An eatery you can sink your teeth into
A good sandwich can be hard to find — particularly if the fare offered at certain chain restaurants isn’t what you’d qualify as “good.” Serviceable? Sure. Satisfying? Meh.
With so many pizza restaurants in the region, it’s fairly easy for a sandwich snob to scratch that itch with a grinder — a staple on most pizza menus and generally crafted with more attention to detail than a fast-food version.
Quality, of course, varies, but if you’re looking for a home-run sandwich, grinder or wrap, you will find excellent options at Hartford Giant Grinder (HGG) in Niantic, which recently set up a second store in Westbrook. (Naturally, in a building space that used to be occupied by a pizza place.)
First things first: Whether you call it a hoagie, sub, hero, or grinder, what we’re talking about here is, per Wikipedia, “a type of cold or hot sandwich made from a cylindrical bread roll split lengthwise and filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.”
HGG does customers one better by offering those “meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments” in smaller packages, including hard rolls and wraps, along with fresh salads. (A bonus? The impressive wall of chips at the Niantic store; Westbrook is getting there, but the sheer variety at Niantic is well curated.)
We sampled sammies in a variety of shapes and sizes at both shops, with a bit more focus on the OG at Niantic. For the curious, the Westbrook store is at 21 Essex Road.
This seldom happens, but we couldn’t pick a favorite sandwich from the four very different types we ordered in Niantic. For starters, each hard roll and grinder was fresh and flavorful — even better after toasting. And the word “giant” in the restaurant’s name is accurate not only for the grinder size, but also for the hefty hard rolls and the generous portions of fillings.
We encountered a few inches of the house special Angus roast beef on one of our lunchtime hard roll sandwiches ($8.75 with my added Swiss cheese). It was tender, with no stringy bits, and tasty, and the perfect counterpart to the accompanying shredded lettuce and tomato. The kicker? We saved half for later, and it honestly got better with time. Sorcery!
As for the chicken salad sandwich, it checked all the boxes for us: the chicken salad itself was chunky, but not too chunky, and mildly spiced and very fresh. Paired with crisp veggies and a flaky crusted roll with a soft interior, we appreciated the sound chicken-salad-to-roll balance. (Read: No escapee dollops of chicken salad ended up in anyone’s lap.)
We also saved half of the chicken salad sandwich, although we were a little scared going in again after a few hours — deli salads don’t always travel well, after all. But our fears were unfounded. The roll somehow resisted soggification and the chicken salad maintained its chunky texture.
When I arrived in Niantic, the chicken for the Chicken Parmesan grinder ($9.25 for a half, which is 8 inches) we selected was being prepared and the sausage and peppers grinder ($10.25 for a half) was just finishing up in the oven. In short, these grinders contain real food that’s freshly cooked/baked/toasted versus faded, cold unidentifiable meats in a Tupperware bin.
The Chicken Parm included a hearty portion of fried cutlets and, as requested, mozzarella cheese, no onions or peppers. Chicken Parms are unwieldy enough without all the veg tumbling out, so I simplified and if I missed out on anything, I wouldn’t have noticed amid the light crisp of the cutlets and what struck us as excellent mozzarella. The tomato sauce was just fine but nothing extraordinary; that said, the sandwich could’ve used a bit more for better cheese-to-chicken cohesion.
We can offer similar notes on the Meatball grinder ($8.75 for a half) sampled in Westbrook, which I gave the same treatment regarding the peppers and onions for the same reason. Sue me. In this case, I might’ve erred in not adding more items to the mix. Yes, the meatballs were tender with a welcome kick of spice, the roll was fresh, and the cheese quite good, but the just-OK sauce didn’t bring enough flavor heft to place it among our favorites.
Speaking of which, we’ve ranked the sausage and peppers grinder as among the top we’ve tried, and I promise we have done due diligence with that research. Very fresh sausage with a touch of zest and great texture on the veggies put this one in the “to-get-again” column.
Joining the sausage and peppers on that list is the Philly Steak and Cheese grinder ($10.50 for a half), which we ordered in Westbrook upon recommendation. Please allow me to pass on that recommendation, if, that is, you like your Philly with the steak freshly prepped, sliced thin, and mixed expertly with peppers and onions sliced on the thinner side. The blanket of cheese evenly embraced it all in a perfect execution of a local classic with loads of flavor.
HGG also offers a variety of salads, and we appreciated the portion size and veg variety in the Garden Salad ($6.25). Even better, the shredded lettuce and julienned tomatoes added excellent crunch by the forkful, amid the olives, peppers, onions and pickles (!) throughout. Several dressings are available, but we went classic with oil and vinegar; thanks to the great mix of veggies, we didn’t need much of it.
It appears the legend of HGG is taking off well in the Westbrook area (which now offers breakfast sandwiches), and as a frequent traveler in the region, it’s great to know where to find a great sandwich in two convenient locations. HGG’s consideration for quality ingredients and careful preparation will make it an easy choice next time we get a hankering.
Hartford Giant Grinder
8 Hope St., Niantic
Cuisine: A variety of hot and cold sandwiches, plus salads
Service: Warm and welcoming, with an eye for details in the food prep
Atmosphere: A few tables available for indoor seating available in a casual, clean and airy space with personality.
Hours: We suggest calling ahead for store hours, which didn't always match up from one web source to another. Facebook's listing seems to be the most recent, which is: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Prices: For the quality, reasonable; hot sandwiches average around $10 for half a grinder, which can feed two people; salads average about $9.
Credit cards: Accepted
Handicap access: No stairs to enter; ample parking near entrance
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