If you've ever taken a long road trip, you've probably stopped at a Subway at least once. That's because they're everywhere. (Presently, there are more Subways scattered across the globe than there are McDonald's.)
But, you're not on the road. You're home, in a city known for its food. So why would you choose a meatball sub from one of Portland's 33 Subways when you could ask your neighborhood sandwich shop to make you one instead?
Choosing to patronize a local shop might run you a few dollars more than a Subway sub, but the perks are exponential.
The money you spend locally pays for those shops to stay in business and helps employ the people who staff them, all of which contributes to creating the vibrant, livable neighborhood you live in and love. Your money also, quite literally, goes a long way as it pays for the local bakers who bake your bread, and the local and regional farmers and ranchers who supply your vegetables and meats.
But when you get down to it, your local shop is simply going to have more soul, comfier seats, and far less fluorescent lighting.
Craving a hot cheesesteak or a meatball sub? Then why not skip Subway and instead check out one of these five Portland sandwich spots that are, more often than you might think, located right around the corner.
The Peoples' Sandwich of Portland
There's a right way to do cheesesteaks and a wrong way. Swing by The Peoples' Sandwich and watch it done right. First, the young men and women on the line measure out and grill several strips of fresh beefsteak from Painted Hills Natural Beef. After it's cooked a bit, they add the onions and green bell peppers, mincing it all together on the flat-top. But rather than adding the cheese (white cheddar and provolone) after the meat has been bunned, they, rightly, mix it in with everything else on the grill before packing it all into a fresh French roll, sourced daily from An Xuyen Bakery in SE Portland. Adorably, it also comes with a little surprise. You'll find, tucked inside the cheesesteak’s double wrapping, a lone Tootsie Roll. Why? Why not. It's a little reminder that they appreciate your business as much as you're going to appreciate their food.
The Peoples' Sandwich of Portland, 53 NW 1st Ave., 503.222.0525
Chop Butchery & Charcuterie
Sometimes you come across a sandwich that you know you could never accurately recreate at home, even if you had the exact same ingredients within reach. Chop's Italian sandwich, known affectionately as the Italian Stallion, is a prime example. The locally sourced meats—mortadella, copa, and house-cured salami and ham—are thinly sliced, as they should be, but so are the locally grown tomatoes, red onions and lettuce. The Italian's ingredients also include mayonnaise, tart rings of pepperoncini, oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper, as well as red bell peppers roasted in-house. And each morning, someone from the shop darts over to Pearl Bakery to pick up fresh French rolls, used to sandwich the fixings all together. "We always wanted to make a butcher sandwich," says Paula Markus, who owns and operates Chop with fellow butcher Eric Finley. Don't live near Williams Street? You can order up an Italian Stallion at Chop's station inside City Market in NW Portland.
Chop Butchery & Charcuterie, 3808 N Williams St., 503.288.1901
Not many sandwich-makers take a shot at reinterpreting the standards of old quite like Picnic House's Aaron and Jessica Grimmer do. The bacon on their bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich is thick and savory while being neither too crisp, nor too rare. The lettuce is locally sourced, as are the plump tomatoes, which the staff roast in-house. The Grimmers also skip the two-slices-of-bread sandwich model, opting instead to serve their BLTs on house-baked primo rolls (think demi-baguettes but softer and fluffier on the inside), finishing them off with a blue cheese aioli and slices of ripe avocado. But, perhaps what's most remarkable is the way these sandwiches eat. Nothing squishes out the sides—not the aioli, not the tomatoes, and, most impressively, not the avocado. It's a little detail, one which Jessica Grimmer toiled over for months, but it shows. Or, rather, it doesn't.
Picnic House, 723 SW Salmon St., 503.227.0705
Michael's Italian Beef and Sausage Company
Perhaps the surest way to sum up Chicago native Michael Zokoych's aesthetic, political and philosophical leanings is to try what he's been cooking. After graduating from the University of Portland, Zokoych opened his shop—it's been a southeast mainstay for 35 years—with one goal in mind: Beat fast food restaurants at their own game by serving up good food fast, while still respectfully abiding by the culinary principles he learned from his Sicilian mother. Zokoych is especially confident in his meatball sandwich. The balls, he says, are formed with ground chuck and are served dry, because maybe you like it that way. (Although, Zokoych suggests ordering the sandwiches "pizza style," meaning that you ask for it with red sauce and provolone cheese.) All sandwiches come with onions (raw or sautéed), your choice of green bell peppers, pepperoncini or pickled carrots, and hot peppers from his housemade giardiniera. If you find yourself missing the East Coast or your Italian grandmother's cooking, you need long no more. A visit to Michael's should do the trick.
Michael's Italian Beef and Sausage Company, 1111 SE Sandy Blvd., 503.230.1899
What you get on your veggie sandwich at Proper Eats, North Portland's vegan (and occasionally dairy-friendly) grocery, all depends on the season. During the summer, the market's classic veggie sandwich includes tomatoes, squash, red, yellow and green bell peppers, and a variety of chilies (poblanos, jalapeños, Cubanelles). Winter harvests mean sandwiches thick with beets, carrots and leeks. Regardless, all sandwiches are served between two slices of Dave's Killer Bread and finished off with fresh mesclun greens and your choice of a spread: hazelnut-arugula pesto, miso-tahini, hummus, or sunseed. Go with the hummus, pair it, for a few dollars more, with a cup of daily soup, and know that with every bite, you are helping to keep the people who grow these ingredients—and the people who make those sandwiches—in business and gainfully employed.
Proper Eats, 8638 N Lombard Ave., 503.445.2007
What's your fave local alternative to Subway? Dish.