Run Silent, Run Deep- Hunting Subs in New Jersey

Two weeks ago I rode with Peter Genovese in the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Munchmobile, with four other munchers to decide the best sub sandwiches in the state. The Munchmobile article is online here.

The Munchmobile van. Seeing this parked in front of your establishment is akin to Fat Elvis dropping by. Your kitchen had better be ready to serve mammoth portions, and you will bask in the glory of its visit for ages to come.

Pete Genovese (left) should write The Munchmobile Diet next. The guy eats for part of his living, and he looks like a rail. A Jersey historian and food elegist, he’s written several books on the state’s peculiarities and food finds, as well as all-American road trips like his journey down US1 from Maine to Key West. Joan (middle) is a schoolteacher and food lover, Frank (right) is a dentist with a tooth for good eats. They were all great company on this eight hour trek.

Our second visit was to Benanti’s in Bayonne, open for 36 years. You walk in, grab a roll from a wicker basket and tell the fellas with the long knives what you want on it. Imported prosciutto, sopressatta, mortadella, hot capicola- GABBAGOOL!- are the meats of choice, but they even do American turkey, tuna and roast beef well. Their homemade mozzarella tasted like cream; so fresh it was warm in the center. The roasted peppers sweet with a little tang. Top any sandwich with those and you have heaven on a roll. Their bread was second best of the day. From an undisclosed location beneath the Earth’s crust. Ciro “Charlie” Benanti also plied us with veal meatballs and home cured olives, and tales of his nearly four decades behind the slicer. This was my top pick for the day. Tommy Salami liking the Italian joint? Go figure.

This is the remnants of our first and best sub, the home cooked roast beef at Just Sandwiches in Glen Ridge. Right down the block. I went there again last week and it was just as good. Tender, tasty, rare and flavorful without being bloody, dry or mealy like some RB can get. The best bread of the trip, from Nicolo’s Bakery in Montclair. Good tuna salad, a decent Italian combo and rich tender turkey. They don’t do anything fancy but they do everything right, they do it fast, and they do it tasty. I went back to make sure the beef wasn’t a fluke; nope, it’s always that good. I also had a salami, turkey and cheese with the works. I ordered a half and while it filled me, it tasted so good I wished I’d gotten a whole. The ladies here make a great sandwich.

Mr. Sub in Union gets the Jersey Girl seal of approval- she digs the Chestnut. We loved the fact that the numbers for the sandwiches start at zero and there’s a 16 1/2 and a 14C. My fave? The Delinquent, with turkey, salami, roast beef, pepperoni and provolone. We ate a few “kitchen sink” subs like these, but this was the only one where I tasted every filling. Good solid chewy rolls, a little less toothsome than Nicolo’s but good stuff. The 16 1/2 is a tuna and mozzarella, and was quite good as well. They have their own sodas like a tart ginger ale and a raspberry lime rickey. They were in my top 3 picks, and the Delinquent would be my overall number one sub. The subs at Benanti’s are excellent, but somebody* ordered mayo on a prosciutto and soppressatta sub that would have otherwise been top pick!

That’s a Deliquent and 16 1/2, both subs I’d recommend. The place feels like an old sub shop, and it’s been around 40 years, so I guess it should.

This is Frank, Israel and Tamecia chowing down at the Oldwick General Store. This place has a cozy and quaint exterior but is huge inside, with plenty of tables. They had excellent Virginia Ham, and I enjoyed a ham & swiss. Their tuna was the best of the trip, moist, flavorful and fresh. The rolls were a bit bland compared to the others; on the soft side, if you prefer that. A good Italian combo, good roast beef and tender turkey. They work fast and make a good sandwich.

Perry’s Sub Shack in Hackettstown is a tiny place but they make some huge subs. Like The Disaster, a half of which weighs two and a half pounds! The sandwich that packs in the flavor is their homemade chicken salad. A touch of sweetness, and chunky consistency made it a stand out. Sadly the Disaster wasn’t memorable. The layer the slices flat instead of scrunching them. Old trick I learned working the ITT cafeteria carving station- don’t put the meat in flat slices. It becomes a tasteless slab. Fold it, scrunch it, roll it. Makes it better in the bite and you taste more. Their roast beef was good but fell short of others, the tuna was okay. They are good,  and if you’re out that way they won’t serve you a bad sub. But I wouldn’t make a long trip to visit.

Our last stop was Tastee’s in Edison, where President Obama went for a sub. They’re a flat slice place like Perry’s. Not bad, but more typical Jersey and less special, I thought. Pete loves the place. I think that has a lot to do with history. Their bread is good and their pepperoni & cheese sub was a knockout. I don’t think anyone steered Obama wrong by bringing him there for a quintessential Jersey sub, but stuff like their Italian combo were less memorable than others. The tuna was very good. I’ve had a lot of watery, bland tuna from sub shops but every stop we went to made it fresh, chunky and tasty. Tastee’s had a slicer malfunction while we were there and swapped out the machine in about a minute. They know what they’re doing. Their peppery capicola, while not as authentic as Benanti’s, still tasted damn good.

Pete was kind enough to leave out the fact that the Avenue Deli in New Providence closed 15 minutes early and missed their chance at Munchmobile glory. Any place that closes early on a Saturday can’t be doing a lot of business; every other place was jammed; Tastee’s had a dinner crowd. So, sour grapes it may be, but that’s what you get for closing early when the hungry dog comes sniffing around.

Salami’s picks are:

Favorite 3 sandwiches:
The Delinquent at Mr. Sub in Union
Roast Beef sub at Just Sandwiches in Glen Ridge
Anything with mozzarella and peppers on it at Benanti’s in Bayonne

My favorite stop? I’ve been to Just Sandwiches twice since, because I live close by. They also make a killer #3, turkey, salami and provolone, and a good tuna melt. The roast beef is still great. However, the place we all ate too much at and the one I wish was next door is…
1) Benanti’s Delicatessen, 16 West 22nd Street, Bayonne.
2) Just Sandwiches, 855 Bloomfield Ave. Glen Ridge.
3) Mr. Sub, 641 Chestnut St. Union.
4) Tastee’s Sub Shop, 267 Plainfield Ave. Edison.
5) Oldwick General Store, 57 Main St. Oldwick.
6) Perry’s Sub Shack & Deli, 312 Main St. Hackettstown.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

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