Sitting on a quiet corner in a very Queens-like residential neighborhood, the White House Sub Shop has "food landmark" written all over it. Big signs, little signs, and signs explaining that it's the one and only and not affiliated with any other White House Sub shop anywhere are the first piece of evidence. If that's not enough, the celebrity photos on the walls should clue you in: Rocky Marciano, Joe Dimaggio, and more Miss Americas than you even knew existed. Finally, there's that dead giveaway of landmark status: the crowds behind the counter. At 11:30 on a February Monday morning, there were at least ten guys and by 11:45, they were all busy making subs.
Traditionally, there are two conflicting points of view on places like this: One says, "This is the best, you have to come!" and the other, "Just how good could a sub shop be?"I felt a little of both as I drove down the Garden State Parkway. An old friend who was a serious Atlantic City hand came with me and spent much of the trip trying to talk me into eating at a casino "smorgasbord" instead. I told him that I wasn't setting foot in a casino—eating was my only vice.
The menu is divided into three parts—"Our Famous Subs," "Our Famous Steak Subs," and "Specialty Subs"—but judging by the sandwiches being consumed by our fellow diners, I'd say that nobody made it to the "specialty" part of the menu. Almost everybody there was eating the White House Special or the Cheese Steak Submarine. In addition, there are a few add-ons like fried peppers or mushrooms, drinks like coffee, milk and sodas, and one lone dessert: Tastycake. That's pretty much it.
We ordered White House Specials and didn't wait long. A few minutes later, the icons were in front of us. What we got were a huge portion of typical American cold cuts on a really excellent piece of bread and covered with one of the best pepper relishes we ever ate. It was, without question, far better than those chain sub shops and worth the few blocks of walking if you other choice is steam-table food at the casinos.
It was a perfect "locals" sort of place—working people of all sorts eating their huge sandwiches, washing them down with canned sodas, and otherwise acting like they were perfectly at home. There are places like this everywhere in New Jersey but no other I've visited has this sort of energy, not to mention this quality of bread.
As I ate, I thought for a moment: What would I do to this sandwich in order to make it worth driving a hundred miles for? Easy! Take off all the fillings and just eat the bread. It's the sort of Italian loaf that always seems stale in supermarkets, except that this one is perfectly fresh and tastes good. A sign out front said that the bread was delivered by Formica Brothers Bakery twelve times a day and when it turned out that Formica was across the street, we strolled over to check it out. Here was the one food resource that my neighborhood was missing: really good and reasonably priced bread and cookies, wireless internet, and a nice place to sit. I ordered a shot of espresso—the perfect digestivo after a White House Sub—and sat down.
Warm colors, warm smells, and warmer counterpeople made the place even more worthwhile. If you lived around here, you'd stop in for coffee, grab a loaf of bread, and chat a bit maybe two or three times a day. You'd describe it as one of the reasons you lived there. You'd take visitors from out of town to the White House, but sit down with coffee at Formica Brothers after they left.
The only thing that bugged me was the number of interesting looking Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood. It's obvious that even just a few blocks off the casino strip, this town remains unexplored territory. I'm going to have to go back.
White House Subs
2301 Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City NJ (map)
609 345 1564
Weekdays, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; weekends, to 9:30 p.m.