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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  A Few Clouds
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High expectations for UW campus sub shop Cheba Hut
It's all perfectly legal
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Credit:Chris Collins

I'll admit that I was annoyed when I saw the sign for Cheba Hut's "toasted" subs go up in January. "'Toasted'"? I thought to myself. "Those quotation marks are totally unnecessary."

And then I felt chagrined, and square, when I checked the place out and saw the menu. Oh. Ohhh. It clicked. Nugs, pinners and blunts (4", 8" and 12") are the sizes of the subs; they're named after the many incarnations of Mary Jane.

"Leave it to stoners to open a good restaurant," said my friend Tina as she chowed down on one of my favorite offerings, the Dank, a cheesy salami and pepperoni pizza sub that is a lovely marriage between two of my weaknesses - and I'm not talking weed.

I chose the Five "O" ("All Pig Baby" - their words, not mine, but it was as if it had my name on it, that pile of ham, pepperoni, prosciutto, bacon and salami with cheese).

Cheba Hut, the new Madison franchise of a national marijuana-themed sub shop, is clearly having fun with its concept. The interior is lime green and tangerine orange with subculture posters on the wall - the Beatles, vintage VWs and such - and music to play up the vibe. The clock on the wall is frozen at 4:20. And the staff is, like, so nice. So nice.

It's not far removed from Quiznos or Subway in terms of the general protocol (pick your sandwich, bread and toppings), but there's something more laid-back about Cheba Hut.

I was never the stoner kid - I've smoked, and it's just not my poison. But man, I loved Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The music had such a good placebo effect, I didn't need anything else. Cheba Hut, for some reason I can't quite place, has the same effect on me.

Cheba Hut offers six vegetarian subs, 10 meat "deli classics," five "old school" flavors (also meat), five grilled chicken subs and five salads.

If you like Hawaiian pizza, try the Pakalolo sub with ham, pineapple and green bell peppers. It's good, too, with a few banana peppers thrown on. The Kind, with turkey, mushrooms, bacon and Swiss, is a combination that's always good in my book. The Jamaican Red, a spicy chicken breast sandwich, creates a Buffalo effect if you ask for a side of ranch.

The Bomb, or meatball sandwich, is good as is. The meatballs are hearty and flavorful, but someone went overkill on the tomato paste in the marinara. It was distractingly thick, although it was fine on another visit.

A note to vegetarians: The hummus sandwich (Silver Haze) is punchy. The hummus is made on-site and has a good kick of cayenne, but there's no mention of the spice factor on the menu.

The Pacific Blue, an albacore tuna salad, benefits from the addition of lots of veggies. The salad itself is pretty light on garnish - just pickles and onions - but I like that the albacore is a step up from the standard.

The veggie "Majic Mushroom" with portobellos and teriyaki sauce dried out going through the heated toaster conveyor belt. This might work better if the portobellos were marinated in the teriyaki and broiled, then reheated for service. Try this one with a little honey mustard dressing.

I'll also say that there's nothing wrong with the pastrami ("East Coastern") or the French dip ("AK-47"), but on the days that I had these, they were a little light on the meat.

Cheba Hut is a good fit for its campus neighborhood. It's fun, clean, friendly, and the sandwiches offer variety and fill on a student budget. Bicycle delivery is even available within a 1.5 mile radius. Love. A woman pedaled a sandwich to me one day at lunch while I was working on the Capitol Square, and it came out of the bag still warm.

Among the snacky dessert munchies, follow the owner's suggestion and order the goo balls, a peanut butter, cocoa and honey Rice Krispies treat (although I'm also thrilled by the Hut's marshmallow-cereal bar selection). Another must-have is a brownie topped with hemp seeds.

Kool-Aid isn't something I drink any more, but it's a nostalgic pull for some, and it's available as a fountain drink here. More my style: the side bar, with a small but solid selection of microbrews. There's a killer $2/pint happy hour special from 4:20 to 6:20 p.m. daily.

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