Everything old is new again … so the song goes and so it goes with Hartle’s Subs.
The shop, which began way back in 1955, has gone through a lot of changes — in ownership, in location.
But Hartle’s has found its way back home to the South Potomac Street shop with many of the original recipes intact.
As a young working woman, Hartle’s subs were a staple in my home. On busy nights with too many things to do, Hartle’s came to my rescue on many an occasion giving me and my family a tasty and affordable dinner.
Pap Ricka and I stopped in the shop recently to see if the subs were as good as we remembered them.
The store is not fancy with a big counter across the back where orders are placed. There are a surprising number of tables and chairs where you can sit and eat or wait while your take out is being prepared. Large drink coolers line the wall with many bottled drink options. Fountain drinks are also available.
The menu is limited to subs, sandwiches and “flying saucers.” I asked the clerk to describe a flying saucer.
“It is a sandwich on a big round roll, and we wrap it in foil so it looks like a flying saucer,” she explained. “You should try the roast beef. It is really good.”
Most of the flying saucers cost $4.70. Sandwiches range in price from $2.99 to $3.90 and include turkey, ham, bologna, chicken and tuna salad. The club sandwich is $4.55. Hot dogs are $1.50, steamers $2.40 and steamer dogs are $2.70.
Subs, as might be expected, are sold in halves ($4.05 to $4.85) or wholes ($6.65 to $8.20.) Wings and snacks (french fries, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets and onion rings) round out the menu.
Also for sale in the shop are a huge variety of bagged chips in many sizes and other treats like deviled eggs and brownies.
Pap and I decided to splurge and choose three halves to share between us.
First choice was unanimous: the cold cut. Other choices we considered were the steak and cheese, the roast beef, veggie, cheese, chicken or tuna salad, meatball or BLT.
Pap picked a turkey with cheese and I got an egg salad. There are many toppings offered and we picked tomato and lettuce for all of them, with onions, mayo and hot sauce relish for the cold cut and turkey.
We also decided to get an order of cheese sticks while we were at it.
“Oh, and I want one of those big pickles,” Pap said.
The clerk went to a big glass jar and fished out the largest pickle I have ever seen.
Our subs were prepared quickly and we ate them just as quickly. We started with the cold cut.
What is it about a Hartle’s cold cut sub that makes it so special? I looked carefully at it. As far as I could see it was just bologna and salami and cheese: a very humble offering.
But the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Maybe it can be explained by the fresh bread, soft yet sturdy enough to last through the whole sandwich without falling apart.
Maybe it is the plentiful and crisp lettuce.
Maybe it reminds you of being a kid and your mom fixing you bologna sandwiches for your lunchbox.
I don’t know. But it was delicious.
The turkey, a close cousin to the cold cut, was equally satisfying. I really love egg salad, but when I order it out it is often bland. This egg salad was great.
Again, it looked pretty ordinary but it was seasoned well and the texture was good. Sometimes the eggs are mashed so much they become paste-like, but this salad had nice small pieces of egg, more like you would make it at home.
The cheese sticks were a treat. They were quite large and the breading was also well seasoned. They came with a side or marinara sauce and made a nice warm accompaniment to our cold subs.
“Why do you like this place?” I asked Pap.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “There is something intangible here: the combination of lunchmeat and cheese and mayo with the fresh bread … I really love sandwiches and I feel as if this sandwich was made just for me.”
Welcome home, Hartle’s.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.