It’s hot and cold in the Firehouse

by Brian Clarey

Clichés about firemen abound, from the red suspenders to the cute little spotted dogs. These stereotypes don’t come out of thin air, of course: Many firemen do wear red suspenders to keep their pants up and it is not unusual to see a Dalmatian padding around the firehouse grounds.

Another reality-based cliché revolves around the subject of food, and while not every firehouse has a pot of chili bubbling on the stove at all times, it is true that during the course of a 24-hour shift, the men and women in red do a fair amount of chowing down.

The Firehouse Subs chain plays up the epicurean aspect of the profession. Started by two brothers from a family of firefighters in Jacksonville, Fla., the restaurant relies on a menu of hot and cold subs billed with adjectives like “big,” “satisfying” and “loaded.”

The High Point outpost of Firehouse Subs opened late last year in the Palladium outdoor mall on Wendover Avenue, a spot where chains of this type -Ham’s, PJ’s Coffee & Tea, Zpizza, a Ben & Jerry’s in the works – are approaching maximum density. But Firehouse came early and secured prime real estate on the end of a strip of shops, with windows on three sides of the room.

In the late afternoon the sunlight glares a bit harshly through these windows, ricocheting off glossy red chairs and tables with a spotted Dalmatian pattern on top. The motif is carried further with accoutrements like an axe, an aluminum ladder, heavy gloves, goggles and helmets hanging from the walls, all authentic firefighter gear.

A long string of hot sauce bottles line the countertop with brand names like “Scorned Woman,” “Acid Rain,” “Contempt of Court,” “Texas Sweats” and my personal favorite, “Liquid Stoopid.” There is also a house hot sauce, Captain Sorensen’s, which is available for purchase by the bottle. But I bypassed the line of sauces, though I do love the heat, on my first trip to Firehouse because, I reasoned, I should taste a sandwich in its natural state for the purposes of this article.

The menu is solid – if you like sandwiches, that is – with a list of the usual suspects like turkey, ham, roast beef, bacon, provolone and Monterey jack. But also there are some twists, like a list of hot subs that includes grilled chicken breast and a steamed veggie sub. I liked the looks of the New York Steamer, a compilation of corned beef brisket, pastrami and provolone served, in Firehouse parlance, fully involved, which means the inclusion of lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise and mustard. But instead I go for one of the basics, the Firehouse Steak & Cheese, which is basically a cheesesteak with sautéed onions and peppers and the option of mushrooms. Fully involved.

The sandwiches are crafted individually, and the wait time was not long even though there were a few hungry patrons ahead of me. And the sandwich itself, by franchise standards, was decent.

The bread held up well against its gooey contents, keeping splatter to a minimum. And the beef, stewed with onions and peppers, held an excellent flavor, though the vegetables were cooked nearly to the point of dissolution so that they yielded easily to the bite. This is preferable, however, to being undercooked and sliding out from between the bread with each chomp. And, as advertised, there was a sizable portion of meat in there.

The fare also includes a kids’ menu, tuna and chicken salad, a single green salad offering (also loaded with meat) and, of course, signature Firehouse chili which is said to be “award winning,” though the award(s) it has garnered are left unnamed.

In all, it was a respectable dining experience for the money – about six bucks for an 8-inch sub – though time will tell how the franchise fares in the already glutted market of chain sub shops in the Triad.

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