The last time I patronized a Subway was circa 1997. I was returning to school in Chicago, sharing the driving with two roommates who requested a lunch break. I ordered a tuna sandwich that did not swim right with me physically or ethically. I never ate fish again, nor did I ever enter the chain, even for a beverage.
Until last month. Yes, Subway, I am coming back.
(Fish, don’t get any ideas. You are still on the banned list, alongside meat, cheese and milk.)
I blame — or give credit to — a trio of new vegan sandwiches. As part of the company’s trial program, eight outposts in Washington, Virginia and Maryland are carrying the animal product-free sammies fetchingly called Malibu Greek, Sweet Riblet and Italian Black Bean. Subway’s press relations guy made me promise to note that the subs are available only at these select locations. Obligation fulfilled.
Veg-heads ask a lot of questions before taking that first bite. We are a skeptical bunch. (Case in point: I just revoked a fan letter to Stonyfield Farm after learning that the company’s O’Soy yogurt contains cultures grown in milk and milk protein. O’Annoying.) Subway’s Web site does not provide the ingredients for these three, but the rep sent me a background-checklist that reads like a Shakespearean love sonnet.
How do I love thee soy protein with water for hydration?
Let me count the textured wheat protein and extract of malted barley and corn.
The special items appeared on menus in June; I surfaced at the King Street restaurant in Alexandria soon after. I ordered the Sweet Riblet and Malibu Greek, which strangely did not have any Californian flourishes like avocado or sunchokes or Greek influences such as soy feta or chestnuts. If you seriously crave the Mediterranean, however, you can always request olives as a topping. The eatery also sells a “chicken” tender sandwich that is meatless (one of three new vegetarian offerings), but it contains — vegan spoiler alert! — egg and milk.
For balance and fairness, I brought along a carnivore-lite friend. Of the two subs, Monika favored the riblet, which glistened like a candy apple with Wonka-sweet barbecue sauce. The “meat,” inspected with sticky fingers, shredded like pulled pork; the color was piggy pink. Based on chew and hue, the riblet could’ve fooled me, but I ‘m an admitted rube.
The Malibu Greek, my pick, had a cleaner taste. (Based on nutritional numbers, it was a toss-up between the two: The Greek has half the sugar, 8 grams less of protein and 1,410 milligrams of sodium, compared to the riblet’s 1,190.) The Greek’s main protein resembled a patty, round in shape and dark like a hamburger left on the grill three Mississippis too long. I could pick up a smoky flavor and identify a confetti toss of veggies, a comforting thought as I looked down at the empty paper wrapping.
The Alexandria outpost did not carry the Italian Black Bean — call ahead because the subs sell out or specific locations might not have all three in stock — so I ventured across the river to 555 13th St. NW. Employee Steve Khalil told me from behind the counter that he had just polished off his lunch, the Malibu Greek.
“I guess I’m going to be vegan now,” he said, “all for the Malibu Greek.” The franchise’s owner packs away two or three a day, Khalil added.
Based on looks, IBB was the fraternal twin of MG: It too was circular, studded with a farmer’s cartload (black beans and corn were most noticeable) and nibblet-y in texture. The beaner, though, was lighter brown and flecked with rice.
I took this one to go, leaving it in my car, in the heat, for probably an unhealthy passage of time. But what the hey, it wasn’t like I had to worry about curdled dairy.
When I returned home, the patty had softened into a tapenadelike paste — more spread than sandwich meat. However, to deceive my tastebuds, I threw a few slices of vegan cheddar on top, as if I were cooking a cheeseburger. I bit into the toasted sandwich and tasted hearty plant life. Fifteen years later, I finally forgive you, Subway.
Postscript: Weeks after kicking off the pilot test, Subway still has no plans to offer the vegan options nationally. However, Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, says that local Subway managers told the animal-rights group that sales were encouraging. (I heard the same refrain from the three stores I visited.) We now await the word — yes or no — from HQ.
Andrea Sachs, a Post Travel writer, has been vegetarian for more than 25 years (it all started with a vein-y steak at the family dinner table) and 96 percent vegan for about five years. Once she discovers a tasty soy frozen yogurt, she will be 100 percent.