With all the hoopla surrounding "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" and the cast of clowns from "Jersey Shore," it's almost embarrassing to admit that I spent many summers of my childhood vacationing in New Jersey. Unlike the scripted scenes enacted by classless degenerates in these lame shows, my Jersey experience included playing miniature golf and riding my bike to the boardwalk, five-and-ten, and Tasty Freeze, all neatly situated in the wholesome beach community of Avalon.
Among my fondest Jersey food memories are La Rosa's subs. Although I was just a little kid, I still remember how excited my brothers and sisters and I got when my parents brought home those Italian torpedoes of goodness. It explains why I now feel compelled to try any sandwich shop proclaiming to serve them.
I did just that on a recent visit to Subport. Although I passed this place on numerous occasions, I never managed to stop - until last weekend.
Talk about hitting the nail on the head, these subs were just as I remember. To me, the defining ingredient in a Jersey sub are the onions. Sliced extremely thin, they are soft and pliable with a subtle flavor and slight bite. Their natural flavor gets a boost with the sub's second distinguishing feature: a simple dressing of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. That's it. Neither mayonnaise nor mustard should mask the taste of the freshly sliced cold cuts, provolone, tomato and shredded lettuce. Seasonings are limited to salt, pepper and oregano. The bread, also key, is soft on the outside yet still chewy inside.
Ordered "all the way," my Number 5 sub had all the right stuff, and giant is not an exaggeration. This is half a sub, cut in half (sorry about the bites - couldn't help myself!). The Giant Jersey version is 16 inches long.
According to the owner I spoke with, the outstanding bread is baked fresh at a local bakery, and the cold cuts are ordered from the same vendors they have used for 30 years - roast beef from Philadelphia and hams from Massachusetts. She said the founder -- her partner -- is a USF graduate who opened the original Subport in 1979 near USF. He saw a need for a sub shop like those he frequented while living in New Jersey. As the neighborhood around USF deteriorated, he eventually moved the business to its current Carrollwood strip mall location at the corner of Ehrlich Road and Dale Mabry Highway.
Quirky and comfortable, this mom-and-pop sandwich shop is peppered with an eclectic mix of newspaper clippings, nautical accents and personal collections. The deli cases and stacks of newspapers and magazines scattered about remind me of a neighborhood bagel shop, a perfect dine-alone spot for a cheap, quick bite. They also sell ice cream and, for whatever reason, bagged ice. What a find!
14932 N. Dale Mabry Highway