When Beth Bragg, Alaska Dispatch News sports editor, suggested a review of MVP Sports Deli and Eatery, calling their subs "the best in town," I was intrigued. And skeptical. As someone whose bucket list is limited to one thing — a nostalgic sandwich tour across the East Coast — I think it's fair to say that I take my sandwiches pretty seriously. Keep your "Hamilton." I want an epic historical musical about my personal hero, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Complete with rap battles, please.
Perhaps this unassuming spot was off my radar because it's squished into the center of a strip mall. Or perhaps the word "Sports" in its name threw me off. When my husband mentioned that the owner was from Chicago, I wondered aloud how he knew.
Him: "The whole restaurant is orange and blue. Didn't you notice?"
Me: "Um, no?"
Him: "Also, the walls are covered with Chicago Bears memorabilia."
Me: "Is that what that was?"
Him (sighing): "It's the restaurant's whole theme."
What can I say? I have sports blindness. It's a thing. Look it up.
I checked out the menu online and was impressed by the number of housemade components that go into their sandwiches: pastrami, Italian sausage, roast beef, meatballs, meatloaf, dressings and relishes are all made from scratch. This is a chef-y menu that requires culinary technique — not just an exercise in ingredient stacking.
If you order in-house, you can choose your favorite meat and cheese and then doctor your sandwich up from the self-serve salad bar, but I decided to let them make all of the sandwiches as they are described on the menu. Kevin, an owner and chef, took my phone order. "Let me just get my Post-it notes," he said when I called. "The funny thing is there's a computer just 10 inches away, but I guess I'm old school." That boded well. A good Italian sub is, by definition, old school.
I opted for the first three hot subs on the menu (all marked as "house favorites"). Subs come in three sizes: "amateur," which contains a quarter pound of meat and cheese; "rookie," which has a half pound; and "pro," which boasts a full pound of meat and cheese. I opted for a "pro" on all three. Kevin approved. "If you don't like these sandwiches, there's nothing we can do for you," he said. Take note: These sandwiches take time. Orders can require up to an hour advance notice.
And they are totally worth the wait.
The first sub, the MVP ($12.95 for a sandwich with a half pound of meat, $19.95 for a full pound), also described as their "unique 'cheesesteak' sub" is a best-seller and it's not hard to understand why. For starters, the pastrami is housemade. House. Made. Pastrami. It sounds like poetry. Making pastrami requires brining, drying, steaming and smoking. It's a culinary act of love. Theirs is then sliced thin and piled high. Two kinds of cheese (Swiss and a cheddar cheese sauce) melts tantalizingly into the smoky-saltiness of the meat. A tangy Italian relish with pickle-y notes and a bit of spice adds zest. This sandwich is rich, creamy, bright, hearty, decadent and in balance. In short, it's a perfect pastrami sandwich.
The second sub, the Home Run ($12.95 for a sandwich with a half pound of meat, $19.95 for a full pound), is a traditional meatball sandwich. But it's a standout. The meatballs, made with housemade Italian sausage, are big, both in size and in flavor. They're also tender, well-seasoned and have an assertive and appealing fennel flavor. Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses add decadence to the sandwich and the Italian "gravy" (meat sauce) on the side is so good that I would buy it by the jar. This sandwich was an unsurprising favorite with my kids and I had to use ninja tactics just to secure a corner of it for myself.
The third sub, the Slam Dunk ($6.95 for a sandwich with a quarter pound of meat, $11.95 for a half pound, $18.95 for a pound), is MVP's take on the Chicago Italian beef. This sandwich is seasoned roast beef served "semi-dry" with a side of au jus for dunking or drizzling. And that's it. Nothing else. No cheese. No lettuce. No onions. No pickles. This is a sandwich with the courage of its convictions. This is a sandwich that you would only dare feature if you were sure of the quality of your ingredients and the excellence of your flavors. The beef is thinly sliced, savory, salty and satisfying. The sandwich is basic. My love for it is complex.
True story: The next day, my husband and I were discussing dinner — a topic that doesn't usually interest him — and he said, "I just want those sandwiches again. I've been thinking about them all day."
Later in the week I placed another order to bring to a potluck. Because these were going to sit on a buffet, I opted for cold subs. Kevin kindly offered to cut the sandwiches into thirds for easier sharing.
This time I selected the Interception ($6.95, $10.95 or $18.95), a cold roast beef sub, so that I could taste the roast beef on its own, without the seductive savoriness of "jus." For the record, roast beef is a bit of an obsession with me. I make my own pretty regularly. It's one of my favorite things when done well (but not, of course, well-done) and is a dispiriting pile of grayness when it's not. This roast beef is done well; tender and rare at the center lending it a bit of subtle sweetness. A generous pillow of thinly sliced meat is topped with provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, a seasoned vinaigrette and a seasoned mayonnaise. It's a classic combination. This IS your father's roast beef sandwich. And that's a good thing.
The second — the Time Out club sandwich ($5.95, $9.95 or $17.95) — I ordered because a club sandwich is always a crowd pleaser. And again, it was excellent. Heaps of thinly sliced turkey, provolone, bacon, lettuce, onion, with honey mustard dressing, a little vinegar and oil and an Italian-seasoned mayonnaise. This is a well-balanced and well-executed version of a deli-counter standby and it disappeared quickly.
The last sandwich — the Superbowl (aka "the Italian stallion," $10.95 for a half pound of meat, $19.95 for a full pound) — is, hands down, the best cold sub I've eaten since I moved to Alaska. Pepperoni, genoa salami, capicola, prosciutto, bacon, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and a variety of dressings — this sandwich is an embarrassment of riches. Salty, tangy, spicy and decadent, I could (but shouldn't) eat this sandwich every day.
With lovingly prepared components, high-quality ingredients and beautifully balanced combinations, the sandwiches at MVP Sports Deli are the closest I've come to the Italian deli subs I grew up eating in New York and New Jersey. I used to dream about those sandwiches. But now I don't have to. And I can cancel my sandwich nostalgia tour. MVP has me covered right here in Anchorage.
MVP Sports Deli and Eatery
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (they stop taking delivery orders an hour before closing)
Location: 2470 E. Tudor Road
Contact: 907-279-7999 and mvpsportsdeli.com
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