This week, I reached out for a Stickball Special sub at Jersey Mike's, a "sub above" for sure, with 2,000 restaurants coast-to-coast.
To clarify, when Jersey Mike's says "a sub above," they're talking about quality, not their prices compared to Subway. While Jersey Mike's subs do cost a little more than Subway's, they taste infinitely better.
I go to Jersey Mike's a lot, usually on Thursdays after wrecking the Charlie Pallilo Show on ESPN 97.5 FM. Almost always, I order the No. 17, Mike's Famous Philly, which I swear rivals Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia. Trust me, it's true.
But last week, I went with the No. 11, the Stickball Special, at Jersey Mike's. That's because I read Jersey Mike's sandwiches now use pork products that are antibiotics-free, hormone-free, and steroid-free. (The only thing that isn't free is the sandwich.) Plus the pork is sourced from U.S. family farms that don't keep their pigs in crates.
Here's the Stickball Special breakdown: ham, provolone, and salami on a freshly baked sub roll. I asked for mine "Mike's Way," with sliced onions, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salt, and "The Juice" (red wine vinegar and olive oil).
Total calories: 880 (for a seven-inch "regular"). Fat grams: 49. Sodium: 2,175 mg. Carbs: 69 g. Dietary fiber: 2 g. Protein: 36 g. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $6.95. A 14-inch "giant" is $12.95.
I'm a Jersey Mike's fan because the quality is over the tip-top. When you order a sub with roast beef, your friendly sandwich-maker slices the roast beef right in front of you. The roast beef is medium rare and bright pink and juicy, not slices of dried-out shoe leather that's been lying in a paper tray for hours at Subway. All the meats and cheeses are sliced to order at Jersey Mike's. That's a big difference, worth every penny of the bump in price.
I also went with the Stickball Special because of its name. I played stickball growing up in New Jersey, about an hour from Point Pleasant, where Jersey Mike's was founded. If you're not from the East Coast, you might not know about stickball. There are two basic styles of the city game.
In New York, kids play stickball in the street. The bat is a broomstick, and the ball is a pink Spalding High Bouncer rubber ball. The pitcher bounces the ball to the hitter. If the batter hits the ball past, say, the blue Chevy, it's a single; past the mailbox, a double; past the manhole cover, a triple; and across the intersection, a home run. If you break a window, run!
We play stickball differently in Jersey. We paint a strike zone box on a wall. The pitcher throws the High Bouncer, which is about the size of a cue ball and almost as hard, as fast as he can. A grounder past the pitcher is a single, over the fence or over a line in the outfield is a homer. If the pitch hits inside the box or is swung on and missed, it's a strike. Three strikes, you're out. Let me tell you from experience, getting hit by a High Bouncer fast ball is no fun. You don't show the black and blue mark to your mother because she might not let you play anymore.
I used to play stickball at School No. 23 on Westminster Avenue in Elizabeth. Stickball is a great game. All you need are two kids, a broomstick, a rubber ball, and a place to play where some old grouch won't call the cops on you. Fun fact: one of the legendary stickball players of all time is the great comedian Richard Lewis from Curb Your Enthusiasm. When I was in high school, I often snuck into the Improv comedy club in Manhattan where I watched Lewis perform. He became my role model, eventually my friend. He was so smart and brilliant, often quoting lines from famous novels and plays like Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire.
I know this is supposed to be a fast-food review, but let me tell you a funny story about Lewis. Several years ago, Lewis was performing in Houston, and I invited him on my radio show. I told him, "We play a little trivia game, it'll be you against a pair of 6-year-old kids." Lewis said he didn't want to do it, he didn't play well with children, it wouldn't be enjoyable for the listeners, a hundred other excuses. I convinced him to do it anyway. He didn't know that I fixed the game to surprise him.
First question I asked Lewis: "What is the square root of 1,754,034?" Or some stupid, impossible question like that. Lewis said "I have no idea." Hit the buzzer. Wrong.
Okay, on to the 6-year-olds.
"In what play will you find a character named Stanley Kowalski?" In a squeaky child's voice, Pete (my friend Brent Bechtol's kid) said, "That's easy, A Streetcar Named Desire."
Lewis was stunned and asked Pete, "How could you possibly know that?"
Pete answered, "Who doesn't know that? I starred in my kindergarten production of Streetcar last year. I played Stanley. Duh."
Lewis looked at the kid, then at me, and broke up. He knew we got him.
Back to business: The Stickball Special at Jersey Mike's is really darn delicious, a star in the fast food lineup, and well worth the price.
Ken Hoffman reviews a new fast food restaurant item every Wednesday. Have a suggestion or a drive-thru favorite? Let Ken know on Twitter.