No. 7 Sub: Mad Scientist Sandwiches at the Ace Hotel
No. 7 Sub
1188 Broadway, New York NY 10001 (b/n 28th and 29th, at the Ace Hotel; entrance on Broadway, map); 212-532-1680; no7sub.com
Service: Friendly and reasonably efficient
Setting: Tiny storefront attached to the Ace Hotel
Must-Haves: General Tso's Tofu, Turkey Cubano
Cost: $9 sandwiches
As readers may have noticed, we at Serious Eats never tire of sandwiches—and there's always room for another great lunch spot in this city. But chefs and sandwiches are a curious combination.
Compared to your average corner deli guy, chefs have a tendency to innovate, and think, and source creatively—all good things, of course. Until you end up with a sandwich that's innovative to the point of bizarreness, thought until it's overthought, and uniting ingredients that add up to a double-digit price tag.
So we didn't know what to expect from No. 7 Sub. The team behind No. 7 restaurant in Brooklyn's Fort Greene—chef-partner Tyler Kord and managing partner Matt Suchomski, along with pastry chef and baker Amanda Clarke—have brought an oddball cheffy sub shop to the Ace Hotel, joining Stumptown Coffee and The Breslin to form what has become this season's Manhattan eating destination.
It goes without saying that they're taking the project seriously. The opening was pushed back by months as they tested and re-tested their bread—which arrives each morning from a bakery they opened for the purpose, dubbed "Bun Panthers," in Crown Heights. And a glance at the menu tells you these are ambitious, wacky, original sandwiches. Ceviche with leche de tigre mayo? General Tso's tofu with a broccoli mayonnaise? Whatever else, this lunch wouldn't be boring.
But would it be delicious? That's what we went to find out.
Sandwiches are small, if generously filled, and each costs $9. Reasonable appetites should be satisfied, but don't expect to take home two meals. (When looked at next to The Breslin's $17 grilled cheese—or the sad nearby Italian steam tables that constitute much of the lunch game in this neighborhood—it starts to seem like a better deal.)
All subs come on No. 7's custom bread, somewhere at the weird intersection of a wheat bread, a brioche bun, and a hero roll. Baked each morning, it's got a barely-there sweetness and a barely-there crust, and it's thin enough to let the sandwich flavors shine through. (Which they would, heftier bread or not.)
And as for those fillings? Lunch at No. 7 Sub is an obstacle course of flavors and textures, sandwiches that make you think. And it's clear there are accomplished chefs behind this menu; there is no single element, whether braised lamb or tuna salad, that isn't well prepared. That said, some of the sandwiches—often the simple ones—were more successful than others.
We loved the General Tso's tofu, one of several Chinese takeout-inspired sandwiches that we tried; the tofu was beautifully crispy and custardy-soft on the inside, paired with a weirdly appealing broccoli mayo and roasted onions. The turkey Cubano was also phenomenal: a double hit of turkey, tender, well-salted breast plus an intensely savory layer of brined wing and thigh. It gets a sharp crunch from daikon and a slow, creeping heat from Chinese mustard.
Others didn't come together quite as well. On a braised lamb sandwich, the lamb itself was salty and a bit fatty: chewy in some parts, tender in others, altogether quite tasty. But throw in a thin layer of peanut butter, and things get funky—saltier, creamier, but confused by a savory element that masks the lamb's flavor without adding much of its own.
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There's a certain sense of "What the hell am I eating?" that comes with lunch at No. 7 Sub—and on some of the sandwiches, it's an adventure worth taking. On others, less so. That said, between our second visit and our third, two of the sandwiches had changed; much to our relief, they removed our least favorite. It's the kind of fast-footed flexibility that makes us even more optimistic about No. 7. Some of these sandwiches work better than others, sure; but with clear talent in the kitchen and the willingness to shake things up, this already good menu may well get quite a bit better.
Ed Levine is off this week.