My original idea was to report on eating options at Milwaukee's Miller Park, since I was looking forward to seeing the Brewers defeat the Astros on Sunday, preferably with a lot of food balanced on my knees.
The impracticality of doing that during the sellout game Sunday afternoon -- a game that I actually wanted to watch -- became clear as I stood in line to buy a couple of bratwurst. The crowds made an adequate assessment of the park's food options difficult... and after the fifth inning, I lost my appetite.
The bratwurst, by the way, were very marginally okay -- very very mild, with a doughy bun. Lots of kraut, also without much oomph.
In order to salvage the afternoon after the Brewers lost to the Astros, I suggested to my partner-in-baseball (PIB) that we leave the stadium via Bluemound Road and stop by the reborn Suburpia sub shop at Bluemound and Highway 100.
Yes, long ago, before there was Milio's, before the age of Big Mike's, even before Subway, there was Suburpia. You may have heard tell of the legendary sub shop that reached its high-water mark in the late '70s and early '80s. The Milwaukee-based restaurant expanded to Madison with several shops, one on State Street, two on University Avenue, from about 1973 to 1987. The whole chain went bust even in the Cream City; the current renaissance of Suburpia is under new ownership, but with some guidance from the founder.
My PIB, a native Milwaukeean, brightened considerably at the suggestion of picking up some Suburpia to take back to Madison.
The Suburpia branch at 10853 W. Bluemound Road in Wauwatosa is nothing spectacular. It's a simple counter operation, with wall-mounted menu and wood veneer paneling in an unprepossessing strip mall, which also houses an Edwardo's Natural Pizza place. You could do a lot of memory-dining on just this one corner.
The Suburpia menu is as I remember it; the turkey sub is still called The Miles Standish, the ham is still called The Gold Coast, the corned beef is still called The Reuben James. Other sub monikers recall the 1970s -- the Camp David is a ham and turkey combo. The subs still appear from the back room kitchen through a mysterious chute, and this is still a little strange.
What sets the Suburpia sub apart? The meats are good and fairly well piled on. The corned beef spicing really stands out in the Reuben James, a fairly unusual meat for a sub sandwich anyway. The bread is a crusty Italian loaf covered with sesame seeds, and it could be painful if not fresh, but ours was fresh, with a noticeable and pleasing sesame taste. It's a pretty great sub.
There's no mix-and-match, "I'll have sprouts, green peppers and black olives" topping abundance here. Subs come with lettuce, tomato and onion and wonder of wonders, the tomato actually tastes like a tomato. It's all doused in a peppery Italian dressing, while the bun wears a heavy coating of mayo. Mayo and Italian dressing -- Jared bar the door. In the '70s, people didn't really worry about things like that.
Then there's the cheese. The cheese is somewhere between a Kraft American single and Velveeta. It's like a single made with Velveeta; when I attempted to pluck some out to take a closer look, it devolved into cheese spread. Processed cheese food for sure, but it stands up to the sub. You can really taste the cheese, and if it's nostalgia you're after, Suburpia's cheese was always like this.
So how does a Suburpia sub stand up to, say, Milio's? Suburpia's bread is crustier, while its lettuce limper. Milio's uses provolone. While both sub shops understand that copious amounts of mayo make a sandwich tastier, the addition of Italian dressing at Suburpia ups the ante, although it does definitely make for a greasier sub (take some napkins). Neither shop is big on customization the way Subway is. In the end, they're just different subs.
Does Madison need a Suburpia again? I'm tempted to say "why not?" but the convenience might not feel as special. Absence makes the heart grown fonder.
Suburpia 10853 W. Bluemound Rd. (at Hwy. 100) Wauwatosa, WI 53226 414-456-1100