Sub Hero

Sub Hero

A cartoon pig, blinged out and blazed up, gazes out from below the counter inside the new headquarters for Munchies, soon to open at 957 State Street. Now that the sub shop, previously run like a speakeasy out of an unmarked door behind Next Door (RIP), has its own space—and with the pandemic no longer stopping everything in its tracks—chef/owner Drew Osbon seems thrilled to be getting back to churning out “Epic Subs.” That includes the flagship El Guapo ($13), a steak and cheese sandwich finished with cherry pepper aioli, shredded romaine, smoked Gouda dip, caramelized onions and chili Fritos.

If El Guapo sounds like a stoner’s dream, well, that’s the point. Sobriety is also compatible with any of the menu items, from the Red Death—a chicken parm sub featuring southern fried chicken, arrabbiata and whipped ricotta—to the irresistible french fries, which might resemble the Platonic ideal of McDonald’s spuds except for a dusting of custom spices. The shop itself is small, with just enough space for takeout, and its visible storage is being filled with tools of the trade, including bottles of straight-from-Thailand yellow sriracha and cans of Moxie Cola. Front and center is the mighty griddle, a flat piece of metal with the potential to make Osbon’s sandwich dreams a reality.

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Osbon has always loved subs and doesn’t seem inclined to overthink it. He grins sheepishly when asked about a potential Philly connection, answering, “No connection, I like to eat subs.” That love translated first to renting out that space behind Next Door, on East Street near Humphrey, which he turned into a laboratory of wild sub concepts and auxiliary offerings ranging from chili to fried plantains. At times, over 15 subs were on the menu, along with various other goodies in a rotating fashion. But the current menu is formalized into a dozen generously portioned sandwiches and a few sides, including the aforementioned fries and sweet plantains, while assuring more peculiar customers that “we can custom build your sub any way you like.” Osbon says his menu development strategy has been inspired by the gourmet-ification of hamburgers. “If I do a burger,” he says, “I’m putting jams on it, aiolis. You can put a culinary edge on a burger.” So why not a sub? “There’s more than just peppers and mushrooms for a steak and cheese. I thought to myself, ‘Boom, that’s it! I’m going to make steak and cheese but I’m going to make them funky.’”

El Guapo is a case in point, but so is the Woke AF ($13), a vegan, house-made seitan steak and cheese with caramelized onions, miso-cheddar queso, barbecue sauce, pickled jalapeños, bread and butter pickles and Fritos. Amid a sandwich culture that usually treats vegan options as an afterthought or as “health food,” Munchies has provided a down and dirty alternative that still satisfies ethical cravings, even after midnight. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t health-focused whatsoever, but was delicious and vegan,” Osbon says, shrugging and grinning.

Aiming to start with as little overhead as possible, the East Street situation proved a fun challenge. “Doug asked me if I was sure about all the sub rolls I brought in on my first night,” Osbon remembers, referring to Doug Coffin, owner of Next Door. “I rolled in ready for war, but I didn’t know what to expect.” From a minimal follow count on Instagram to a spike in popularity driven by wildfire word-of-mouth and online reviews, Osbon’s shop sold out many nights and developed a following. Finding him proved difficult, with delivery drivers often mistaking Next Door itself for the sandwich business location or wandering into the back offices of the restaurant space, well into staff-only zones. Osbon chuckles thinking about it. “Who’s going to look at and think food’s coming out of there?” Fortunately, people figured it out.

But as the pandemic got underway, Munchies was forced to go on hiatus—and then to look for a new space, a need that was made more difficult by the very thing that’d caused it. “All the other avenues I was looking at, to rent other people’s kitchens to keep going, also fell by the wayside because no one knew what was going on,” Osbon says. Still, he knew he wanted to stay in East Rock and keep it small. “I’ve always liked small. I used to work at a place called Gastronomique, which is now Ay! Arepa. But when it was Gastronomique, it was half the space. just kept it tight, you know? I’m kind of on board with this. Plus, being new, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.” After a few near misses, Osbon finally signed the lease for 957 State and is hoping to open his doors to the public on September 22—certainly, he says, by October 1.

Though the new storefront is considerably better marked and less sketchy than the old, the menu should be familiar to previous Munchies customers, albeit with one new sandwich and a more consistent slate of sides. Sodas will be on offer, too, ranging from beloved local brand Foxon Park to brightly flavored, straight-from-Mexico Jarritos.

But the subs are the stars, and, alongside Munchies itself, those stars are rising.

957 State St, New Haven (map)
(203) 600-0616
Tues-Fri 11:30am-1am, Sat 5pm-1am

Written by Allison Hadley. Images 1 (of an El Guapo in progress) and 3 (of a near-complete Woke AF) provided by Drew Osbon. Images 2, 4 and 5 photographed by Allison Hadley.

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