If you think all hoagies, subs and other forms of sandwich are created equal, you haven't been to J&J Deli, a place we're prepared to say deserves all kinds of superlatives.
But we'll start with just a few. J&J is positively a strong candidate for the following sandwich-shop Emmys:
• Best hoagie bread.
• Most creative sandwich menu.
• Most generous portion sizes.
• Freshest and highest-quality meats.
• Best boneless buffalo bites. (New on the menu, too.)
• Best homemade potato chips. Ever. Seriously, no exaggeration.
Now to back at least some of this up.
Let's start with the bread. Our "half" portion of hot roast pork with cheese ($5.25) came on an enormous, light-colored, fabulously soft and fresh-from-first-bite roll that kept an equally enormous portion of thin-sliced, ultra-tender, pure-white pork in line, even though it was generously dressed in a heaping portion of melted cheese sauce, which was our only surprise. When we heard roast pork with cheese, we imagined a choice of cheese – Provolone or Cooper, maybe – and not a topping of something in the Whiz family, but you know what? It worked. Quite nicely actually.
Moving on to the creativity department: Roast pork with cheese is an option you don't see every day, which explains why we chose it. Neither is roast turkey with bacon and cheese, which is why we requested this as well. (Same price as the pork: $5.25 for a half, which is 8 inches, $7.95 for a whole, which is 16.)
Call this one Thanksgiving on a bun. The turkey was that fresh, sporting the coveted carved taste and look and skipping entirely the slimy thin stuff we fear when we think of turkey on bread. The same cheese sauce dressed this beauty, and our only observation – a minor one – was the bacon was a bit scant and got somewhat lost. Perhaps, however, it wasn't even necessary, though it did up the creativity factor and appeal.
Hot roast beef can be had the same way, and fans of the more traditional meatball, chicken Parm, cheesesteak and BLT-type subs won't be disappointed. Even burger fans can have their pleasure on a bun in the form of a cheeseburger sub.
Also appealing was a Chicken Cordon Bleu wrap with ham, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard for $6.95. Everything was, in accordance with definition, wrapped neatly and tightly inside an impressively fat package bursting with more fresh flavors of all of the above.
My guest, hungry though he was, could barely finish.
Perhaps that was because we also greatly enjoyed sharing a generous side of homemade potato chips, simply the best we've had in this era of hand-cut is king. Where competitors' versions can be somewhat bland and dry, these salted-and-peppered beauties found a perfect balance of crispy around the edges but gloriously soft and pliant in the center. They were wet but not greasy, and they were piping hot and seemed to stay that way throughout the meal.
Maybe we got lucky and got a brand-new batch fresh out of the fryer, but we're counting on the fact that consistency, which is admittedly tough in the hand-cut-chips department, has been achieved in spades here.
We also were fairly blown away by the newest menu item of boneless chicken bites, at which I first hesitated, telling my guest, eh, you can get those anywhere.
But here they're new, he noted, so I conceded.
Glad I did. Best. Ever. No question. Why? Something about the softness, and it's hard to describe. Perhaps it's just the quality of the chicken itself, but these were crispy on the outside yet tender to the extreme on the inside, which is tough to achieve.
And the sauce – teriyaki, butter garlic, garlic Parm, Cajun ranch, Cajun BBQ, hot BBQ, mild, hot or regular BBQ – simply sang.
In fact, it made us long for the wings, which no way could we fit. Nor could we handle a host of other interesting offerings and sides, from salads, slaws and baked beans to reubens, clubs and barbecues.
They're all reason to come back, of course, as is one more specialty to which the proverbial little bird tipped us off. The pigs in the blanket here are said to be off the hook. We came too early, however. They're a fall/winter item, and I suppose it's still a bit too warm and cheery for such a classic ethnic comfort food to make its appearance.
Watch the signs, we were told, which will say "Now serving piggies!"
If ever there were a reason to traverse that sometimes formidable Dallas Highway in all kinds of weather …
What: J&J Deli
Where: 659 Memorial Highway, Dallas
Credit cards? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Other: Traditional catering menu available
Times Leader food critics remain anonymous.