With National Sandwich Month almost over, it felt wrong to completely ignore Chicago's major contribution to the fast food sandwich scene: I speak of Potbelly. First opened in Lincoln Park back in 1977, this toasted sandwich purveyor now has over 240 locations across the country, including a few overseas. But Potbelly never lost its Chicago focus, and it's hard to walk more than a couple blocks in the Loop without coming face to face with one.
Not that I'm complaining. Potbelly offers a surprisingly consistent sandwich experience, probably due to the fact that it toasts each order, à la Quizno's (a comparison that is slightly unfair since Potbelly is technically older). Still, though I've probably eaten here a few dozen times over the years, I've never been that adventurous, sticking to the same two or three options. I know I am not alone here.
Then it hit me: what better way to honor Potbelly during this glorious month of sandwich coverage than to sample every single offering on the menu? Along the way I hoped to figure out what the chain did best, and also which items to avoid.
Luckily, Potbelly makes ordering every single sandwich a breeze. Thanks to the company's online ordering system, less than 30 minutes after typing it in, I picked up a "box o' sandwiches." It's no exaggeration to say that Potbelly has this catering thing down to a science, packaging all the condiments and toppings separately, besides lettuce and tomato, so that the sandwiches didn't arrive sopping wet.
I should note that I ordered all the sandwiches that were available at my location outlet (2739 N Elston Ave). I also only went with the "originals," which is the standard bread size. I didn't bother with the "bigs," which, as the menu explains, have "30% more of what you love," or with the "skinny's" which have "30% less fat than the originals."
For the tasting, I was joined by my wife and by Joe, our TGI Fry-Day. For each sandwich, we tasted it plain, with only the lettuce and tomato already added to each sandwich. If we thought the sandwich could use a specific condiment or topping we then added it on, making notes along the way of what we like.
The one condiment that we added more than any other was Potbelly's very good giardiniera (which the chain calls simply, "hot peppers"). Whatever you call the crunchy mix of pickled carrots, cauliflower, and chiles in a spicy oil, it's honestly one of my favorite versions around. Potbelly should be praised for helping spreading this across the country.
Without further ado, click here to view all the sandwiches in the slideshow, or check out the individual picks below.
Of course, I'd love to know your favorite sandwich from Potbelly. Leave a comment below!