Subway's unchallenged dominance of the fast food submarine sandwich sector frustrates me. I have nothing in particular against Subway, but I also have nothing in particular for it: Subway is fine, but the submarine sandwich is such a majestic creature that I'm surprised another chain hasn't emerged to take it to greater heights. The only thing Subway consistently excels at is smelling like itself.
But maybe sub excellence is easier whined about than achieved, because QSR Magazine reports that in 2010 Subway had higher sales than the next six sandwich chains combined. Panera and Arby's are second and third on the list, but fourth-place Quizno's has a menu more closely resembling the market leader's--Subway and the Q are focused on traditional submarine sandwiches, whereas Panera and the rest get trickier with the bread--so that's where I headed to start my quest for a hoagie underdog worth backing.
My industry sources suggest that Quizno's is a chain on the wane, and indeed there are only a couple outlets in Greater Boston, as compared to approximately one Subway per redhead. This surprised me, and I wasn't sure if it was because Subway actually served better food or if they just ran a better business. It has been suggested (meaning I think I read it somewhere, and if not, let me suggest it) that Quizno's may have rested a little too comfortably on its toasted sandwich laurels and wasn't prepared to respond when Subway developed its own bread-heating capabilities in the late 1990s.
Whatever the case, I wasn't expecting much by way of ambiance when I lit out for Quizno's, because flailing fast fooderies can be a bit depressing; even in cases where product quality's not strictly to blame for the downward spiral, physical dilapidation tends to set in at individual franchises when the parent company's not thriving. (I like Arby's food, and I'll start eating again as soon as they start delivering.)
This is emphatically not the case at the Quizno's in Cambridge. It's bright and clean and cheerful, and the employees are friendly and efficient. Which is all nice enough and would count for even more if you could eat friendly efficiency for lunch. Bring on the grub.
I began my Quizno's survey with a somewhat risky choice, the seasonally available Lobster and Seafood Salad Sub. Of course it's not fair to expect a $5.99 sandwich to compete with a real lobster roll, but I decided that Quizno's version could provide some clues as to just how serious they are about offering a quality submarine sandwich experience.
I wasn't looking for a half pound of claw meat. I just wanted to see what they could get done with their 51% (at least!) lobster option. If a quick-sub chain can engineer a nominally lobster-bearing sandwich in such a fashion that some crustaceous character rises above the sad sea of whitefish and mayonnaise, then it's a serious operation worth further investigation.
The bun is brushed with butter that lends significant flavor, so much so that it valiantly competes with the mayonnaise in the filling. The bread was toasted inside and out, rather than just half-heartedly warmed over and dotted with faux toast-marks. I prefer it to Subway's by a wide margin.
The guts of the matter featured a fair load of lobster chunks mixed with the sort of shredded sea gristle required to flesh out a cut-rate lobster sandwich, all of which was bound by straight mayo with no seasoning beyond a couple grains of salt. The lobster wasn't as sweet as I'd have liked, but it was firm and respectable. The fish mash doesn't add much flavor; it's not bad, but if you served it sans lobster to 100 people with working tongues, a dozen of them might tell you it's chicken. The seafood was topped with nothing but shredded iceberg, which wasn't brown or poison, so all right, fine.
Count me in on Quizno's. The Lobster and Seafood Sub is no great shakes, but it's a promising sign that Quizno's means business.