Allen Pierleoni

We found hefty sandwiches that could change your mind about sandwich chains

The Original Italian sub at Jersey Mike’s is piled high with cold cuts.
The Original Italian sub at Jersey Mike’s is piled high with cold cuts. apierleoni@sacbee.com

We can thank Britain’s fourth Earl of Sandwich for the ham ’n’ Swiss on rye, and millions of other combinations. The chap was partial to all-night bouts of gambling, one story goes, so invented a “meal of convenience” to be eaten at the gaming table, rather than pausing play for a more formal repast in the dining hall.

On a recent sandwich safari, we talked about a few of our go-to spots that include Corti Bros. and Taylor’s markets, Pennisi’s (for the muffuletta), Sam’s Hofbrau (corned beef), Sampino’s (Calabrese sausage), Dominick’s (meatballs) and Roxie (smoked meatloaf).

We segued to the Usual Suspects list of chain sandwich shops and their merits and demerits – Panera Bread, Togo’s, Mr. Pickle’s, Blimpie, Firehouse, Beach Hut, Sandwich Spot, Subway, Quiznos and Arby’s. Not to forget the new guy in town, Jersey Mike’s Subs.

Jersey Mike’s has a backstory: In 1956, a guy named Mike (corporate HQ says it doesn’t know his last name) opened a sub shop on the New Jersey Shore. In 1971, a 17-year-old employee named Peter Cancro overheard Mike say he was thinking of selling the store. Cancro arranged to buy it (with help from adults), expanded it over the decades and now is the CEO of a sandwich empire with “1,500 franchises (in 43 states) open or in development,” and about 30 corporate-owned stores.

Four Jersey Mike’s operate in our area (a fifth will open this summer), with an unconventional model for a fast-food sandwich chain. For instance, top round Angus roasts are cooked on site, along with fresh bacon. Other meats are packaged under the house brand, all sliced to order for each sandwich. So-so rolls arrive from New Jersey in frozen-dough form, are thawed, proofed (allowed to rise) and baked each morning. Veggies are delivered daily from Sacramento-based Produce Express, which sources seasonally and locally (some chains take weekly delivery). Sandwiches are splashed with a blend of red wine vinegar and real olive oil.

We’ve stopped by three Jersey Mike’s in recent weeks, ordering from a menu of 14 cold subs and 12 hot subs in three sizes, and five wraps ($5.45 to $14). We agreed they were fresh-tasting and hefty, certainly better than similar sandwiches we’ve had at other chain shops and, frankly, some privately owned delis as well.

Our favorites were the Original Italian, stacked with ham, capicola (a cured pork cold cut), prosciuttini (a peppered ham and Jersey Shore specialty), pepperoni and provolone. Second was the Club Sub (turkey, ham, provolone, applewood smoked bacon and mayo) and then the Famous Philly (roast beef, grilled peppers and onions, and melted white American cheese).

Find Jersey Mike’s in Sacramento at 2912 Fulton Ave. (916-514-8704) and 624 Watt Ave. (916-514-8966). In Folsom at 703 E. Bidwell St. (916-817-8860), and in Rocklin at 5130 Common Drive (916-660-9060).

Going to ‘the cats’

We found ourselves in Los Gatos the other day, still a charming town situated where the Santa Clara Valley nudges the Santa Cruz Mountains. It translates to English as “the cats.” A downtown stroll on Santa Cruz Avenue showed upscale shops, bars and restaurants.

We spotted what looked like the 19th-century version of a McMansion (this is Silicon Valley, after all) and grabbed a table on the deck. It turned out that the Latin-accented Palacio restaurant was once the Coggeshall Mansion, built in 1891. It’s gorgeous inside and out.

Brunch brought a luscious omelet bulging with Kurobuta ham and Monterey Jack cheese (with a salad on the side), and an artistically arranged Benedict with perfectly poached eggs, spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes, partly covered in a light (for a change) and lemony Hollandaise sauce ($4 to $18.50). The finely diced “country potatoes” were among the best we’ve had.

115 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 408-402-3811, www.palaciorestaurant.com

Three miles away is the more economical Pho Spot, specializing in pho, the beef broth-based noodle soup that’s the national dish of Vietnam ($10 for “regular,” $11 for “large”). Our bowl was filled with fragrant broth, rice noodles and sliced brisket, and a float of onion, cilantro and jalapeño coins. Iced green tea with passion fruit pulp is the way to go. A list of small plates looked intriguing (tofu squares, chicken salad with mint and cilantro; $4 to $8).

1769 Blossom Hill Road, 408-402-5799

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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