Into the Great Outdoors and Back in Time for a Proper Sub Sandwich

The Great Outdoors Sub Shop
6918 Greenville Avenue

Dude Factor: 7 (or Smokey the Bear) on a scale of 1 (Winnie the Pooh) to 10 (this guy)

In 1988, John Candy and Dan Aykroyd finally united for one of the great collaborations in '80s comedy, with The Great Outdoors. It's the same year the Great Outdoors Sub Shop completed an impressive run of "Best of Dallas" nods from the Observer.

Three years later, Candy and Aykroyd teamed up again for Nothing But Trouble (which boasts one of the foulest hot dog-eating scenes ever committed to film), and it was pretty much downhill from there. The sandwich chain, though, has been frozen in time ever since, untouched by the years of sandwich streamlining that's turned most sub shops to a Subway or a Jimmy John's.

Instead, there's a cottage-in-the-forest feel to the Greenville Avenue location, with a fake tree trunk reaching floor-to-ceiling, and plastic ivy hanging down. Instead of the latest Toy Story tie-in or a slick line of copy about the corporate commitment to freshness, signs on the tables advertise ingredients, like peanut butter. Ice is crushed small; if you want a refill, you negotiate with Thurlene behind the deli counter. Big signs on the wall suggest you buy a six-foot party sub, despite the fact that (far as I can tell) nobody does this anymore.

As a throwback sub shop, it's a little like Great American Hero, without the pink roof or the derangement.

I stopped in a little before eight last night, and the place was completely empty. Great Outdoors sports an order-by-number sandwich menu with a full slate of deli options -- I went with the No. 14, (corned beef and cheese), and my dad, who'd flown five hours and I take him to a sub shop, went with the No. 13 (pastrami and cheese). Both were on a rye sub rolls. Sandwiches also come on white or wheat, or a croissant for the ladies and the French.

In a blue tie-dyed Great Outdoors T-shirt, Thurlene was the only one behind the counter, slicing the meat and cheese from 10-pound bricks, doing the real work of a sandwich artist. When it was time to pay, another woman emerged from around a corner to run the credit card. At the far end of the counter, Great Outdoors keeps all-business deli sides like potato salad and a jar of whole pickles. There's an ice cream freezer (for shakes and malts, too) and, in an admirable attempt at getting with the times, a fridge full of SoBe.

Rolled up tight in brown paper, the bread never recovered its volume, and the sandwiches weren't pretty. Still, good luck getting a sub on rye at Jimmy John's or Which Wich. The vegetables were all fresh, and though the sandwich hadn't been heated nearly enough to melt the cheese, the corned beef was a great call.

There's even a drive-thru window, if you're headed to the bikini car wash across Park Lane and looking for a snack to-go. Most impressive of all, though, 20 years after its last brush with Best of Dallas fame, an addendum to Esquire's 2008 "Best Sandwiches in America" list included the Great Outdoors' No. 21, "The Invention": baked ham, provolone, cream cheese and mushrooms heated on a white sub roll.

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels