A grinder is the Tony Soprano of sandwiches.
Filling and robust, stuffed with savory meats, cheeses and raw vegetables, it’s a manly antidote to today’s anemic pitas and weak-hearted wraps.
Sprouts? Hummus? Fuggedaboutit. Give us a real, two-handed sandwich.
When the new Great Grinder Shop recently opened on the outskirts of downtown San Luis Obispo, we started wondering, “Which local sandwich shop has the ultimate grinder? And what is a grinder, anyway?”
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Turns out, a grinder is called by different names in different parts of the country: poor boy (even a poor boy can afford it), a hero (takes a heroic effort to eat it), submarine or sub (it’s long and narrow) and hoagie (who knows?). In California, the term “grinder” — it requires a lot of chewing — has caught on.
Whatever its name, to us a grinder means lots of spicy meats, some tangy vinegar dressing, a hefty handful of vegetables and soft French, Italian bread or sourdough bread.
One rainy day last week, we collected a heap of grinders from San Luis Obispo delis (no chains allowed this time) and invited the Features staff to a taste test. Here are our favorite three plus seven more notable grinders in San Luis Obispo:
Sidewalk Market — Nona’s Italian Deli 1401 Osos St.
Sink your choppers into the Nona, a monster sandwich stuffed with thick slices of mortadello, capicola and genoa salami, plus provolone and cheddar cheese. Hiding under the bun is a mountain of tangy, crunchy veggies.
An ample serving packed with zesty Italian flavors made this a quick hit.
Lincoln Market & Deli 496 Broad St.
This tucked-away deli served up a classic Italian sub with more meat and vegetables than any of its rivals. Extras like black olives, green bell peppers and dried oregano put this sandwich among our top three. The serving is generous, one of the largest grinders we tasted.
The Broad Street Giant Grinder Shop 1901 Broad St.
Grinders are an East Coast tradition, and this newly opened sandwich shack knows it. Its East Coast Combo features flavorful meats piled high on soft French bread, lightly coated with oil and vinegar and a touch of dried oregano. It’s filling but not as messy to eat as others.
Honorable mention grinders
High Street Deli 350 High St.
This fresh-tasting sub comes big, juicy and topped with sliced pickles, pepperoncinis and onions. It’s a classic Italian grinder, albeit less tangy than some of our favorites. Add extra pepperoncinis and oil and vinegar to spice it up.
Kona’s Deli 977 Foothill Blvd.
The long and soft baguette used in this grinder made it a popular sandwich with our crew, and the fillings were fresh and delectable. Although a little light on the meat, it was a perfect grinder for someone who likes the taste of grinders but not the cholesterol.
Poor Boy Deli 580 California Blvd.
Poor Boy has built a reputation for itself by serving hefty sandwiches for decent prices. The grinder didn’t disappoint with its three meats, two cheeses and pile of vegetables drenched in Italian dressing. Although less flavor-packed than some of our favorites, it’s still a good buy.
Cugini’s Pizzeria & Trattoria 3810 Broad St., No. 3
This grinder, called Cugini’s Special, is served open-faced, which means twice the meat. The bread, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, can get a little soggy if you wait too long to eat. Even so, with its sweet vinegar and pile of Italian meats, this is one good grinder.
Padre Deli 3250 S. Higuera St.
“No frills” might be the motto at this liquor store-linked deli. While generous with the meat and cheese, Padre’s Italian grinder skimps on the condiments. If your taste buds crave more than mayonnaise and mustard, be sure to request pepperoncinis, lettuce and tomato before you chow down.
Ben Franklin’s Sandwiches 313 Higuera St.
This Italian-style sandwich — No. 19 on the menu — ain’t much to look at, but it offers all the essentials: sliced pepperoni, Italian sausage and linguica topped with provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar and chopped pepperoncinis. At less than $5 for a 6-inch sub, it’s a good bargain buy.
Muzio’s Italian Grocery 870 Monterey St.
Should a sandwich be “dainty”? While some of our grinder gurus thought this sub was stingy with the good stuff, others appreciated its use of high-quality meats, cheese, bread and produce. While Muzio’s grinder may have been lighter than most, its bread was one of the best we tried.