Simply Jimmy John's
By Alex Baldinger
Friday, Dec. 23, 2011
"If you want a faster sandwich," a placard tells patrons at a recently opened Jimmy John's, "make it yourself!" You can reap two insights from this piece of bric-a-brac, the type that covers the walls at most of the chain's 1,300 franchises, three of which have opened downtown and in Bethesda since early November.
Insight No. 1: The chipper swarm of order-takers and preppers turns around sandwich requests with metronomic rapidity, easily plowing through the lunchtime queues that snake from the front counter out the door and around the corner. "Sandwiches so fast, you'll freak!" another piece of in-store decor rightly boasts.
And it's no wonder why. With straightforward meat, veggie and cheese options, the choice of an eight-inch sub roll or thick-sliced seven-grain bread, and no toasting or baking process to wait on, Jimmy John's sandwiches should be easy to produce at industrial speed, which leads us to . . .
Insight No. 2: You can easily make many of Jimmy John's menu items yourself, either at home or in your office kitchenette. Consider the No. 1, or Pepe: There's something to be said for simplicity, but it's also hard to wax rhapsodic about a roll topped with ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Similarly, the No. 10, or Hunter's Club: roast beef, provolone, lettuce, toma . . . you see where this is going.
Things get a little more interesting with the No. 12, or Beach Club, which adds avocado, sliced cucumber and sprouts to the standard turkey sandwich, while the No. 9, or Italian Night Club, is a blend of salami, capicola and smoked ham worthy of an authentic corner deli.
But even the most basic Jimmy John's sandwich is far from unsatisfying, thanks to the baked-in-store bread, particularly the inch-thick seven-grain, which achieves a level of heartiness that other national sandwich chains would struggle to match with their spongy, flavorless "white or wheat" options.
The chain's presence in college towns across the country fuels the cult of Jimmy John's and prompted the excited outpouring that arose when news of its arrival here hit the area. "No more driving to Virginia for the #9!" Katie Lipton of the District tweeted in response to the news. She had been commuting from her home to the Crystal City store (there are now more than a dozen locations in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia) two or three times a month whenever she got a craving for the Italian Night Club, a sub she says she met while in grad school in Austin.
"The Napoli [at the Italian Store in Arlington] pretty much ruined all Italian sandwiches for me, except Jimmy John's, which is the only one I get on a regular occasion."
Arlington resident Jessica Anderson, a University of North Carolina graduate who works downtown, keeps a Jimmy John's menu in her desk for takeout or delivery orders and has fond memories of the No. 5, or Vito - an Italian Night Club, minus the ham - from her undergrad days. "I'm not even sure I really understand the hype about it," she said, "other than I was excited to have something that I loved from a very near and dear time in my life."
Nostalgia, it seems, is Jimmy John's most complex ingredient.