Do you ever go to Mr. Subb? I am by no means a regular but I get a nostalgic urge to go about once every 6 months or so. Just to see how they are getting along. If you don't know, Mr. Subb is our indigenous Capital Region "subb" chain. It is the heir to the fabled Mike's NEBA (or NEBA-Mike's to some) dynasty that departed from our lands some time ago.
Both Mike's NEBA and Mr. Subb were fixtures of my childhood. During my early years in Albany I had many a summer's day Slushy at the Central and Colvin Mike's NEBA location. Later on in life the Mr. Subb on Western Ave. in Guilderland was on the way home from school/sports practices. My Ma would often grab me a sarny for dinner. I think I used to be a fan of ham and cheese and I remember that Mr. Subb used to do that weird thing where they would chop a wedge of bread out of the roll and pack the meat cheese in the slit. Anyhow, when I pop in now as a wizened 30 something I am often flooded with pleasant thoughts and images of simpler days and I think that is what keeps me as a sporadic customer.
I am of the opinion that Mr. Subb often gets lumped together in people's minds with Subway (or the like) and I do not think is necessarily a fair comparison. Given, Mr. Subb is a bit dowdy and plain (but aren't we all a bit dowdy and plain around these parts? Especially during February? In a charming sort of way?), but their product is a bit of a cut above what you would expect, me thinks.
In case you haven't noticed -- I am a man of honor and tradition. I order NEBAs and not much else. A NEBA is one of our local takes on the jus cooked roast beef/bread product theme. It consists of a roll, jus cooked roast beef, and horsey sauce (horseradish mayonaise). Fairly simple in concept but if done right the NEBA can be a wonderful amalgam of flavors and textures. Let us examine the elements of this particular sandwich.
First off, the bun is good. Probably the best part of the sandwich. It is your standard workaday split-top white bun, but it has been pleasantly crispy-ed up all around. Both the cut surfaces and the domed top have a bit of crunch and color to them. The way that the crispy bottom bun gives into the absorbed jus is probably the most magical element of a NEBA. This is usually nicely done.
Next let us consider the horsey sauce.
I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce on this particular sandwich. There was a plentiful squirt on top of the beef and when I took a bite I was shocked. There was an aggressive, nostril clearing amount of horseradish going on in that sauce! I loved it. You are so used to the milquetoast, fatty blandness of most chain-shop sarnies. The fact that this NEBA had actual flavor made me very happy.
As for the beef, Mr. Subb starts out with a good product. They use NY State National brand roast beef made by Old World Provisions (the company that runs Helmbold's now). The thing is, they often do it a bit of an injustice. Most times the beef comes out fairly flavorful, but uniformly grey. I think you want a bit of rareness in the center of your sandwich, and I have actually had Mr. Subb NEBAs that have been about as good as they can be (all things considered), but I think it depends on the day/sandwich artiste. In any event, I never outright regret eating a NEBA. A bad NEBA is better than anything on the wretched Subway menu. That is for damn sure. What's more, if you are looking for a "beef n' cheddar" type sandwich, than the cheese NEBA absolutely beats the pants off of anything you would get at Arby's (the legend is actually that NEBA stands for "Never Ever Buy Arby's").
So if you have written off Mr. Subb as just another insipid downmarket sandwich joint, maybe give them a try. Go have a NEBA and see what you think. If you are a crusty old area local like myself it just may jog some pleasant childhood memories. If not, do it just to acquaint yourself with a shadow of what used to be. To tell you the truth, I am no business man, but I think if the Mr. Subb proprietors figured out a way to resurrect Mike's NEBA as it exists in my memory (both the restaurants and the eponymous sandwich), and if they did it just right... I think they would make a killing. At very least I would be there with bells on.