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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 73.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Desperately seeking sandwiches at Capriotti's, Sub Hero, and Full of Bull

The Rocky at Sub Hero
The Rocky at Sub Hero
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In sandwich terms, this is Milios' city.

If subs were organized crime, the fellow formerly known as "Big Mike" would be the capo di tutti capi. But the Milios grip is loosening - if only a little. On the far west side, Capriotti's has opened, a weighty competitor with nationwide distribution. In Middleton, there's the mild-mannered Sub Hero. And in the heart of the city that does indeed sleep from time to time, Full of Bull Famous Roast Beef.

Tucked in the corner of the same building that houses Salad Creations and Hu Hot, Capriotti's is best appreciated as a lunch spot for office workers. The ordering process is casual - just sidle up to the counter and start talking, basically - and the pace is fairly brisk. Once you receive your food, however, prepare to slow down.

At Capriotti's, consumption is conspicuous, quite literally. The food is ponderously large. Subs are available in either a 9-, 12- or an impossibly huge 20-inch size. You will be seen when eating Capriotti's; these subs bend light around them and are only nominally encased in a bun. Don't wear your Sunday best.

The Bobbie is Capriotti's signature sandwich, topped with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayo. Unless you're jonesing for Thanksgiving, skip it. The turkey is dry and tough, and the cranberry and mayo only make the sub sloppier. The Capacolla, too, can be avoided; the capicola is a bit too store-bought lunchmeat. The crushed peppers, though, are a nice blast of acid and heat.

Hot subs fare better. The cheesesteak is good enough, with tender, juicy beef and flavorful provolone. Also surprisingly satisfying is the eggplant Parmesan, a hearty jumble of marinara, cheese and breaded eggplant slices served at a thermonuclear temperature inside one of Capriotti's consistently tasty sub rolls.

When I call Sub Hero "mild-mannered," it's not just a play on comic book clichés. You're liable to drive right past, like I did the first time. But this simple little shop near Middleton Sport Bowl is the only one of the three that I'd make a point of stopping at again.

The names of the sandwiches are right out of the comic shop window: the Clark, the Kingpin, even the Comedian. The impossibly young cashier recommended the Luther, stuffed with four kinds of meat and minimal veg. That's perhaps a little much, but the Rocky offers most of the cold cuts with a little more crunch for a couple bucks less.

The Triton's Catch promises "a hint of spicy mustard" with its tuna salad, but I couldn't really taste it. That's a shame, because you don't see mustard in tuna salad often. The Veggie Hero needed a little more oomph, too; the feta and hummus were good but too spare. Still, the subs here are inexpensive, well proportioned and on par with Milios. A quick bite here will keep you happy without loading you down.

I wanted to like Full of Bull, even if its proclamation of "famous roast beef" is far from tested or proven. Roast beef, burgers, salads and the quaintly British "jacket potatoes" sound like a perfect menu for late-night dining and a change of pace from fast food.

Unfortunately, the roast beef on the original FOB sandwich is mushy and off-putting. The Italian roast pork on the Farley - a good-on-paper sandwich with broccoli rabe, provolone and pork jus - is bland and overcooked. And my mushroom and Swiss stuffed burger appeared to be two manufactured patties pressed together with flavorless mushrooms and cheese in the middle.

I would have tried the Big Dip, a classic sandwich familiar to all Chicagoans, but the others were so sogged out with grease and cooking liquids, it would have been redundant. Adding further disappointment was the house-made frozen custard. I tried mint chocolate chip and found it to be more akin to a mixture of soft-serve and ice milk. There was no creaminess; it was thin and icy. That Full of Bull closed two hours early on one particular Sunday evening - unannounced and unsigned - didn't serve to lessen my dissatisfaction.

Subs and sandwiches of this sort are perfect for outdoor summer meals. And they're always reliable for a quick bite over your lunch break. I can't recommend Full of Bull for either occasion, but Sub Hero and Capriotti's offer a pleasurable bite to eat without breaking the bank. Hit Capriotti's for sheer volume and Sub Hero for successful combinations and that little-guy charm.

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