Sometimes you just want a good sub. Nothing fancy, no hemming and hawing over dozens of ingredients in an assembly line — just reassuringly tasty and made the same way each time. Big, too.
Bob’s in Medford is where you want to go, if you can find it. It’s in a residential corner of Medford, not too far from Tufts, recognizable by the bright green-and-white striped awning. Parallel park and follow the scent of deli meat to the door, strung with scripted signs that look like they were stolen from a 1950s soda fountain: prosciutto sliced to order, homemade potato salad and cole slaw, ricotta delivered daily.
Bob’s has been around since 1936, started by Rocco DiGiorgio.
“Everyone called him Bob,” says his grandson, Mike DiGiorgio, who now runs the business with his brother, Robert. (“My brother is definitely not a Bob. He’s a Robert,” DiGiorgio chuckles.)
His dad, also a Bob, still helps out from time to time. He’s 78. Most recipes come from his wife, Edie.
“Anything unique belongs to my mother. Like Easter pie, which we’re making right now” — cheeses and Italian deli meats baked in a flaky pastry crust. “We sell a ton of them; we can’t keep them on the shelf,” DiGiorgio says.
The sandwich counter is all the way at the back next to the butcher case. A sign taped to the case encourages customers to “step right up.” Don’t be shy. Shout your order and then browse the Italian wares up front. It’s a convenience-grocery store hybrid, shelves neatly piled with jams, tinned fish, crackers. The walls are lined with freezers. Many regulars get their whole order here, from imported meats to cheeses to olives to plastic tubs of smoked mozzarella ravioli and wide rectangular trays of homemade tripe.
“This is beautiful provolone,” marvels a customer to the woman behind the counter. “And your mascara is beautiful, too. You always looks so perfect.”
She bats her lashes as if in Morse code.
“I try with my lashes,” she allows.
That’s the fun of Bob’s — the browsing and the watching while waiting for your sandwich to be prepared beneath a bright neon sign that says “special cuts.” There are lots of special cuts here. On a recent day, I stood with several older men, a Wakefield police officer, and two teenagers snapping selfies against the butcher counter, all in search of the same thing: a sandwich fix. Or maybe a squishy square of $3 Sicilian pizza or a bowl of minestrone soup. Mozzarella sticks? Chicken fingers? Steak and lamb tips? You could feed yourself well for a week at this place.
But the Italian subs are the way to go, says DiGiogrio.
“You can’t beat it. All the sandwiches are good, but the way we do it is the best,” he says. He refuses to say where he gets his local bread, but it’s baked fresh, and that’s what matters. A bulkie roll (and it is bulky) costs $9.50; a small comes on a sesame braided roll ($10), and a large ($11) is made with French bread.
“If the bread isn’t good, forget the rest. There’s nothing worse than a bad piece of bread,” he says. “And the toppings we use are nice and fresh. Nothing’s old or hanging around. If someone’s paying good money for a sandwich, it better be good. Then they don’t mind paying ten bucks.”
Now, I have a fondness for Italian subs from both Market Basket (really) and Chelmsford’s Centre Deli, but Bob’s version belongs in my pantheon of meat marvels: fat slabs of imported prosciutto, capicola, sopressata, mortadella, and provolone, drenched in oil, showered with chopped pickles, thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers with a sprinkle of oregano.
No substitutions, except for a fee.
Recently I arrived for a sandwich and realized that I couldn’t eat it right away. I had to head into Boston. The friendly sandwich-maker’s eyes flashed.
“I have an idea!” he cried.
He painstakingly plied my roll with meat and cheese, then delicately arranged the condiments in small plastic containers, tightly wrapped in foil. No soggy sandwich for me.
“We treat our employees like family. We give them an honest day’s work and leave them alone,” DiGiorgio says. There are about 30 of them, all of whom seem to know everyone who walks through the door. Can’t find your favorite porcini mushroom ravioli? Need help carrying a catering tray of lasagna to your car? No problem.
Yes, concocting a DIY sandwich on an app for rushed pickup has its purpose. Sometimes choosing among five kinds of chickpeas confers a kind of powerfulness, too. But when you want an old-fashioned sandwich and have a few precious minutes to browse? Head to Bob’s.
324 Main St., Medford, 781-395-0400, www.bobsfood.com.
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.