"You work at 7-Eleven, right?" asked the friendly Subway emplo — uh, sandwich artist — who’d seen me in line at the Syosset location three times in three days. No, I replied, catching my reflection in the sneeze guard. "Not that one," she clarified, pointing at the 7-Eleven a few doors down. "Another one." Still no. "OK, scoot down, scoot down," she said, defeated.
"I’m actually a restaurant critic."
"Then what are you doing here?" she replied with a snorting laugh.
Back in 1965, a little shop called Pete’s Super Submarines opened in Bridgeport, Conn., becoming an instant sensation among townsfolk, whose only other fun at the time was the ferry to Port Jeff. Did the founders have any inkling that Pete’s would lead one day to more than 41,000 Subways in 100 countries? Who could have guessed that cold cuts might exhibit such a hold on the planetary psyche? That people the world over would happily pay others to make sandwiches that they themselves might have easily made at home with ingredients already on hand?
Scoot down to the year 2000 now, when a Subway spokesperson became famous for dropping over 200 pounds while eating two subs a day. Experts were skeptical, but Subway dieters did at least avoid the fryolater, and the sandwich shop swiftly gained a reputation as America’s healthiest fast food chain, a milestone in the history of damning with faint praise.
Just as food tastes change, so do tastes in diets. Faced with mounting paleo-keto carbophobia, Subway had little choice but to consider serving sandwiches without bread. That shouldn’t be hard, said the Irish supreme court, having ruled last fall that the sugar content in Subway’s loaves is so high, they do not legally fit the country’s definition of bread, Ireland being that rare country where you can’t just call something anything.
Anyway, Subway now offers protein bowls, a culinary side hustle launched in January. Both idea and execution are simple. Anything on bread can now be a bowl — a chicken and bacon ranch bowl, meatball marinara bowl, cold cut bowl. Whether served on bread or plastic, the prices are identical, which makes you wonder if Subway thinks even less of its bread than the Irish supreme court. Otherwise, the bowls are similar to fast food salads in taste, appearance and pococurantist leanings, less meals than things to chew on while gossiping about the IT guy in a windowless break room — which is to say, if you haven’t been missing that break room in these many months, now you know why.
A final unintended consequence of Subway’s bowls is the extra attention garnered by its meats — bologna, salami, ham — which are actually turkey-based. They mostly serve as reminders that better salads and sandwiches might be produced with minimal DIY labor and a brief stop at the supermarket deli counter. But that would require a world where flavor and nutrition mattered as much as time, and a public that demanded its chain eateries be more than convenience stores in everything but name.
But then, what would you expect a 7-Eleven employee to say?
Protein bowls are available at all Subway locations on Long Island, subway.com