Grand Slam Subs, downtown's newest sandwich shop, at first sight appears neither offensive nor distinctive.
To paraphrase Hemingway, it's a typical, clean, well-lighted lunch place. Slightly loud classic rock riffs from the speakers, warehouse lights hang from the vaulted ceiling over clusters of Formica-topped tables, and a scattering of baseball paraphernalia drapes randomly from primary-colored walls. Staffed by workers in baseball T-shirts, it looks like a thousand other places of its kind, and I found myself hoping the food would be more unique than the dcor.
Happily, it was.
Over two visits, my guests and I ordered half the menu, which wasn't as gluttonous as it sounds, considering that portions are modest and priced reasonably. Eight-inch subs are $5.99, foot-longs $7.99, and sides $1 to $3 each. (Six-inch egg sandwiches with choice of cheese and bacon or ham are also available at breakfast for $2.99.)
We tried the soup du jour ($2.99) that day, homemade chicken noodle and a garden salad ($2.99). For sandwiches, we went with the Diving Catch (tuna); the Curveball (classic meatballs smothered in marinara, which a fellow diner pronounced, "Messy to eat, but delicious"); the Heater (a Grand Slam pastrami version of a Philly cheesesteak); the Fielder's Choice (veggie); the At B.A.T. (a gourmet BLT with avocado); and the sandwich I returned for three times that week, the Golden Glove, an original creation of thinly sliced oven-roasted turkey, whole cranberry (not jellied) or raspberry chipotle sauce, cream cheese, lettuce and mayo.
Each dish reflected the quality of Grand Slam's ingredients. The soup boasted wide, thick noodles cooked al dente, tender carrot and celery pieces, chunks of chicken, and a peppery, thick broth. The salad was a standard American toss, but the vegetables came colorful, crispy and served with packets of Newman's Own dressings and Grand Slam's homemade, day-old-onion-bread croutons, of which I could have eaten a whole bag.
Everyone enjoyed the sandwiches, and especially their soft white, wheat and onion breads.
"Our bread tastes so good because it starts in-house as flour, yeast and water it's not shipped in and par-baked," explained Shelly Gemoets, who owns the place with husband Adam and Fred Lindhe.
Sandwiches came in an upright position (not slapped together on bread too large to bite). Meats, cheeses and vegetables tasted deli-fresh, and original sauces brought out the natural flavors of main ingredients, like chipotle raspberry sauce with the Golden Glove's turkey, or Dijon horseradish sauce complementing the Heater's pastrami.
The side potato salad proved the only culinary disappointment across visits. The mustard, egg, vinegar and spice, all perhaps a bit too intense on their own, still knuckled under the pickled-tasting black olives.
Grand Slam could also improve by switching from foam containers to eco-conscious packaging, in line with its positive community involvement. The restaurant donates day-old bread to Ecumenical Social Ministries and, fittingly, sponsors Little League teams.
Overall, Grand Slam Subs delivers, with friendly service (including free Wi-Fi and free Blow Pops at the register) and quality homemade food. In a tough market that recently saw the closure of a few decent independent sub shops downtown, Grand Slam deserves to stay around. Baseball shtick aside, these sandwiches are heavy hitters.