Sammiches, Part 1: Sometimes, especially during the work week, you may not want to make the series of choices that even a simple sandwich presents at most franchises that specialize in such. Moving down the line, craning your neck to figure out what awaits in each tub of veggies/condiments, you must at least mentally answer "yes" or "no" to tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, mayo, mustard and so on. Firehouse Subs (1860 Barnett Shoals Rd.), newly opened in what was once Hollywood Video by the edge of the Georgetown Shopping Center, solves this issue nicely.
Yes, you order at a counter, but the staff just ask you whether you want everything on your sandwich, and it is a blessed relief to say "yes." If, on the other hand, you do feel the need to customize, you can do that. Then you give them your name, make your visit to the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine and take your visit, whereupon a runner calls your name and brings your sandwich to your table. It’s almost like going to an actual restaurant! The interior and the lingo are a bit overly designed, with boots and helmets everywhere and a creepy, faceless stuffed fireman’s suit, like a scarecrow mounted to the wall. They yell at you when you walk in the door. And you have to say things like “fully involved” (for “all the way”). But the product is surprisingly good.
The current special being heavily promoted, the King’s Hawaiian Pork and Slaw sandwich, is a hefty, caloric marvel. The pork actually tastes as though it’s been smoked, and it has a beautiful pink color rather than the sad gray that often results from mass production. Served with “Hawaiian coleslaw” and a slice of pepper Jack on a King’s Hawaiian role, it has plenty of salt to counteract its sweet. It may be the McRib of the restaurant, attracting devotees who await its return with eagerness.
The Smokehouse Beef and Cheddar Brisket Sub is similar, if not as tasty, and even a simple smoked turkey and provolone manages to be well executed. All the subs are steamed, which often results in a wet and limp product, but in this case seems to be working well to boost and marry flavors. Cold subs (limited) and salads are available as well, but why would you bother? The atmosphere is a bit on the sterile side, with lots of two-toppers and TVs, but the staff seems to have it together, and your food will arrive speedily. The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner, doesn’t do booze but does do catering and take-out and, of course, takes credit cards.
Sammiches, Part 2: When Athens Bagel Company (268 N. Jackson St.) opened this summer, it was flying by the seat of its pants. The menu was minimal (breakfast sandwiches on bagels, bagels and cream cheese, one option with lox), the interior weird (beer taps indicating its late-night identity as a bar) and the staff wide-eyed and not particularly competent. Some months on, the first complaint has now been rectified, but the other two are still very much the case. Orders seem to be filled in the order received rather than being arranged by preparation time in a system, meaning it takes the same amount of time to get a bagel, untoasted, in a bag with cream cheese as to get a sandwich involving much more labor. Utensils are rolled up in napkins, ready to go, but placed on your left before you order, meaning you have to backtrack and cut through the line of customers just to get a fork. These hiccups don’t seem that difficult to work out, but they haven’t been yet.
The bagels, however, remain good, which is the most important thing, and some of the new sandwiches do justice to them. The ABC B-B-Q is too juicy, too towering and too sweet, with wettish BBQ, coleslaw and sauce combining to make a sandwich guaranteed to dribble its juices down your forearms. The restaurant does still make an effort with its ingredients, a surprising one considering its nighttime transition to a bar with cheap well drinks. The ABC BLT, for example, is a valiant effort. It’s not the ingredients’ fault that a bagel supplies too much bread, throwing off the crucial BLT-to-carb ratio and, unfortunately, minimizing the bacon.
The ABC Grilled Cheese is the way to go, especially if you miss the sorority/fraternity melt Zim’s used to serve. Open-faced, incorporating spicy mustard, a sharp slice of red onion and tomato, it works really well with the chewiness of its underlayer. There’s more to explore, too, including an egg salad, a Reuben, a grilled veggie and the standard array of cold cuts.
Athens Bagel Company is open every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. It has a full bar, an unfortunate commitment to creativity in cream cheese and a good attitude despite its organizational failings. There’s nothing like it in Athens at the moment, as we have little in the way of actual delis, but Ideal Bagel looks to be opening this fall, and the comparison will be interesting.