You don’t need to have Tim Ma's résumé to create an excellent sandwich. But as the former Maple Ave Restaurant and current Water & Wall chef shows with his latest effort, Chase the Submarine, an eye for sourcing, seasoning and flavor-building can transform even a humble steak-and-cheese hoagie into something special.
The sleek 30-seat sandwich shop in Vienna — which Ma and his wife, Joey Hernandez, opened with Caffe Amouri owner Michael Amouri in November — presents a menu of primarily subs and sandwiches, divided into Classic Subs and the more outside-the-box Chase Submarines. (Chase is Ma and Hernandez’s second child.)
Regardless of the menu headings, there are no mayo-slathered cold cuts to be found here.
The “classic” steak and cheese is the early top seller. Ma uses USDA Choice rib-eye and leaves the fat cap on before trimming, which allows for more control over how much marbling goes into every sandwich. The meat is minimally seasoned with salt and pepper; topped with peppers, mushrooms, Provolone and a truffle-infused aioli, it’s a natural crowd pleaser. It’s also a counterpoint to a punch-you-in-the-mouth pairing on the Chase Submarines side of the menu: crispy veal sweetbreads tossed in bright orange gochujang, Korean chili paste that paints your taste buds with about five shades of funky heat.
“That's just an ode to what us, as chefs, like to eat,” Ma says. “I sell one case of sweetbreads a week as opposed to one case of rib-eye a day. That kind of puts it into perspective how those two sandwiches are perceived here in Vienna.”
If early customers have been slow to adopt some of Chase the Submarine’s more adventurous pairings, the more approachable options still find room to showcase Ma’s culinary predilections. An excellent pastrami sandwich uses house-cured, house-smoked brisket and whole-grain mustard enriched with crème fraîche; a pork belly banh mi with Virginia ham hums with jalapeño oil; and a bulgogi sub gets a kick from kimchi puree and roasted scallions.
None of Ma’s combinations are shy or indecisive (though a few suffer from an imbalanced bread-to-filling ratio, with an overabundance of the former), and that includes a pair of vegetarian offerings. The Mushroom Mellow is built like a house, with a sturdy quartet of fungus-derived ingredients: portobellos, creminis, mushroom aioli and truffle oil.
Some offerings are the stuff of late-night kitchen fantasy, or at least post-shift riffing among Ma and his fellow cooks. “Some of the creations I'm better known for are always creation of family meal,” Ma says. That helps explain the Royale With Cheese, a house-ground blend of rib-eye and Roseda beef hearts topped with creamy pimento cheese and, for crunch, a handful of Andy Capp Hot Fries. “A locally purveyed product from 7-Eleven,” Ma jokes.
The dish also counts as homework for Ma: Look for beef heart on the menu at the chef’s forthcoming Kyirisan in Shaw, scheduled to open in February, he says.
Along with sandwiches are Crème Fraîche Wings, seasoned beer-battered fries, bulgogi platters and jars of kimchi and pickles. There's also a small selection of Virginia beer — think Hardywood and Port City — to drink at the restaurant or take home. And after some early seatings, Ma hopes to ramp up a series of tasting-table dinners at the six-seat butcher-block counter.
“We'll have to see how they respond to eating a $100 tasting menu in a sandwich shop,” Ma says. Perhaps having a skilled chef running the place can come in handy, after all.
Chase the Submarine, 132 Church St. NW., Vienna. 703-865-7829. chasethesubmarine.com. Subs and sandwiches, $8-$10.75.