Fri-Sat text message exchange between Dad and Matt:
“That sounds so good”
“If you go, get the steak and cheese and french fries. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s unbelievable.”
“That sounds so good to be honest.”
I stopped by Chase The Submarine for a late lunch on Friday, and knew as soon as I walked in the door that this was much more than your ordinary sub shop. Anyone who has set foot inside will know what I mean – the DC area may have a new benchmark for subs, and if not a new benchmark, then a peer to Earl’s Sandwiches, G Sandwich, Bub & Pop’s, SunDeVich, etc.
A little overwhelmed by the chalkboard on my left, the cashier in front of me, and the display case on the right, I found myself turning my head in all directions. Veal sweetbreads? Is this a sub? (I was assured it was.)
So I calmed down, and ordered two of the most basic things I could see on the menu: a Steak and Cheese SubÂ ($10.75) andÂ Beer-Battered French Fries ($3), and as hungry as I was, resisted the temptation to eat them there and took them home. The Steak and Cheese was one of the finest I’ve ever eaten – it’s thinly sliced rib-eye, peppers and onions, cremini mushrooms, provolone cheese, aÃ¯oli, and lettuce on a soft white sub roll,Â and what makes it so special is the cremini mushrooms, which taste like truffles (I have confused creminis for truffle oil several times in the past) – it’s a perfect mushroom for this sandwich, and I can’t remember seeing them on any other steak and cheese subs in the DC area – I’d remember the taste. In fact, I almost wrote Tim Ma to ask if he uses some sort of ultra-high-quality truffle oil on his steak-and-cheese, but I’m going to go with my gut and say no: This taste was the cremini mushrooms. Well, it was a great sandwich, and the fries are great too, but they don’t travel as well – they were at room temperature when I got home, so I had to extrapolate what they were like when they were hot. There’s something special about these fries, and it’s more than just “beer batter” – I don’t know what it is, but I liked what was in front of me.
Needless to say, after that exchange of text messages, Matt and I ended up there for lunch on Saturday, and we pretty much cleaned the place out.
Matt *loves* chicken wings, and we split an order of the CrÃ¨me FraÃ®che Wings (8 for $6), and they were everything we both hoped they’d be. Tim Ma does great wings, and these seemed like high-quality wings and drumettes, with a sauce that was probably a mix of Sriracha and crÃ¨me fraÃ®che (it had “that” characteristic orange color). If you like Buffalo wings, get these – all that’s missing is the celery, and it wasn’t even missed.
Per my suggestion, Matt duplicated my order from the day before, and loved his sandwich (I would have had my hand bitten off if I had reached over to cut a piece for myself). The fries Saturday had rosemary, and honestly, I don’t remember rosemary from the day before. Tim was at the restaurant on Saturday, and things might have been a little different – I noticed visually that the steak and cheese seemed like it had the peppers and onions cut slightly larger than they were the day before, which I’m not sure is intentional, or if the restaurant was just busier; although I didn’t try it Saturday, I most likely prefer a smaller cut; regardless, Matt loved his sandwich.
We split the fries, and I got the Fried Veal Sweetbreads Sub ($10.75), a very generous portion of sweetbreads, bathed in a sauce not unlike the chicken wings (similar, but not the same), and what I noticed is that since the contents of the sandwich didn’t have a chance to “sink in” to the roll, I noticed the roll more. That’s neither good nor bad; just an observation, but I didn’t notice the roll at all the day before, and I think that might be my personal preference. Still, if you like sweetbreads, this is pretty much mandatory – the sauce is billed as Korean chili paste, and there are finely, vertically sliced dill pickles (which I would have called marinated cucumber), and green cabbage on a soft white roll.
I got my usual can ofÂ Diet CokeÂ ($1.50), but I want to mention that Chase the Submarine has put a great deal of thought into their beverage program. In addition to a nice, small selection of beer and wine, they have an outstanding array of non-alcoholic beverages. In fact, this prompts me to create a new tag for restaurants that go above-and-beyond the norm with their non-alcoholic beverage program (over time, when you click on that tag, you’ll be presented with a list of places that do it right – there are quite a few, and I wish I had started this before now, but better late than never).
Matt was coming over later that evening, so we got a couple more subs for dinner – the only two cold subs on the menu.
The Virginia Italian ($9.75) is based on a classic Italian cold-cut sub, with Virginia ham, mortadella, olli prosciuttoÂ and coppa, provolone, Italian dressing, red onion, sweet peppers, and lettuce on what they call a rustico sub roll (I’m assuming they mean rustic, and not from the restaurant Rustico). This was a toned-down version of what you get at The Italian Store. I can easily see someone saying the flavors are “muted,” but I prefer to think of them as “refined.” When you go to The Italian Store, you’re going to get vinegar, salt, sweetness (if you get the peppers), etc.; in this sub, those flavors are all there, but they’re dialed way down, and honestly, I have a strong preference for this version; the wrong person from New Jersey would probably bury me underneath a parking lot for saying that, but I also feel bloated and thirsty after gorging at The Italian Store (and God help me if I have a Muffaletta there).
The Mushroom MellowÂ ($9) is Chase the Submarine’s only cold, vegetarian offering, with portabello, cremini mushroom duxelle, mushroom aÃ¯oli, truffle oil (*there* it is!), alfalfa sprouts, roma tomatoes, and sweet piquillo peppers. As mild as the Virginia Italian was, this was milder still, and that might be my only real criticism with Chase The Submarine – if they err on the flavor register, they err on the mild side. Now, this is not a flaw; it’s just a choice, and I’m not sure it’s an incorrect one (how’s that for a passively written clause?)
If Chase The Submarine does nothing else but exist-and-maintain, it will always be crowded. I have initialized coverage in Italic, and now have it ranked ahead of every restaurant in Vienna and Oakton except for Clarity BistroÂ (things quickly break down when you start making comparisons between, say, Chase the Submarine and Ristorante Bonarotti). Regardless of where it’s “ranked” or “placed,” just know that Vienna has a winning sandwich shop, the best one that I can think of outside the beltway. Chase the Submarine is off to a terrific start.