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Subway heats up the competition with toasted subs

By Daily Herald - | Dec 7, 2004

This week I reached out for a foot-long Fresh Toasted Meatball Marinara sub from America’s No. 1 fast-food chain, Subway.

The big news is the “Fresh Toasted” part — Subway has installed “heat ’em up … and hurry” ovens in all 17,800 of its restaurants coast to coast.

Take that, Quiznos and Schlotzsky’s and every other sandwich shop that’s been bragging about its toasted sandwiches while Subway was serving a room-temperature sub. And granted, there is no “sub-stitute” for toasty sandwiches.

Well, drive-thru cuisine just got noisier and messier. With toasting, your Subway sub is hot and crunchy and crumby. I like food that you can hear. And my compliments to the chef if you need to vacuum out your car after dinner.

Here’s the blueprint: 8 meatballs, marinara sauce and cheese tucked inside Italian bread. So simple, yet so elegant.

Total calories: 1,220. Fat grams: 48. Dietary fiber: 14 grams. Carbs: 126 grams. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $4.79 (may vary, and it will probably vary higher in your neighborhood. Ain’t that how it works, usuallyfi).

For years, toasting was the black hole in Subway’s galaxy. Subway was the biggest fast-food chain, but it didn’t toast its sandwiches like its competitors did. And boy, did they rub it in. Quiznos, the hot rival on Subway’s heels, even came up with the slogan “Mmm … toasty.”

No more. Subway’s new “Speed Oven” is from Turbo Chef. It toasts sandwiches with convection heat, meaning the super-hot air whooshes around the sandwich like a Texas tornado. It takes only 20-25 seconds for a sandwich to get toasty to the middle.

Subway’s oven is not a chain-link conveyor-belt oven like Burger King, Quiznos and Pizza Hut use. Nor is it like the bread oven that Subway uses to bake its bread fresh throughout the day. Subway’s new oven is a stand-alone unit that does nothing except toast sandwiches microwave-fast. The sandwiches come out oven-baked-crispy, not microwave-soggy.

You can request that any Subway sandwich get the toasting treatment, but it works best on the Meatball Marinara and Chicken Bacon Ranch subs. If you’re thinking about a ham, turkey and American cheese sub with all the fixin’s and you want it toasted, leave off the lettuce. Heating lettuce makes as much sense as Anna Nicole Smith presenting a music award.

The meatballs are about an inch in diameter, maybe a little bigger. They’re made with ground beef, bread crumbs and Romano cheese. The meatballs are cooked in advance and kept warm on a steam table. The sauce is straight from the kitchen of Subway founder Fred DeLuca’s mother. It’s surprisingly Italian for a fast-food chain. You have your choice of cheese, but fuggeddaboutit. We’re talking meatball subs here — go with provolone.

Then it goes into the toasting oven. The bread gets crispy, the cheese bubbles up and the sauce gets sassy. This is how a meatball sandwich is supposed to be served.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page B1.

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