This week I reached out for a new Big Philly Cheesesteak - and it really is a big 'un - from America's No. 1 fast-food chain. … You thought I was going to say McDonald's, right? Nope, it's Subway, with 21,571 restaurants in all 50 states, including locations in airports, amusement parks, colleges, hospitals, train stations, convenience stores, car dealers, Laundromats and, for heaven's sake, even a church.
Subway is an equal-opportunity hunger-buster, with 12 kosher restaurants and two that cater to the Muslim community by serving Halal products.
Now comes the Big Philly Cheesesteak, which is definitely not a Jared-approved, skinny mini sandwich. It's packed with meat and cheese and calories and fat, and you gotta know it's packing a big flavor wallop. It'll knock your wallet for a loop, too.
Here's the blueprint: 8 ounces of thinly sliced steak, cheese and whatever other toppings you point to behind the glass counter, all stuffed on a freshly baked 12-inch loaf.
Total calories. 1,040. Fat grams: 38. Dietary fiber: 12 grams. Carbs: 100 grams. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $8.49.
Subway also has a 6-inch (Not As) Big Philly Cheesesteak, with 4 ounces of sliced steak, for $4.99. Obviously, the smart play is to buy the 12-incher and share it.
Not that you need me to tell you this, but this is not a Philly Cheesesteak like you get in the City of Brotherly Love. Subway's steak is thinly sliced and cooked in advance. It's toasted hot when you order it. Back in Philly, the steak is diced and chopped and cooked on a flat grill before your eyes.
There's a big difference in the cheese, too. In Philly, you get it "with or without" Cheez Whiz. At Subway, you can pick any kind of cheese you wish. Most customers go with American or cheddar.
Then you have your choice of bread. Subway is constantly baking a whole bunch of different breads throughout the day. In Philly, you get a traditional French hoagie bun … and you'll like it or lump it.
Here's perhaps the biggest difference: At Subway, as with all the sandwiches, you can toss on any topping you wish, which would be heresy in Philadelphia. My buddy at Subway corporate orders his Big Philly Cheesesteak with double American cheese, Chipotle Southwest Sauce, olives, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers. Rocky Balboa just keeled over.
Subway's Big Philly Cheesesteak is prepared as a cold sandwich then popped into a superheated convection oven to get the meat toasty and the cheese all gooey. OK, so it's not an authentic Philly Cheesesteak prepared by a guy named Sal. But does it taste good, and is it worth the money? That's all we care about in the drive-thru. We're not checking the sandwiches for authenticity and pedigree.
So, yes, this is a mighty big, good sandwich. It's got a half-pound of sliced steak, plus you can load it up with double cheese and great big handfuls of veggies and glops of sauce. Naturally, this stopped being a Philly Cheesesteak three vegetables ago, but for 12 inches of meat 'n' cheese, great-smelling bread and extra stuff, Subway's interpretation of a cheesesteak is tough to top.
Here's your caution sign: For a company whose spokesman brags about low-fat choices, this sandwich ain't exactly sticking to the company line. One sandwich is more than 1,000 calories. And that's a bare-bones version. Add that chipotle sauce my buddy recommends, and you're in the tubby danger zone.
This is where you invite a buddy along for lunch and split the 12-incher. Or just wrap up the second half for a leftover dinner - around 3 p.m., when you get the afternoon hungries.
Ken Hoffman's syndicated column appears Wednesday.