Meaty Potbelly impresses 

Fast, cheap, good.

To be quite honest, we weren't really sure that Midtown's Park Avenue shopping center needed another sandwich shop. The mixed-use development has become something of sandwich central, boasting a Panera Bread, a Newk's and a Tropical Smoothie — and each of those restaurants does a menu very similar to what Potbelly offers. Of course, given the amount of hungry folks coming down Markham from CHI St. Vincent Infirmary and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, there is no shortage of people who need food quick and cheap, but we still feared something of a fast-casual deli overload.

That was before we ate there.

Cheaper than either Panera or Newk's, the new Potbelly hits the sweet spot of cheap, tasty food served fast. The setup reminds us of Quizno's: You order a sandwich at one end of the line, then follow it as it works through a toaster equipped with a conveyer belt, depositing it hot and ready for whatever toppings you desire. In terms of quality and taste, though, Potbelly outstrips those Quizno's comparisons immediately at the first bite, proving that the new chain franchise can hold its own in the crowded sandwich market.

We've eaten at Potbelly a handful of times at this point, and there are a few standout sandwiches that we'd like to recommend.

First up, the awkward to order but delicious to eat A Wreck ($4.90), a sandwich that is sure to wreck any meat-lover's appetite with its pile of salami, roast beef, turkey, ham and Swiss cheese. If that sounds like quite a mouthful, try adding some of Potbelly's signature hot peppers to the mix along with your favorite mix of onions, lettuce, tomato and various condiments. The result is a hefty sandwich on nicely toasted bread that filled us up for the rest of the day — all for under $5.

Fans of those salty cured Italian meats should make their way to either the Italian ($4.90) or the Pizza Sandwich ($4.90). The Italian is built of capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, salami and provolone cheese, while the Pizza trades the mortadella for meatballs and mushrooms. Both sandwiches benefit from the addition of Potbelly's Italian seasoning and a few slices of tasty tomato and a scattering of sliced onions.

For lighter eaters, the turkey ($4.70) and ham ($4.70) provide a nice simple alternative to all that salami and pepperoni. Each comes with Swiss cheese and we've found that both sandwiches benefit from Potbelly's "Thin-Cut" method, which reduces the amount of bread used in the sandwiches by about a third. Doing this lets the meat and cheese really shine without being overburdened by a thick sandwich roll — a definite plus to folks who are looking to limit their carbohydrates.

Of course, there's more to Potbelly than just sandwiches — they also have some fantastic desserts. Our inner chocoholic nature was quite satisfied with the large Brownie Cookies ($1.25 each), and while the Dream Bar ($1.50) was a little too sweet for our taste, anybody who loves chocolate chip cookie cakes will find this to their liking. Lastly, we took a dozen Mini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies ($3.95) home with us on our last visit, and they made the next three days quite nice with their soft, chewy texture and rich chocolate chip flavor.

After half a dozen visits to Potbelly, we still feel like we've only scratched the surface. There are salads, soups, chili and a multitude of sandwiches we've yet to try. Given the friendly service and quick wait times for orders, though, we've decided that Potbelly makes for an excellent stop, especially since it is one of those rare birds: a tasty restaurant where two people can eat for under $20. We just can't ask for much more than that.



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