Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday morning is way too intense for a complicated brunch menu. What, with having to recover from the day used to recover from the work week, it’s just not a good time to make serious decisions. The brain can be a bit foggy and incapable of discerning essential adjectives from non-essential ones. A Belgian Waffle? Why can’t we just have an American Waffle instead? Eggs named after a Pope? Sorry, there are too many issues involved to make that choice.
The whole business of Sunday brunch itself is a bit disconcerting. Everybody knows that the A List chef – who worked his/her busy digits to the bone the night before – is at home with a hangover and couldn’t possibly be brought in to supervise the operation unless he/she was transported by ambulance. Indeed, Sunday brunch is where busboys pretend to be line cooks and line cooks pretend to be chefs. It’s all happy, in an “up-from-bootstraps” sort of way, but doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of the meal. Staring down at a seafood frittata at a Sunday brunch, one comes to the realization why it’s not offered the rest of the week: the seafood bits are what are left over from what they could not sell the rest of the week. Insert the appropriate cat food reference here.
After all, what is a frittata anyway, other than an Italian name for an omelet that’s been finished off under the broiler? Somehow it wouldn’t taste nearly as good as if it were just labeled an “omelet that’s finished off under the broiler”. If polenta is just grits with better PR, isn’t a frittata just an omelet for somebody in search of the exotic?
That’s where the idea of food as entertainment comes off the rails. As Americans, we seem to have stumbled into a notion that everything we do should be exotic and jammed packed with entertainment value. Three channels on the telly aren’t enough? Let’s have 500 hundred including seven ESPNs. Coffee-flavored coffee a tad too pedestrian? Have an iced double decaf mochaccino, half-foam instead. Don’t bother with the omelet; have the frittata.
This constant and monotonous pursuit of the novel, the new, the oh-so-trendsetting is another mind numbing manifestation of the consumerism treadmill. One gets on and can never really get off without experiencing the polite condescension from those still handcuffed to the machine. Those in the perpetual pursuit of ever more exotic food have left me utterly bored with the pursuit of ever more exotic food.
That’s why the missus and I have a simple plan for Sunday mornings. We drop the kid off at Grandma’s and head straight to Sub-Conscious on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The place is usually empty and funereal quiet (save the TV in the background) which is the way we like it.
On the menu are all the normal things that a college sub shop would typically carry – sandwiches, fried bits of this or that and pizza. I’ve never tried any of the fried bits or the pizza. It’s just not fitting. No, one comes to Sub-Conscious for one thing – the subs. And they are brilliant.
This stuff in the middle – the sandwich fixin’s – are where most restaurant of this type concentrate their efforts. And at Sub-Conscious, meats, veggies and whatnot are fresh and well prepared. But that’s not what makes their offering so much better than the next guy down the street. It’s the bread. They get theirs from upstate New York. It’s crispy without being crunchy; light but still full of flavor. Indeed, the outside crusts crackle with every bite.
The two we typically order are the cheese steak and the Italian. Both are prepared with lightly toasted bread. The contrast of the warm and slightly crispy bread to the cold ingredients in the Italian is striking and makes for a marvelous mouthful of sandwich happiness. The cheese steak is a sandwich utterly without pretension. It stand on its’ own in near perfect balance – not too much steak, not too much cheese. Caramelized onions add both to the aroma and to the sandwich’s umami. It is arguable as good as I’ve ever had anywhere.
Service is fast and friendly, with the staff starting on our sandwiches when we park the car. You tell the folks what you want, and they call your number a few minutes later.
So what’s not to like? For my own money, nothing. For those looking for atmosphere, there are plenty of places in town where you can feel both special and entertained. Sub-Conscious is not like that. Here, simple, wholesome food is made with care and really good bread. It is the perfect antidote to the Sunday brunch seafood frittata.
3209 Hillsborough St
Raleigh, NC 27607-5438
Posted by Dave at 7:43 AM