The Five Rules of Subway’s ‘Build Your Better Breakfast’


An off-white study in culinary banality: This is what you get if you don’t choose to add on from the fixin’s buffet — which offers exactly the same ingredients you’ll be adding to your sub at lunchtime.

Subway franchisees have been creeping over the NYC landscape lately like an algae bloom on a summer pond. It seems that every neighborhood has a new one. Ditto with Dunkin’ Donuts, and the two will now be locked in a death grip for your breakfast dollar.

The fact is, Subways are taking over restaurant spaces that used to be pizza parlors, ma-and-pa sandwich shops, or useful stores that never were eateries previously. Some banker has provided Subway with sacks of cash for this wild expansion; expect half the places or more to be closed within a couple of years.

Yes, Subway provides budget meals that tend to be healthier, on average, than those of other franchised brands. But eating a Subway sandwich is also be like eating hay: It can be that boring.

As we’ve seen recently, franchise restaurants are trying to conquer new segments of the dining-out population that had heretofore been impervious to their charms. Thus, Burger King offers their version of barbecued pork ribs, which taste better than you might have expected. Kentucky Fried offers a newfangled sandwich without the bread, like a kid jumping up and down and crying, “Me, me, me!”


Your sandwich wrangler begins with an eerie whites-only egg, which is precooked to look like a complete fried egg. He gives you half.

Now Subway finds a new frontier in breakfast, offering a series of breakfast sandwiches in an attempt to compete with the corner deli, which has long provided office workers with egg-on-a-roll done a dozen different ways. The theme of “Build Your Better Breakfast” gives a positive tone to the whole proceeding, and also places the onus on you to make choices, while casting the Subway chain as a visionary. But the name also echoes the Philip K. Dick dystopic sci-fi/horror classic We Can Build You.

But naturally, Subway has re-created these corner breakfast classics with its own spin, and the cannier among you have already figured out what it is: These newly constructed sandwiches must be made according to a series of bizarre Subway rules, calculated to fit within its assembly-line structure.

Rule #1: You can have your breakfast sandwich on the same selection of breads your six-inch hero comes on, which seems like an awful lot of mediocre bread for breakfast. Alternately, you can have it on a dull English muffin (probably selected for its long shelf life, and your inability to tell if the muffin is stale or not).

Rule #2: The egg on your sandwich will be “whites only.” (Insert segregationist quip here.) Who stole the yellow and what are they doing with it? Suffice to say, most breakfasters will think this has been done for health reasons. We know better. The yellow is the best part of the egg, but either part is inadequate without the other.

Rule #3: No butter or other condiment shall be placed upon your sandwich. You want Subway to have to go out of its way to get butter?


This Subway moved into a former travel agency in the West Village.

Rule #4: If the menu says “steak,” assume that it will be tiny pieces of tough beef, nothing that you would personally call a steak.

Rule #5: You can have placed inside your breakfast sandwich exactly the same catalog of fresh and canned ingredients that can be put on the regular subway sandwiches, running to lettuce, black olives, jalapenos, tomatoes, etc., etc., none of which seem appropriate to the traditional breakfast egg sandwich.

I picked the steak, egg, and cheese sandwich. (Bacon, western omelet, and ham are your only other choices of main ingredient.) The sandwich turned out to be rather dry and tasteless, and meager in size, with none of the rich and salty porkiness of the deli egg, bacon, and cheese. I had jalapenos added as my only additional ingredient, but I understand that adding more greenery (and cannery) will make the sandwich bigger. Still, not sure I’m willing to put up with a salad in my sandwich to make it worth more, and further obscure the egg, steak, and cheese flavors.

The sandwich ($2.49), plus the self-declared Seattle’s Best Coffee ($1.15), set me back $3.96, including sales tax.