The other day I was sitting in Mr. Sub in Lahaina eating a perfectly satisfying turkey and bacon sub on a soft wheat roll when I started fantasizing about sitting in a completely different establishment eating a completely different sandwich. I know, it wasn’t healthy.
The place I thought of isn’t even on Maui. It’s in a totally unremarkable strip mall shop that operated under a variety of names—all involving the word “deli”—in the years I patronized the joint. It was located in the totally unremarkable bedroom community of Costa Mesa, California.
But the deli had a grill that was equally useful for BLTs as monster cheese steaks. The place was small—you ate outside on wobbly plastic chairs next to the parking lot or you took your food to go—and it was all business.
You shared no witty banter with the proprietor. If you tried to thank him or talk to him about something other than his golf game or the sandwich you had ordered or were considering ordering, he just stared at you like you were a complete idiot.
Oh, and the sandwich I was dreaming of was a thoroughly pedestrian turkey and Swiss on wheat, piled only moderately high with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mayo and mustard, then served on a paper plate with a pickle spear and maybe some pasta salad. It wasn’t even the best sandwich I’ve ever had—the bread would get thin and spongy; the onion slices tended to be too thick; on more than one occasion the tomatoes were yellowish. In other words, it was like a million other sandwiches, and yet I ache for it as I write these words.
You see, I love sandwiches. I love everything about sandwiches—the bread, choice of vegetables, cheese (or no cheese—it’s important) and condiments. My favorite insult in the world, told to someone I wish to demean, is simply “Go make me a sandwich.”
I also know exactly how I want them prepared. I can’t make a decent one at home—my peanut butter and jelly is about the best I’ve accomplished—which is probably why I put good sandwich-makers on a pedestal.
My sandwich needs are simple—sliced bread, razor thin meats and high quality pickles. The rest must be adequate, but those first three criteria make or break sandwiches for me.
Ironically, one of the best examples of those sandwiches comes from Dina’s Sandwitch in North Kihei.
Dina serves a solid sandwich—it’s even served on the correct kind of paper plate with pickle spear—but the atmosphere’s all wrong. It’s not a sandwich shop at all, but a dive bar that serves sandwiches.
For good reason, the beginning and ending of all sandwiches on Maui is Sub Paradise in Kahului. It’s that classic, comfortable sandwich shop that springs up in every American college town that all the activist kids boost to get the rest of the students away from Subway.
Their 27 sandwiches—all served on white, wheat or French rolls—are quite good. They make especially good use of both cotto and dry salami as well as pepperoni. All the usual fixins are available and optional.
But the place isn’t a deli. You can’t get sandwiches on sliced bread. There’s no cheesesteak or hot dog options. Sandwiches come in plastic baskets, not paper plates. And the people who run it are just too nice.
I was in there one afternoon when it was crowded—even more so than usual. This particular afternoon the line seemed to stretch forever. And there was no place to sit, even at the window-fronting counter.
A couple came in, ordered their lunch, looked around, stood there awkwardly while the staff apologized for the lack of chairs, then went outside and sat on the curb.
When the line finally abated, a staff member bagged up a couple cookies and walked outside to give them to the couple eating on the curb—a token of apology for forcing them to eat under less than ideal circumstances—but they had just driven away moments before.
See? Too nice. My old buddy in Costa Mesa would never have done that, mostly because he made us all eat by the curb anyway. MTW