At Potbelly you’ll be serenaded, as Andy Warhol looks on.
When Potbelly and the Earl of Sandwich debuted a few months ago, they were treated as co-equal combatants in the new sandwich-chain sweepstakes. The first came via an ancient Chicago sandwich shop; the second as a claimant to the actual pedigree of the guy who supposedly invented the sandwich.
The gloppy and rather wonderful pizza sandwich, with the optional addition of pickled chilies.
Both, of course, demonstrated how previously plebeian food forms are being dusted off and presented as worthy objects of gastronomic desire. Not too long ago, the sandwich was considered as generally below the notice of foodies. Like noodles and pizza, they are now attempting to don glamorous raiment.
But a taste test of the Earl a few months ago revealed that the sandwiches — like Subway’s, made with hero rolls (in this case, very stubby ones) baked on the premises — were awful. A visit to Potbelly Sandwich Shop, which utilizes the same principal of hot sandwich, store-baked loaf, proved that it’s about a zillion times better. The Union Square branch, at least, is mobbed during much of the day.
And instead of being Brit, the décor in that East 17th Street location is duded up with nostalgic stuff that recalls the history of the square. A guitarist plays and sings during the lunch hour, which is not a bad idea.
The highlight for me of a couple of visits was the so-called pizza sandwich, a genre-hopping gutbomb if there ever was one. It piles pepperoni, meatballs, capicola (a spicy neck-meat ham long beloved of southern Italian Brooklynites — score one for localism), marinara, mushrooms, and provolone on the aforementioned bun, which is the sandwich’s weakest component. Nevertheless, the thing is quite good in a salty and greasy sort of way. And the size is perfect for a fulsome meal, without being too big.
Unfortunately, the other sandwiches I’ve tried there are not nearly as good.
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
22 East 17th Street
44th Street location
The sandwich ordering area at Potbelly