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How Well Does Subway Hold Up via Delivery? We Ordered & Found Out.

We revisit some of America’s most iconic fast food items in the age of social distancing.

Diet coke, two chocolate chop cookies, and two Subway sandwiches
MAITANE ROMAGOSA/AMBER SUTHERLAND-NAMAKO/THRILLIST
Editor’s Note: In the age of social distancing, one of the only ways to safely get fast food is via delivery. We all know that a lot of foods aren’t quite the same by the time they reach your door, but which fast food staples fare the best after traveling in a delivery bag? We’re trying major fast food menu items to help find the best bets when ordering fast food to your door, with a new series of delivery-only taste tests called How You Holding Up?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ve had tacos twice in two days. The bad news is that I have yet to obtain Taco Bell tacos. Unlike the Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, Burger King, and McDonald’s items I’ve sampled for ‘How You Holding Up?’, I’ve accepted that there are some places that simply won’t deliver to my area. But I will not accept that Taco Bell is one of those places. I’m beginning to make some inroads, in fact. I can’t say too much right now, but I believe that the next time we meet, I will have achieved this quarantine dream. But for now, the world’s most famous made-to-measure sandwiches are on the menu.   

Subway sandwiches are among your ideal delivery options. Sandwiches do not slosh like soup, melt like ice cream, or congeal like queso. Sandwiches can be kooky and complicated, but they can also be easy and made for travel, which is why children bring them to school in cool lunch boxes or casual paper bags, and adults pack them alongside clandestine wine for picnics in the park. You can eat them here or there, you can eat them anywhere. Usually. For now, I’d be eating them at home.

Here’s how a cold cut combo, meatball sub, chocolate chip cookies, and diet Coke made it from Subway’s expert sandwich artists to Thrillist’s expert sandwich eater. 

We can eat heroes: Ordering, wait time, and delivery experience

Although you can order pick-up from Subway’s main site, deliveries are processed through DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, or Uber Eats. My zip code narrowed it down to DoorDash or Grubhub. The former was 2.5 miles away, the latter was 1.6 miles away on a stretch of 5th Avenue in Park Slope that still has a healthy smattering of independent businesses. Each store estimated delivery in 30-40 minutes. I chose the closer option. 

That’s when the fun began! At the restaurant, you and your sandwich artist will journey down a sneeze guard to create a bespoke sub tailored to your unique, processed meat and cheese needs. You can do the same on the web, but my aim for this series is to order everything as close to standard as possible. For example, I’d have swapped the cold cut combo’s lettuce for spinach and added a bunch of jalapeños. But this isn’t about me. Cross-referencing Grubhub with Subway proper, I ordered the cold combo on Italian bread with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and red onions. But there was no guidance on the cheese. The combo is pictured with an ambiguous white slice, so I went with provolone. 

Then it was time to top the meatball sub, which I thought would be easy enough. What kind of person would put jalapeños on a meatball sub, for example? (Me. I probably would.) Subway advised that the sandwich should be dusted with grated Parmesan. But there was no Parm to dust with. In a panic, I added melted mozzarella, and I think you’d have done the same. Finally, I tacked on a duo of chocolate chip cookies and a drink. Subway had a marvelous array of beverage options included in the combo without an upcharge: Simply Orange Juice, Vitamin Water, Gold Peak Sweet Tea. Simply Orange would have been the best value, but I added a Diet Coke, for a kick. 

This all took 18 minutes. Better than my average, but not as good as my personal best of 10 minutes. My order was $15.40 before tax, fees, and tip. Its ETA was 1:10-1:20pm, and it arrived at 1:12.

Diet Coke in a glass, two chocolate chip cookies, and two Subway sandwiches on a plate
AMBER SUTHERLAND-NAMAKO/THRILLIST

Eat fresh: Taste, presentation, and how it holds up

Everything was comfortably snug in a plastic bag. The sandwiches and cookies had their own paper packages and the Diet Coke was in a delivery-friendly plastic bottle, underscoring Subway’s status as a beverage leader. I’d ordered a mix of hot, cold, and neutral items, and everything was its intended temperature on arrival. 

I have been to Subway more times than any other restaurant in this series so far, but I struggle to manifest meaningful touch points from any of those visits. Sure, there’s that inimitable (for better or worse) aroma that permeates each location and the air around it, but I think of Subway as utilitarian. It’s a place I’ve visited mostly during swings of rigid calorie counting, when a sandwich from the bodega down the block may have been more delicious, but I wouldn’t be able to see the nutrition information plastered on the wall. I guess all those years of marketing as a healthy fast food alternative in my formative years worked, in spite of a disturbing ending

I can recall the abundance of meatball subs I’ve had, however, with more sentiment, including the decadent variety from Smiling Pizza a few blocks northeast from this Subway location, and the equally delicious dupe we made at home a few weeks ago, with scratch-made sauce, bubbling mozzarella and meatballs to spare. It’s an ambitious sandwich. Even with the live guidance of a sandwich artist, Subway’s take doesn’t stand a chance against the pizza parlor, red sauce joint, or homemade versions you’ve enjoyed. And don’t expect to be jolted back to the last one you had in the Before Times -- its meatballs just don't have the signature flavor profile of some of the other items I’ve revisited for ‘How You Holding Up?’. But it was still warm and it could approximate comfort food, if you’re in the right mood. 

The cold cut combo had the more distinctive Subway tastes and textures I remember from those prior visits. Its filling was pleasantly-chilled, and it confidently asserted “you are presently eating a sandwich made of bread, meat, cheese, and vegetables. Salty general meat (the cold cut combo includes ham, salami, and turkey-based bologna) was the primary flavor, followed by subtle cucumber. Like most fast food restaurant sandwich vegetables, the lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, green peppers, and red onions weren’t especially flavorful, but they provided a fresh crunch that made for a satisfying bite. 

I was surprised that the chocolate chip cookies could compete with the cold cut combo to best capture the essence of Subway in appearance, flavor and mouthfeel. They’re typically displayed beside the register, so it seems that, even though I’ve only ever had them a few times, their image is seared into my memory. You can tell they’re soft just by looking at them. They’re aggressively sweet, even for cookies, and their centers are so squishy it’s almost like eating cookie dough. The only difference was that they were bigger than I remembered -- but nobody’s ever complained about too much cookie.

Final thoughts

Some things naturally travel better than others. Manage your expectations, order judiciously, and always keep the people preparing and delivering your food (or anything) in the forefront of your mind. Prioritize ease of transport, research your closest location for delivery, and remember to tip extra. 

Join us again next time when we (finally get to?) ask Taco Bell: How You Holding up?

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Amber Sutherland-Namako is an editor at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @AsaSutherland.