Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


muse of pointlessness, inspire my pen to whine like a plebian. i shall now fall into the swamp of rambling reviewer blog entries for a moment. regular readers need not worry, this is a one day affair. tomorrow we will return to the normal pace of things. today we will castigate the sandwich makers.

in the shopping complex where i walk to linger in cafes and type out my mindspace, three separate sandwich chains, like three professional wrestlers against ropes, squat the edges of the buildings and stare at each other.

i decided that it was my leafy-green duty to compare the vegetarian sandwiches at quiznos, subway, and schlotzky’s.

firstly, quiznos was the overall winner, despite a sandwich that tasted bad.

most importantly, their staff seemed to “get” veggie food prep. they changed their gloves. they used a fresh knife for cutting. they seemed genuinely careful about cross-contamination, and had the cleanest work station, even on a busy afternoon. they asked me questions about preparation that indicated their concern. (“is it all right if we toast it in the same machine as the meat sandwiches?”)

that’s a very, very big deal, and a big kudos to the staff for their competence and consideration in veggie food prep. good job, guys and dolls!

if only the sandwich tasted good. the folks behind the counter asked me if i wanted the veggie sandwich made like they usually make it. having never had theirs before, i consented.

when i actually bit into the sandwich, it was so overstuffed with black olives that i felt like i was eating one giant olive. i couldn’t taste anything else because olive juices had oozed all over everything. their much-vaunted toasting of the sandwich didn’t seem to do anything at all but bake the olive juice deep into every single iota of sandwich.

despite the problems with the flavor of the normal sandwich, i wouldn’t hesitate to return there to special order another one without olives. cleanliness and veggie consideration are ultimately more important than something as easy to fix as removing olives.

these guys are the overall winners, and the best just because of that.

still, i encourage quiznos to reach out to vegetarian taste-testers so they can adjust the balance of their “normal” sandwich to something that doesn’t taste like a giant olive.

schlotzky’s was just bad. schlotzky’s was a complete, across-the-board failure.

the preparation of the veggie sandwich was a nightmare for strict buddhists and vegans and anyone concerned about cross-contamination. looking over at the preparation of the sandwiches, staffers didn’t change their gloves after handling wet meats to handle the vegetarian sandwich. they tried to cut the sandwich with the same knife they had just used to cut some peppery, beefy thing that had left little blackened and meaty bits all over the blade.

i looked odd, straining my neck to see over the counter, but i’m very glad i did it.

i wasn’t their favorite person after asking them to remake the sandwich with gloves that hadn’t been swimming in meat juices. they were not friendly about having to remake the sandwich, and looked at me like I was a lunatic (which i am, but in this case i was only being a vegetarian). the staff were also confused by my insistence that they shouldn’t use that knife visibly covered in bits of beef to cut my sandwich. i told them that i didn’t want my sandwich cut, because it seemed explaining cross-contamination would have taken too long. heck, they didn’t get it when I explained the gloves, why would they get it with the knife? they looked at me like I was the guy making their job difficult for no sane reason.

also, and unsurprisingly, the staff had never made a veggie sandwich before. they had to sift through their cheat sheets to figure out ingredients. they should have looked harder, because ingredients that i was told would be on the sandwich were visibly not there. (olives, bell peppers, lettuce).

when i finally got an uncontaminated sandwich, which was missing certain vegetables (i wasn’t going to send it back again over olives and lettuce) I bit into the sandwich. this time, i couldn’t really taste anything sandwich. schlotzky’s had some kind of odd Italian spice baked in the bread and in the mayonnaise-like topping that smothered everything. that’s all it tasted like. i was eating damp Italian seasoning.

fresh vegetables don’t need to be smothered in layers of spice and sauce to be tasty. maybe your dead chicken needs a muscular flavor so it doesn’t taste like dead chicken, but my cucumber and onions are naturally delicious. what’s with all that goopy spiceness? my fresh vegetables are the same things you omnis add to chicken to make chicken taste better than just chicken. schlotzky’s, i object to your crass attempt to make everything in the veggie sandwich taste like not-veggies. you are not emerille lagasse. you do not need to “kick it up a notch”.

honestly, how can one completely mess up a simple recipe of fresh vegetables, cheese, and bread? how can one mess up every single step of a sandwich from cross-contamination in the prep room to unfriendly-to-veggies staff to bad taste in the end product? that’s impressive, schlotzky’s. your failure is so total as to make me suspect it is intentional. how else could such ruinous failure occur in every single part of an assembly line process from the prep room to the tongue? clearly you are actively trying to alienate every vegetarian in the city. thus, when i am with friends, and they want to go to schlotzky’s i will veto them ferociously and insist upon your competitors, and you will laugh haughtily at your success!

i challenge you, schlotzky’s, to reach out to your staff and teach them the ins and outs of vegetarian food preparation in an omnivorous kitchen environment.

also, get some taste testers who are actually vegetarians. your meat-based taste testers seem to prefer the one that doesn’t taste like vegetables. vegetarians tend to like things that taste like vegetables.

subway is the clear and resounding taste winner. subway put the most vegetables on the actual sandwich, and seemed to carry more different kinds of appropriate toppings. they also let the customer choose which kind of mustard or dressing or mayo to use, having no standard topping, and how much to put on without having to “special-order” anything. thus, my sandwich ends up tasting like delicious fresh vegetables.

the sandwich, with more veggies, is also more filling and a better value. instead of trying to win me over with a toaster oven or gimmicky italian-style spices, subway wins me over by giving me more of exactly what i want: heaps of veggies, in any combination i feel like having today.

alas, subway your delicious veggie sub is marred by a problem similar to the reviled schlotzky’s. staff members often don’t think to change gloves when preparing a veggie sub after preparing an omni sub. i must actively interject to remind them of the needs of veggie customers. “hey! i don’t want my sandwich sliced by that dirty knife that had just carved through three turkey subs and something with more dead animals on it than a hunter’s trophy room!”

fortunately for subway, the customer is encouraged to stand near the assembly line and direct each step of the food-making process. unlike schlotzky’s where i must strain my neck to observe the assembly line, subway encourages me to correct errors of cross-contamination and assertive olive-ing.

yes, i am annoyed at subway, but i’d go back. that is the clearly superior-tasting sandwich, after all, and i’m willing to bark at staff to get it.

in summary, and the reason i bring this here to my virtual megaphone: vegetarian food preparation requires some thought and slightly different assumptions.

when preparing food for a vegetarian, try to think like one for a moment, before you begin. don’t cross-contaminate. just don’t. don’t add spice to the vegetables as if the veggies were one of your bland slabs of dead hormone-juiced chicken-like birds.

remember, people, vegetarian bodies forget how to process dead animals. Even cooked, kosher meats make us extremely ill. (ask my sister about the time cross-contamination at a restaurant woke her up in the night to quite a disgusting surprise between my door and the bathroom. or, ask my brother why i don’t eat anything i didn’t physically watch him prepare.)

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