DID YOU KNOW?? the submarine sandwich, originally known as the “filled zeppelin roll”, traces its origins back to the widely publicized and oft-lampooned hindenburg disaster. on the day of the disaster, the dining staff had run out of bread for sandwiches, and instead substituted long dinner rolls. after the hindenburg was destroyed, a plucky team of firefighters were called to the scene, and, once the fires were put out, the firefighters noticed a hauntingly delicious aroma – some of the uneaten sandwiches had been toasted during the accident, and the meat within steamed to perfection. the firefighters took the sandwiches back to the station and enjoyed them amongst themselves; thus, the intrinsic tie between firefighters and subs was made.
i was recently invited to come out to the most respectable firehouse subs and meet their co-founder robin sorensen (inventor of the occasionally useful sorensen squeeze), while sampling some of their finest sandwiches. firehouse subs is a national chain, originating in jacksonville, florida, known for their meat and cheese steaming technology. this was not my first visit to firehouse subs, nor would it be the last.
this particular location was in largo (a part of the giant largo mall plaza/village, on ulmerton), and only just opened recently. it is set up as most locations are, with a counter from which to order (and behind which your food is prepared), a large dining section, and this:
this monstrosity, “coke freestyle”, looking like a refrigerator capable of surviving a nuclear blast, is actually just a soda dispenser. (i’m probably a little late on this one, but let’s all imagine that no one has ever seen such a thing, and just humor me here.) “SODA? OUT OF THAT THING?? BUT HOW??!” yes, i hear you, desperately struggling to figure this out. so it’s a one-at-a-time, select-a-soda soda distribution system, through which you can select one of about 20 or so soda bases, and then are prompted to add a flavored syrup if you so desire. why, you could try raspberry coke zero! vanilla sprite! even standard orange soda! wakkie nu-nu.
it results in over 120 different options, including firehouse subs’ cherry limeade, which actually just kind of dispenses a super-sweet cherry syrup type liquid that you’re supposed to squeeze limes into. i can’t really recommend that, unless you cut it with a bunch of sprite or something.
firehouse subs restaurants also feature a nice wall of hot sauces, from which you are free to select whatever looks good to you, douse your sandwich in it, and promptly toss it in the garbage because you ruined it with waaay too much hot sauce. use in moderation. OR don’t use it at all, because your other option is this:
firehouse subs also has their very own sauce, a datil hot pepper sauce named for the founders’ father. this stuff is pretty remarkable, with a brown sugar sweetness perfectly balancing a light warm burn born from the datil pepper (similar to the habanero but much more playful, largely produced in st. augustine). the sauce is a must for pretty much any sandwich they serve, and blows all the other hot sauces they have out of the water.
the fireman himself, robin sorensen, spoke with us at length as we ate, about he and his brother founding their own restaurant rather than picking up a franchise (in order to “kick the butt” of said franchise), their focus on the customers and full flavored sandwiches (rather than pansy-ass health food), and their public safety foundation, providing funding and equipment to fire departments, disaster relief, and educational opportunities. he’s very involved with the restaurant on a lot of levels, and his passion comes through quite clearly.
we were subjected to sandwich after sandwich, in almost a rapid-fire succession. honestly, i barely survived the night, largely because i felt obligated to eat each sandwich in its entirety, because they were so damn good.
Smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, and melted Monterey Jack, served Fully Involved.
(for those not in the know, “fully involved” means with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, mayonnaise, and a pickle served on the side)
this is the standard, their best seller, with its delicious steamed meats playing perfectly against the crispy toasted bread. the quality of the meat is great, the combo is classic, and adding the datil hot pepper sauce makes it perfect.
Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, melted provolone, Italian dressing, and seasonings, served Fully Involved.
the italian, another classic. though it’s always a great combination of meats, i feel like the italian kind of pales in comparison to the other sandwiches here. it’s solid, but it’s not something special. perhaps these meats were never meant to be steamed? it is unclear.
Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone, mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing.
this is my order at firehouse subs. i love corned beef. i love pastrami. the combination is divine. and these meats feel like they were made to be steamed. throw in mild melted provolone that melds perfectly with the mayo and mustard, add a light seasoning from the italian dressing, and you have something quiet and beautiful that will just melt in your mouth. slather it with cap’n datil’s patented spicy sauce, and you have yourself the sandwich god would eat if it could understand our “pathetic human reliance on food”.
USDA Choice beef brisket smoked for 10+ hours, melted cheddar, and special sauces.
and i would have been happy with my standard order of the new york steamer every time i came to firehouse subs, if they hadn’t forced me to eat this thing. this… this sandwich. awesome, smoked, beautiful brisket. it’s hickory smoked for 16 to 18 hours, made to order for firehouse, and tastes like the most incredible barbecue you’ll ever taste. something in the steaming process really brings this meat to life, and it combines with the messy union of sweet baby ray’s barbecue sauce, the cheddar cheese, and the mayonnaise, to give you one of the best sandwiches i’ve ever had at a chain in my entire life. it seriously blew the others out of the water, and will likely be the only thing i ever order from firehouse again.
do yourself a favor, and try the beef and cheddar brisket.
each other their sandwiches was served with a quartered dill pickle, perfectly seasoned crisp pickles shipped from the bronx in little pickle buckets that they sell to raise money for their foundation. the pickles are fantastic, made by the same people who supply carnegie deli with theirs. so i mean it’s ferrealz. ferrealz, guys.
we were also treated to some delicious cookies, as a nice little dessert and send off. as i said before, i was a fool and stuffed myself full to the point of bursting with those sandwiches, so it was all i could do to waddle out appreciatively, shake the founder’s hand, don a children’s plastic firefighter hat, and drive off into the the night. i have since returned for more of their delicious beef and cheddar brisket, and purchased some of their sauce for my own personal use.
firehouse subs would never have to have invited me to the restaurant for me to recommend them, and now that i’ve had the beef brisket, i have even more reason to do so. so visit, eat, enjoy. i now leave you with this mural, as displayed in one of the many firehouse subs locations across the country. may it haunt your dreams as it does mine.