Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What About Bob’s?

38233 Glenn Avenue
Willoughby, Ohio 44094
(440) 951-9700 (phone orders available)

by Beau Cadiyo

Bite: the best sandwich deal in Cleveland, if not America.

"Movies make me want to go back to California. Visiting reminds me of why I left."

This was my Facebook status the morning after watching Lords of Dogtown. The magic, beauty, and excitement of being in California - of being young in California - were all there on the screen: the ocean, the streets, the people, the parties. I grew up in San Diego and knew all of those people when I was young, just like how, when I was driving to my new home in Cleveland and I stopped in hotels and turned on MTV, I recognized every face. Every night, I knew all the rich fucks partying on Laguna Beach. They were types, but apparently they were everywhere, and I laughed as I recognized my friends beaming out from the screen. They were the ones that made California the promised land to viewers around the world – the people I met in China, Wales, Spain or Mauritius who said that they always wanted to move to Los Angeles, or Santa Barbara, or San Diego, and get away from their unexciting, unromantic, uninteresting homes.

What is it about the human heart that makes the grass greener? Does this serve evolution, or reproduction? I think everyone must want to be happy where they are; the problem is actually accomplishing it.

California’s great advantage over other states is the media. People who work in movies, television and radio - so often people from other states or countries - have a wonderful ability to imagine what it is like to grow up in California, unencumbered by reality. The aspects of California culture they portray undoubtedly exist – the people, places, sun and sand, but the romantic figures are, like Tom Sawyer, cobbled together from others. Moreover, modern media does not possess Samuel Clemens' compunctions - writers now don't tell you when they change reality to suit their vision. Instead, they imagine a Southern California youthful experience, and through screens and stereos around the world, it becomes the reality. Ignored, minimalized, or more often romanticized, are the bad things about living in SoCal – drugs, crime, traffic, social pressure, ennui, spiritual desolation . Without a comparable portrayal of, say, Iowa or Idaho, Columbus or Cleveland, the rest of the world sees only the reality of their own existence and compares it to the ideals they see on their screens. It's like looking at David and bemoaning our own puny muscles.

The next morning, I woke up and pulled on some shorts for work. It wasn't my usual work attire, but I was going to a warehouse to look at files, and the woman who organized our files said it would be hot. In California, at my old firm, this was the uniform; when I started, they'd just banned flip-flops from the office, but the outcry from the secretaries was so great that they rescinded the rule: no flip-flops when carrying boxes up and down stairs.

I was nostalgic.

I worked all morning, then headed down the street to downtown Willoughby for lunch. Parking was easy, even on a beautiful day at noon, and I first walked up to Enclave coffee house ( I asked if they had sandwiches, and the pretty, tattooed, multicolored-haired girl behind the counter replied in a slow, lilting voice that they didn't. She recommended another place as "good - and cheap." I started to walk out, past two middle-aged women doing something on laptops and a man on the cafe's desktop, past black tables and chairs and a plywood stage with two acoustic guitars propped up on it, strings broken and dangling, when I thought, "I've been here before." All coffee shops look the same, yes, but that this was exactly the type of place Kassia and Jarmilka and Ananda and Roselva and Agata and Saskia and Aujah and Karina and I used to go in Pacific Beach, drinking too much coffee, running around through the tables playing tag, playing guitar for our friends. I walked out. The street was beautiful: old brick buildings that had stood for four generations were real, not facades created to imitate establishment. They have the aura of history and uniqueness and architectural attention put into their construction that one never sees out west, where it's almost impossible to get away from strip malls filled with franchises and housing divisions with three or four floorplans. I crossed the street.

In the sub shop, four people - likely family - labored behind the counter while a family two mothers with two children ate at a table. Four businessmen ordered, joking in the uncomfortable way businessmen joke, the way teenagers hear and vow to never be like. Switchfoot came in over the speakers, the way they might do anywhere. The woman taking my order was a fairly attractive middle-aged woman in a tie-dyed shirt, blonde hair and silver necklace. The subs were cheap - $3.99 for a foot-long. I sat outside on the sidewalk. It was hot, so I took off my polo and sat in a wife-beater. When I went in to collect my sandwich, a 20-something MILF was bending over to sweep up her child's crumbs, revealing a tramp stamp of a colorful ocean scene.

Bob's Ultimate Original Sub was excellent. First, the bread was incredible - crisp crust, chewy center. Second, it was stuffed - layers and layers of meat, cheese and lettuce with a vinegar-based sauce. The textures were sublime - my teeth sheared easily through the meat, the lettuce was crunchy and the bread was hard and soft at the same time. I'm a heavy eater, but I couldn't even start the second half.

I went back to Enclave to pick up a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked in, the man at the desktop shouted, "He's back!" and the girl echoed him. They asked about the sandwich. The man, Traveling Frank, opined that the bread was not left to proof long enough, and began to explain the process of bread-making. The girl started complaining about her one experience at Bob's ordering a Chicken Salad Sandwich, and I ended up speaking with them both about relationships, travel, business, and all the good reasons to live in Cleveland. Traveling Frankhit one on the head: the people are friendly, the kind of friendly that stands in a coffee shop for a half-hour casually talking to strangers.

Back at the warehouse, I noticed large square windows in the wall every twenty feet, all looking out into dense greenery surrounding the building. Then I thought of my friend Frank Sharp, who recently started a business in San Diego that rips up lawns and replaces them with green plastic turf. He can’t keep up with demand and is already behind in orders. It made me smile: the grass may be greener, but that doesn't mean it's real.

What About Bob's? on Urbanspoon


kayla said...

i remember you. you gave me your card and wrote out some places to eat on the back of it. im the girl with tattoos and multi colored hair you talked to. i really enjoyed the convo we had and traviling tom is always a fun guy to get into discussions with lol. anyway hope all is well it was cool to see someone blogged about me i didnt believe it till my friend showed me. i kind of feel important now lol. hit me up sometime when your in the area or find me on facebook. i dont voluenter there anymore but i stop in from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and I am enjoying it thoroughly. I recently moved back to Cleveland after spending just over 20 years in San Diego!

I have been on a sandwich quest for about a month now and just 3 days ago discovered What About Bob's in Willoughby. Your review was right on the money and your description of socal life versus Cleveland mirrored my experiences. I still miss SD, just as I missed Cleveland while I was in SD, but I'm starting to find some good places to eat and that makes all the difference. It's funny, but whenever I think about places that I miss, it is usually food that comes to mind as the thing that I miss the most! The Red Fox Room, Mandarin House, and The Philadelphia Sandwich Company in Kearny Mesa are most missed.

Thanks for the reviews. I have lots of new places to try now!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the Enclave you experienced is long gone, wrecked by workers who weren't even trained by people trained by people trained by the original owners, and an owner who doesn't have a clue about anything other than making himself seem as important as possible without actually doing any work.

What About Bob's, on the other hand, is still $4 for a 12 inch, and still the finest sub I've ever had.

EJH said...

Amen, brother. We're proud to have you in Cleveland. Keep reviewing good sandwiches and revealing great truths.