All that, and doughnuts too
By Justin Rude
Friday, July 29, 2011
Walk through the Crystal City underground and you'll pass a passel of chain lunch spots: Subway, McDonald's, Au Bon Pain, Chic-fil-A, Cosi, Potbelly and Quiznos. Then, tucked away among the generic world of mass-produced food, there's Slice N Dice.
This locally owned spot for sandwiches and salads also can boast being the last link to the late, lamented Montgomery Donuts chain.
At first glance, it's easy to overlook. The somewhat garish red-and-green design palette, while not out of place for a quick in-and-out lunch spot, doesn't do much to separate it from the mass-market competition. But inside, you will notice a few differences - such as a sense of humor that would never make it past standards and practices at most corporate operations. (A salad featuring "gently sliced" hard salami is named "The Lorena Bobbitt").
On the menu: Benny Fischer bought Montgomery Donuts, a local chain that is a source of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in Montgomery County in the second half of the last century. It was forced into bankruptcy protection in 2001, but Fischer continued to make and sell doughnuts in Rockville for a couple of years until a roof collapse in 2003 shuttered the last Montgomery Donuts in Maryland. Two years ago, he opened Slice N Dice in Crystal City and brought the treats back from oblivion. For those who grew up on them, the dense, cakey and very sweet doughnuts are worth the trip.
Fresh produce and bread, baked in-house daily, distinguish the non-doughnut portion of the menu from the chain competitors. Subs are huge and piled high.
The humble cheesesteak is a real bright spot. A menu above the counter listing a Philly Cheesesteak Whiz Wit (Philadelphia hoagie jargon for a cheesesteak made with Cheez Whiz and served with onions) gets my hopes up. The long roll is bursting with thinly sliced griddled steak and almost-liquid cheese and is absent the lettuce, tomato and other unwanted extras that D.C. sub makers always try to push. It's salty, greasy, messy and glorious. Equaling Geno's, Tony Luke's or Pat's in the eyes of Philadelphia ex-pats is a hard sell, but Fischer says he feels up to the task. "I'll challenge any of those guys," he declares. "I'll put mine up against any of their cheesesteaks."
While restraint elevates the cheesesteak, excess is an asset for other selections. Take the Sandwich From Hell, a spicy, meaty bomb that mixes capicola, spiced ham, bacon, jalapeno and banana peppers, hot relish, pepper Jack and chipotle dressing. It's not a sandwich for a delicate palate - or anyone on a diet.
For that person, there are salads. As with the sandwiches, guests are encouraged to create their own. Choose your lettuce, choose five free "throw-ins," add a few more a la carte items if you wish, and then select a dressing. Your salad will come either tossed, or diced in front of you with a semicircular mezzaluna blade. Here, too, there is a list of pre-made options, including the above-mentioned Lorena Bobbitt special, an antipasto salad and regionally themed salads. (The Hollywood features iceberg lettuce, grilled chicken, pepper Jack and tortilla strips.)
Mall beers: The Crystal City underground shops seem like an odd place to catch a drink, but Slice N Dice offers beer by the glass and pitcher. Want a Yuengling to wash down that cheesesteak? It's on draft.
The no-mess meatball solution: From the doughnuts to the subs, much of Benny Fischer's operation could be accurately characterized as old-school, but the restaurateur is hardly averse to innovation. Take his patent-pending Sandwich Spike. The tool is designed to make the classic meatball sub friendlier to the suit-and-tie crowd by hollowing out the sub roll and inserting the meatballs into the bread. "You can drive a car with a five-speed, talk on the phone and eat your meatball sub," Fischer claims. And though we don't condone that much behind-the-wheel multi-tasking, Slice N Dice has seen the sandwich rise from its least popular to its No. 2 seller.
Get there early: Buttermilk biscuits made from scratch and huge egg sandwiches are on the menu till 10 a.m.
Bottom line: Subway? Quiznos? Potbelly? You can do better in Crystal City; just keep walking down the hall.