It's funny how what we call a food can change the way we think about eating it.
"Champagne," when misapplied, lends a respectable, continental air to that sparkling white California wine, and "tapas" helps make the prospect of less food more exciting.
It's been nearly a decade since Jimmy John's -- the kind of sandwich chain where managers are expected to maintain the baking-bread smell at a certain level -- bucked to pressure from the low-carb lobby and began selling any sandwich on their menu as a lettuce wrap. Wrapped up in paper, it looks just like a sandwich, and it's sold like one, in a chips-and-drink combo too, as if it could hold its own in a streetfight with even the wheatiest Jimmy John's creation.
Accept the possibility that you can have a sandwich without having bread, and you set out down a treacherous, uncertain road. If the bread can go, what's next? A sandwich with no meat? Plenty of those on the menu. No cheese? It's been done before.
Hoping one of their sandwich experts would step in and draw the line for me somewhere, I decided to find out how far down this rabbit hole of rabbit food Jimmy John's would let me fall.
Out of sheer curiosity, and in the heat of those early "bread is murder" days, I once caved to my curiosity and ordered turkey unwich years ago. After unwrapping my five-dollar disappointment, the lettuce wrap broke apart almost immediately, leaving me with a handful of meat and mayo and a certainty that this fad would be short-lived.
So I was shocked last week to find the "unwich" is alive and well -- still prominent on the Jimmy John's online menu, but relegated to a separate poster, a sort of menu annex, on the sandwich shop walls.
Along with the unwich signs, each Jimmy John's location is peppered with manufactured attitude like the "Free Smells" sign and warnings about the kind of behavior that will get you thrown out. The attitude didn't extend to the staff, however, which was about as indifferent as the folks at Which Wich to the implications of my order.
The shop was empty when I walked in around 7 last night, so I figured, without the stress of a lunch rush, the guy at the counter might be more likely to engage me on the specifics of my order.
I asked for the "number 13 unwich" -- the Gourmet Veggie Club -- but without the provolone cheese or mayo. That would leave me a lettuce wrap stuffed with avocado, sliced cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce and tomato.
The guy at the counter began to punch in the order, then stopped for a second and looked back up at me. Finally, here it comes, I figured. As stupid as it seemed walking alone into an otherwise empty sandwich shop and asking to pay $4.87 for a pile of lettuce dressed up like a meal, I was ready for someone to set me straight.
"Well, if you don't want the extra cheese, that's really more like a number six," he said.
The sandwich maker had even less to say about it, taking the printed order without a word and breezing through the assembly line, stuffing the creation neatly into a wrapper.
The thick smell of baking bread was enough to distract me for just a moment as I sat down, and it made the unveiling of my salad ball that much more of a let-down. WIth every inconsequential, crunching bite, I half-expected to hear the Jimmy John's makers calling me out for this featherweight waste of my money and their time. They were too busy mopping the floor, though, and anyway, I knew the only attitude I was going to get from this place would be from a faux-vintage metal sign on the wall.
What the hell did you expect? the sign would ask.
And I'd tell it, "Something more like a sandwich, I guess."
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