All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
On a breezy, clear afternoon, their restaurant's doors propped open, New York Sub owners Andrew and Edi Kelley are working behind the register. Chef Andrew, in a ball-cap, T-shirt and apron, shakes oregano over half of a meatball sub. Edi, in a black tee and ball cap, hands me a cup of clam chowder with a tiny mountain of bacon on top. The staff here is relaxed but bustling through every order. Nearby, a tub of Delaware grape juice, as purple as a Prince album, and a tub of lemonade circulate like a spring-time jacuzzi.
“I can only fit so many meatballs in it,” Andrew Kelley says to the customer about the halved meatball sandwich, and they all pause for a minute and laugh. “That didn’t sound very good,” Kelley says to himself, smiling. Classic rock plays in the background, which seems appropriate to this restaurant's beginnings in 1974. New York Sub's 1970s-era menu, faded with time, hangs on the wall. They wrap me a number 13 sandwich, a 10-buck missile with folds of peppered turkey, capicola, provolone, paper-thin onions and a heap of shredded lettuce. The whole thing’s showered with an oil-vinegar sauce and oregano and closed within Village Bakery bread. I devour half of it on the patio, green AstroTurf at my feet, and I couldn’t be enjoying the experience more.
New York Sub has returned, and it’s sure good to see it again.
Last year, the night before Thanksgiving, Andrew Kelley was driving by the shuttered restaurant, which closed in 2014 after a 40-year run on Hillcrest, when he had an idea. Kelley frequented the place as a kid — he was friends with then-owner Ken Harkness’ son — devouring turkey and capicola subs and noisy bags of Funyuns. He decided to call Harkness to wish him a happy Thanksgiving and maybe prod him about the state of New York Sub. Before Kelley knew it, he was out to dinner with Harkness talking over the 40-plus-year-old spot nestled into Asbury Street off of Hillcrest.
Once Kelley took the keys, the place needed a lot of love. He’s worked in the restaurant industry before, as a chef in Chicago at the Ritz-Carlton and the Fairmount, and he wanted to make some serious upgrades. He peeled back the layers and polished it up. Under one of the walls, he found the aged letters of an old cleaning and laundry logo. The city didn’t know anything about it.
“It was important to me that, even though the interior is completely different, that you walk in, turn left, and look up," he says. "If you didn’t do it like that, then people would say it’s not New York Sub. It’s not the same,” Andrew says of the untouched menu hanging above the counter.
Everything needed a hard, local refresh, but he didn’t mess with the nostalgic joy of the New York-style sandwich joint before reopening in May. The same sandwiches, including the hot pepperoni and cheese “pizza sub” I ate as an undergrad at SMU — always washed down with ice-cold black cherry soda — are still there. Kelley did, however, give the ingredients a hard upgrade.
Kelley is making the soups, the sauces and the pickles. They bake their own cookies. The roasted deli meats are much better and free of any unpronounceable chemicals. Delaware Punch, an eye-opening, deeply purple juice with cane sugar and Delaware grapes, churns alongside wonderful, sweet lemonade. Kelley slaps a bag of tea in front of me to illustrate its freshness. In lieu of tea extract bags, they’re using a real Oolong, green and white tea blend. It’s got a little dried peach in there, too. "It’s the same tea they use at the Mansion," Kelley says.
My sandwich has salt and fattiness from the capicola, sharpened by the oil-vinegar wash. It’s good. Damn good. My happiness spikes as I eat it: It’s what happens when nostalgia meets quality. It’s what you feel when you eat food that you loved as a kid and it’s better than it used to be. Kelley, for all the updating, held onto the love of the place, and you can feel it in your bones.
“What’s weird is I always wanted to open a sandwich shop. There’s a simplicity to it,” he says as he walks me around back to the alley to see the brick facade. An artist friend of Andrew’s, Isaac Brown, refreshed the old mural, which had been there since 1976. Kelley beams when he shows it off.
The artwork shows a group riding a submarine like a New York subway, periscope and arm rails and all, sailing into the New York City skyline. He points out where he, his wife and his dog are in the painting.
“I grew up eating here,” Kelley said earlier as he worked his way through a bag of Sun Chips. There’s a big kid sensibility to him. He even reinstalled some arcade games at the front of the shop. New York Sub is, once again, a place where you can clutch a turkey sandwich in one hand and destroy asteroids with the other. Grape juice is still a thing at New York Sub.
It may not be what it was, but that's a good thing — because New York Sub is better than ever.
New York Sub is at 3411 Asbury St.