Normally I wouldn’t have anything to say about a fast food chain restaurant. Lately, however, we seem to have had an explosion of new chain arrivals in RVA. Many of these places most of us have never heard of. You do hear a few people waxing nostalgic about some of these places from their college or home town days but for the rest of us it’s a guessing game. Today I decided to try one of these new places out.
First, let me say that being hungry while driving around Short Pump is an exercise in overload. Everywhere neon signs beckoning you with key words like ‘gourmet’ or ‘brick-oven’ trying to tell you that they serve the same food as the other guy in the next shopping center but that they’ve got a special ‘twist’ on your average pizza, or sandwich, or whatever. The result of all these choices, at least for me, is something akin to ‘deer in the headlights’. So, I fell prey to one of the keywords while driving aimlessly and decided ‘gourmet sandwiches’ would be the way to go.
Designing a Jimmy John’s wasn’t that difficult. Post-industrial minimal with faux-snarky signs to fill up all the blank white spaces (I did think the ‘No Hippies’ sign was a bit odd and possibly insulting to hippies…). As I approached the counter I was hit with a bit of anxiety. If you go to some fast food places on a regular basis you know the routine, what to order, where to stand, where to pick it all up. As a newbie I tried to take it in as quickly as I could without looking like an complete simpleton. The line moved quickly and I arrived at the register before I could get more of a basic idea of what I wanted. I stuttered out an order, paid, and then stood there foolishly not knowing what to do next. Tentatively, I reached out and asked if I should just take a soda cup – the cashier looked at me with an expression that said ‘Duh!’
So, cup in hand, I wandered around trying to figure out the set-up. Found the soda machine, filled up and then grabbed a table – if there are napkin dispensers in this place they were beyond my ability to locate. The sandwich assembly line was moving fast and someone kept out calling out sandwich descriptions. Since the don’t give out order numbers I can only imagine the potential for confusion if more than one person ordered the same thing in the middle of a rush. Could get ugly.
In an amount of time that I could describe as ‘just barely quick enough’ considering the number of customers my sandwich name was called out. I unwrapped my sub and took a bite. The applewood smoked ham was very good, the provolone was tasty, the lettuce crisp. We had the making for a pretty decent sub. The problem was the bread. Tough and chewy it kept threatening to squirt the fillings out on to the table as I bit down. It was very similar to the bread at Fuddrucker’s – doughy and devoid of flavour or character.
The result was a bland sandwich – certainly not the ‘gourmet’ advertised on their sign. Had I known the menu better I probably could have ordered better. Different toppings might have made it more interesting and when was the last time that you actually had to order a pickle? The sandwich I had at Coppola’s a couple of weeks ago was far superior in all respects and, while I haven’t tried the behemoth battleship sandwich’s at Black Sheep, I bet they’re better tasting and a better value.
All this got me to thinking. Basically anything they have to offer out in the chain riddled traffic mess of Short Pump can be got better and for the same or less at any number of our locally owned restaurants in the city. So, the next time life finds me out in Short Pump and feeling a bit peckish I shouldn’t waste my time looking for some mediocre attempt at ‘gourmet’ food but instead run quickly back into the city for the real deal.