie cutter franchise operations which, though they may serve tolerable food, fail to reflect the unique personality of our village.
Potbelly is a convenient place to stop for fuel, staffed by friendly people, talking a green agenda, and serving food that is perfectly inoffensive.
Years ago, I visited the Potbelly at the corner State and Lake in Chicago. As mentioned in previous columns, at Lake and Marion, Oak Park will soon have exactly the same three-way franchise configuration as at that busy Loop corner. Like I say, our village is getting more generic and less individual, more like other places and less like ourselves. Maybe that's inevitable; it is, I believe, certainly lamentable.
On that first visit, Potbelly’s Italian sandwich seemed a pale reflection of the marvelous Italian subs I’ve had at Riviera (322 N. Harlem, Chicago) and Alpine (3538 W. North, Elmwood Park). Both these non-franchise, small family operations offer food that is somewhat more expensive, but not by much, and they create true gems of handcrafted sandwichery.
Last week at Potbelly, I had the Turkey Breast with Swiss Cheese and it was…nothing much, really. I asked for tomato, lettuce and onion, and was told that because they source tomatoes locally, they didn’t have any that day. They did, however, have cucumbers (in season?).
Turkey is a challenging meat to make interesting. Regarding this Potbelly sandwich, it’s hard to imagine a more vacant bite. I had to look a long time (really, like 30 seconds) to find the Swiss cheese, which was not detectable by taste alone. The big roll of meat in the roll was aggressively flavorless.
Still, I admire the effort Potbelly is making, and they at least talk the locavore talk, recycle furniture from antique stores, and generally try to be a healthier alternative than some fry-oriented fast food places. They’re also making a good faith effort to reflect the village environment with vintage pictures and signage, so there’s that. I left with a full belly and a dissatisfied palate, but what the hell did I expect? Maybe I'm being too hard on this place.
Anyway, walking home, I passed Subway and thought, well, Potbelly seems a cut above this more commonly seen source for the long sandwich, and they use what seems more and better meat mounted on bread that’s not quite so squishy. Perhaps, reluctantly, I should offer Thanksgiving for my turkey sub from Potbelly.
Do you prefer Potbelly or Subway? Or is there really not much difference between the two? Do you have a favorite sandwich at either Potbelly or Subway that you think is worth checking out?