Tour de Hamdel: Smash Mouth Edition

What’s this Tour de Hamdel spiel? Read more about my magical mystery tour of sandwiches here.

Last time I tried (and did not particularly enjoy) the Americana.

I spent most of the 1990s playing with Super Soakers, fighting pirates and battling it out for backyard territory. On Saturday mornings, I watched Doug, Recess, and Rugrats—One Saturday Morning ran on ABC, and I settled down with comics in one hand and cereal in the other for an hour of bleary-eyed-bliss. Although I enjoyed a FoxTrot fueled childhood—a budding science fanatic, I identified with the wonderfully geeky Jason—I missed out on an era of distinctively terrible pop music. I abhorred Britney Spears and all things boy band. Instead, I listened to country music, ’70s rock, Chopin, and Vivaldi. So when Smash Mouth reached its apogee of popularity in the late ’90s, I remained oblivious to its corny, syrupy brand of ska. My main exposure consisted of Kidz Bop—the horror, the horror—commercials on afternoon television.

Of course, today I look back on Smash Mouth with false fondness and nostalgia. “Oh, the ’90s, how I miss those simple, fun days of sunny naivete!” Admittedly, “All Star” (1999) delivers an addictive hit of Captain Crunch subsidized vocals and electric guitar. “All that glitters is gold,” except that which is merely gilded. “All Star” belongs to that brand of vacuous teenybopping fun—meaningless earworms masquerading as adolescent profundity. Not everything, however, needs complexity, depth, poetry. Sometimes, you feel like a Big Mac and a ride in a red jeep to the public swimming pool.

At Hamdel, the All-Star consists of roast beef, turkey, American and Swiss cheeses, cole slaw, and Russian dressing. Are these ingredients the all stars of the Hamdel pantry? Clearly not, judging from customer preferences for chicken cutlets, giant burgers, egg sandwiches, and hot heroes. After all, the All-Star comes cold, and Hamdel’s cold sandwiches invariably pose a serious risk: they tend to taste like bad leftovers scrounged from the back of a flophouse fridge. Is this sandwich a representation of the ’90s? Maybe in some deli counterman’s distorted fantasy land.

Fortunately, this hero easily surpasses its cold cousins. The (appropriately rare) roast beef rests under a generous mound of watery (or juicy) turkey. Like a supermarket meat bonanza, the All-Star reminds me of brown bag lunches before Boar’s Head. Not surprisingly, both cheeses taste chalky and bland, akin to dessicated gelatin and salt. But the crunchy cole slaw contributes sweetness and texture, and the Russian dressing adds a welcome tang.

I enjoyed the All-Star far more than I originally expected. As I listen to Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” I wonder at how strangely captivating the tune feels in 2011; Hamdel’s All-Star makes me miss the other cold subs I’ve forsaken over the years. I would order this sandwich again, but I’d request extra Russian dressing to counter that daunting wad of deli meat.

Next: the Monte Cristo (hot turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a toasted hero).

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