To paraphrase John 15:13, “No greater love a man has than this, that a man give up his life for a….sandwich?”
In an uproariously funny episode of the television show Friends, Joey, Chandler and Ross go on a ride-along with Phoebe’s policeman boyfriend. Believing a back-firing muffler was actually a gunshot, Joey (sitting in between his two friends) dives, seemingly to protect Ross from harm. Naturally Chandler was upset that Joey would choose to protect Ross instead of him…until he learns that Joey was actually trying to protect his sandwich. In the finest tradition of Dagwood Bumstead, Joey Tribbiani loved sandwiches; they were his favorite food.
I don’t know how many Americans would “take a bullet” for their sandwich, but America is most definitely a nation of sandwich lovers. According to one of my favorite books, American Sandwich by the fabulous Becky Mercuri, Americans consume more than 45 billion sandwiches per year, with the average American consuming 193 sandwiches per year.
That’s a lot of sandwiches! One restaurant that has serving a lot of sandwiches is Village Subs, appropriately situated in the village of Los Ranchos De Albuquerque. Allow me another paraphrase, this time of an African proverb: “it takes a village to make a great sub!” Or at least that’s been my experience of late. Aside from the now defunct Deli Mart, there has been a tremendous dearth of truly outstanding sandwich shops in Albuquerque’s west side where I live and work.
Village Subs occupies the space once held by Fremont’s Fine Foods, a sacrosanct shopping and dining destination now in San Mateo’s Courtyard. It seems to be the hub of an otherwise nondescript shopping center much of which has been left vacant by former tenants who set up shop elsewhere. It’s hard to miss Village Subs. A cerulean blue awning competes with New Mexico’s incomparable sky blue. Several wall-mounted chairs hug the restaurant’s east-facing wall. As capacious as the restaurant is, it’s a good thing the yellow lettering on the awning doesn’t list what this sub shop’s true name should be.
That would be Village Subs & Pizza & Wings & Italian & Ice Cream and so much more. The true test of a restaurant’s greatness is not in the size or diversity of the menu; it’s in the quality of its product (more on that later). The floors at Village Subs are black and white checkered tile reminiscent of a 1950s era diner. Throwback floors are appropriate because this sup shop is a bit of an anachronism with service that’s both enthusiastic and cordial. It’s a welcome change from the rehearsed wait “schtick” to which you’re subjected at the industry leading chain.
Not everything is old-fashioned at Village Subs. It’s one of an increasing number of restaurants in the Duke City providing free wireless internet (WiFi) access. Village Subs is larger than most of the city’s sub shops. Counter space is divided into two distinct sections–an area in which you order main entrees and another in which ice cream is featured fare.
No ordinary ice cream is this. It’s Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the largest family-owned and operated ice cream manufacturer in the United States. The Blue Bunny folks have been creating ice cream since 1913 and now distribute their 500 tantalizingly tasty ice cream flavors, frozen dairy desserts and delectable novelties throughout all 50 states and Mexico. If you’re watching the scale, Blue Bunny makes lighter, sugar free and low or no fat versions of favorite flavors.
On a white board directly above the food ordering counter is a hand-scrawled menu listing the wide array of items available to hungry diners. Pizza is a relatively new addition to the menu and it’s available by the slice with a wide variety of toppings available.
Your biggest challenge will be in deciding what to order, especially if you’re cravings are for an appetite sating, two-fisted, ingredient-packed sandwich of greater proportions than most sandwiches in the Duke City. The sandwich selections includes cold subs, hot heroes and several specialty sandwiches, all made with bread baked fresh daily, topped with your choice of veggies and served with a pickle spear and a pepperonici. Subs are available in two sizes: ten-inches and six-inches. What will surprise you most about these behemoth sandwiches is that they’re priced two to three dollars less than many other sub sandwiches in the Duke City.
The ingredients on a great sandwich have to work well together and it all starts with the bread. At Village Subs, the bread is quite good though no longer baked on the premises. Both white and whole wheat bread are available. Wrap some of that bread around tuna salad and you’ll have a sandwich any landlubber or sea-faring wanderer would love. The tuna is made with diced celery, onion and a sweet pickle relish. Add crisp lettuce and fresh tomato and it’s even better.
Another good cold sub is named solely the “Italian” and it’s generously endowed with ham, Capacola ham, salami, Provolone cheese, onions and roasted red peppers then embellished with mayonnaise, oil and vinegar. Italian subs consisting of assorted luncheon meats are popular throughout America and it’s easy to see why. A great Italian sub features a coalescence of flavors and aromas that any American meat-eater will enjoy. The Village Sub’s version is one of the better ones in town!
If a hot hero is more your style, the Sausage, Pepper and Onion hero might just have your number. It’s a messy assemblage of ingredients you’ll probably have to eat with a fork because those ingredients push the bread to its capacity and despite being toasted, may leave it a bit soggy (in a very good way). The sausage is spicy, maybe even a little bit piquant. Green and red peppers and onion are grilled to perfection. Melted Mozzarella cheese blankets the entire sandwich.
As with many sandwich restaurants (or restaurants of any kind for that matter) we have not been enamored of every item on the menu. The sandwich which we found disappointing is the pastrami sandwich. We weren’t expecting Chicago Jewish deli caliber pastrami, but it would have been nice to find something good by Albuquerque standards. Listed as a “specialty sandwich,” a few stiff slices of pastrami were topped by melted Swiss cheese and were laid out between two slices of good light rye bread.
Village Subs committed three of the criminal offenses you can commit in serving a pastrami sandwich–not providing deli caliber mustard (squeeze jar mustard is a no-no), using relatively thick slices of pastrami instead of thinly sliced shards and using pastrami with no marbling. There’s a lot of flavor in the marbling of a good pastrami and there wasn’t much flavor in this one.
Contrary to the notion that all it takes to make a good green chile cheeseburger are the component parts named in that sandwich, a good green chile cheeseburger is much more than a sum of its parts. Village Subs understands that and crafts a burger with a neon green chile that packs plenty of capsaicin kick, two slices of American cheese, grilled buns, mustard, ketchup, onions, tomatoes and pickles. At about medium well, the beef still retains the requisite juices inherent in good beef.
Milk shakes and malts are both available at Village Subs and they can be made from all available ice cream flavors. Our early favorites are mint chocolate chip and coffee, both of which are rich and delicious. Best of all, they’re served cold to beat the heat.
It may not take a village to make a great sub, but the Village certainly knows the secret to making Joey Tribbiani’s favorite food (and one of mine, too).
7901 4th Street, N.W.
Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 10 August 2011
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Tuna Salad Sub; The Italian Sub; Sausage, Peppers & Onion Sub; Mint Chocolate Malt; Chocolate Shake; Pizza by the Slice