Cheesecake at the sub shop: As we rose to leave, a bevy of Miss America candidates burst in the door, beaming.
In its emphasis on gambling and the general encouragement of vice, our own Atlantic City is the spitting image of Vegas; in fact, many of the casinos have the same names. But in one major respect, at least, the two cities are completely different.
This little unpretentious spot is one of the best places to eat in Atlantic City.
That aspect is food. While Las Vegas has lured many of the country’s top chefs, who are doing some of their best work there, the food in Atlantic City is worse than awful. In fact, it’s often completely inedible. Sure, you can cherry-pick some decent Boardwalk snacks — such things as apple dumplings with ice cream (which seems like a weird thing to develop a jones for on the Boardwalk), corn dogs (who doesn’t love a corn dog?), and saltwater taffy. But when it comes to complete meals, watch everyone line up at Johnny Rockets, exclaiming, “This is way better than McDonald’s.”
But Fork in the Road has done some burrowing and come up with a few places in A.C. and the vicinity that have great food, and are worth pulling yourself away from the gaming tables to reach.
One of the city’s most ancient (founded 1946) and beloved dining institutions is the White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City, 609-345-1564). The deep narrow room is lined with booths on one side, and stools on the other, and photos of celebrities — from Joe DiMaggio to Carrot Top — are ranked in tiers above the booths. The place seems to be always hopping, and where you don’t see people either making long sandwiches or eating them, you’ll see folks waiting patiently with their kids to carry out subs, sometimes for 30 or 45 minutes.
The whole chicken cacciatore sub (which features green peppers, fried onions, and sauce) would qualify as two subs in New York.
Here’s a half Philly cheesesteak sub — minus the cheese, but with added minced pickled chiles.
The sandwiches span the range of Italian-American heroes, a culinary invention that dates to the 1920s. There’s a Philly-type cheesesteak with your cheese choice limited to provolone (this place is pre-Whiz), a chicken cacciatore sub, and a pepper steak sub. Cold cuts heroes are ably represented by the White House special (ham, capocollo, provolone, and double salami), and a half-dozen other permutations. You can get a meatball hero and an Italian sausage hero, and the Brooklyn favorite of egg and peppers is also available. Finally, you can get a hamburger or cheeseburger sub, which is something of an exercise in cross-culturalism. (Note that, though we call them “heroes” interchangeably, you’re not allowed to use that term in Atlantic City. Or “grinder” or “poor boy,” either.)
The sandwiches seem a bit on the expensive side when you see the menu, which lists most whole subs between $10 and $14 — until you make the mistake of ordering a whole one, and discover that it’s cut into four long sections. These heroes are twice the length of anything you’ve seen before. And a half-sub is plenty for most people.
As me and a couple of friends finished up our subs and were on the way to the door, it burst open, and a bevy of Miss America contestants swept in. At least Atlantic City still has a few things Vegas lacks …
The interior is almost always thronged during business hours.
Tomorrow: Allen’s Clam Bar in New Gretna, New Jersey.
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