Monday, December 27, 2010

Grinding It Out

Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe
540 Plank Rd.
Waterbury, CT
(four other locations too, but this is the main one with the billboards on the highway)

Hours: 9 AM-9PM, closed most Sundays
Alcohol: None
Food: Grinders

There are a lot of different names for subs, but they all seem to have to do with Italians in the shipping industry.

Hoagies, for example, apparently originated with shipyard workers on Hog Island in Philly.

The term "sub" apparently was named for the kind of ship, though there's argument as to where and why.

Heros (a New York City Italian term) was named that by Italian workers who said you would have to be a hero to finish one, with the "e" omitted to differentiate from the government employees who like to apply the term to themselves.

Then there's "grinder," which was Italian-American slang for a dock worker.

For whatever reason, that's the word that's caught on in Vermont and Western Massachusetts, which are nowhere near any shipyard, along with Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut.

For the WASPy, New York-centric folks from places like Westport and Darien whom I canvassed, "grinder" now only applies to distinctly Italian subs involving a mix of Italian deli meats like salami, prosciutto and mortadella.

They refer to everything else as "subs."

But at least the term hasn't gone the way of "spuckie," an old Bostonian term for the sandwiches that has almost entirely been replaced by sub, now used by 77% of Americans to refer to sandwiches.

So at Nardelli's in Waterbury, the fact that they call everything a "grinder" is a sign that the place has been around a while.

Since 1922, to be exact.

And they routinely get voted "best grinders in Connecticut" by CT magazine.

There's even a framed picture of Chris Berman, though unfortunately, people don't start yelling, "He. . . could. . . go. . . all. . . the. . . way!" when someone is about to finish a full-sized grinder.

The format here, and at delis in New York, is pretty similar: almost everything, from pasta salad to luncheon meats, is behind the glass, and what needs heating gets heated in the microwave, excepting things like meatballs, which are usually kept hot in a pot.

If my rating here were just based on the bread, it would definitely be a high one.

The bread's shaped like a ciabatta, but the crust is just that little bit softer, and it's got real taste to it. Clearly, someone's got some attention to detail here.

I honestly wouldn't mind just eating the bread, which is a lot better than can be said for a lot of sandwich shops.

And I'll admit that, as someone who grew up in New York, I should have known better than to order the chicken cutlet off their menu.

Chicken cutlets at these kind of places aren't bad, but there just isn't an awful lot of flavor to them usually, especially when they're just left out in a display window and zapped when someone orders one -- it's not like it's actually put on a grill or deep-fryer.

But the fact that the sandwich wasn't full of meat was just inexcusable.

I'll grant that filling that piece of bread with meat would have made it absolutely enormous, but Italians are into lots of food, right?

After all, I've been known to be a food hero before, though my mom and sister just read me the riot act about my weight, so maybe it would have been a bad idea.

But anyway, an under-filled sandwich is hardly fitting for a place whose t-shirts say, "ours is bigger, ours is better."

A basic thing about subs, hoagies, heros, grinders, po'boys or whatever else is that there should be a good amount of meat in every bite, and this sandwich failed that basic test.

You could see the cutlet from the edge, but really, with a deli sandwich, you want it to stick out proudly from the bread.

The sandwich I ordered was called the "prosciutto hot pepper chicken," and it was, well, bland.

The prosciutto added basically nothing flavor-wise.

If it had been half as big with the same amount of meat, it would have worked much better.

And I might have had room for one of their cheesecake burritos.

Their other dessert offerings were cannolis, various other items involving cheesecake, and then cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory in addition to their own, which just isn't that impressive for a local place.

Since it was Christmas, they were also selling various Italian Christmas cookies.

All in all, I'd try the place again if I happened to be passing by, and I'd order something like the meatball sub instead, but I can't really recommend the place from what I ate.

I shouldn't have ordered the chicken cutlet, but they let it come out of their kitchen like that.

And they're going into franchising, which is never good for quality.

Rating: Wouldn't Wear the Shirt If They Paid Me.

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