McAlister’s: No Fraser Street Deli, But Not Too Bad
You’d be forgiven if your first response to reading this headline was, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that place!” Nestled deep in the back of the HUB’s first floor, next to the familiar Chick-Fil-A, rests the HUB’s latest addition: chain deli McAlister’s. Though we don’t normally review chains, this McAlister’s is the only location in Pennsylvania (the entire Northeast, really). So, we sent a trio of writers to check out what it had to offer. See what they thought:
McAlister’s is probably well-placed in the HUB, as a location downtown would make it embarrassingly outclassed by the superior Fraser Street Deli whenever I was hankering some deli cut meats. Its location in the HUB instead makes it a prime quick pit stop for my carnivorous cravings. While the selection is broad, it is a tradition that I use a deli’s rueben sandwich as my benchmark.
After ordering, the wait was minimal, with my sandwich ready in under five minutes. I sat down with my crew of fellow Onward Staters and analyzed the meal in front of me. As far as presentation goes, it was to be expected from the HUB. In a styrofoam box, wrapped in wax paper, my sandwich was surrounded by my fruit cup side and pickle. Opening the packaging revealed an unimpressively sized sandwich, with more sauerkraut then corned beef. But this is the harshest judgment I could pass on the meal, since other than that, it was a very good-looking sandwich.
Overall, the food tasted like a chain deli. If you’ve only ever tasted Subway you will love it, but if you’re like me and know that other sandwich shops exist, then this is not even worth comparing. Overly salty, lacking any strong defining taste, the sandwich loses itself in powerful ingredients such as the sauerkraut and thousand island dressing. This, and the communal baked potato’s obviously microwaved texture, shows that no love goes into this food. Instead, it sacrifices a little taste for a lot of speed. Which is not a bad thing, as a matter of fact! I completely understand. This restaurant is exactly what it looks to be: a chain. And that is really the overall conclusion reached for me. This is a chain deli, not a mom-and-pop sandwich shop. The people behind the counter making the food are following a formula where things like cost, speed, and consistency are factors. If you like delis, are in a rush, or are just in the HUB, I’d say it’s one of your better choices in this town. If you have 10 minutes and want a quality sandwich, though, look elsewhere.
I walked into McAlister’s deli today with my fellow Onward State staffers feeling especially hungry. Being from a hometown featuring plenty of notable delis and sub shops, I know my deli meats, so my expectations for the new establishment were high. After waiting in line for a short while, we were ready to place our order. Thanks to a kind worker who handed out menus in line, I had ample time to digest the different options available. My eyes scanned the brochure, looking for something tantalizing. That was when I laid my eyes on the Southwest Turkey Melt. My heart was set, so I proceeded to place my order. Along with the sandwich, I ordered a sweet iced tea, some fruit, and a loaded baked potato (Spud Max) that was to be split amongst the three of us.
I am deep believer in the club sandwich as arguably one of the best sandwiches that lunch has to offer. Without too much hesitation, I ordered the McAlister’s Club, which was a little different compared to how I stack my clubs. Starting from bottom with a slice of wheat bread topped with mayonnaise, they stacked smoked ham and turkey, swiss and cheddar cheese topped with the second slice of bread. On the second layer, they stacked the middle slice with honey mustard, bacon, tomato, and lettuce, topped with even more honey mustard.
After observing the stacking order of the club sandwich, I thought it was a bit unorthodox. Normally, I prefer to have both layers of the sandwich mimic each other with an equal distribution of meat, cheese, etc. Then again, I’m not the one running the show here. The executive decision to automatically substitute wheat bread for white bread turned out to be a huge payoff, as it tasted very fresh, almost as if it was made that morning. Also, the honey mustard added a different twist to your conventional club sandwich. It was a nice complement on the sandwich, not overpowering but enough to add a little extra flavor.
Like I stated earlier, the bread was very fresh, but what grabbed my attention was the freshness of the entire sandwich. I don’t normally get tomatoes but these were flavorful and very succulent. The lettuce was crisp and green and the cold cuts tasted like they were sliced that morning.
With the combination of the various cheeses, meats, and toppings, an absolutely perfect club sandwich is everything but possible. Of all things that could go wrong, it had to be the bacon. I felt it was hard and crunchy contrary to how it should taste — crispy yet chewy. Also, they were a bit frugal when layering it on the sandwich. I didn’t count the number of pieces, but relying on my knowledge of various pork products it seemed as if they only used two to three slices. Not cool, as I was expecting at least four to five given the size of the sandwich.
Overall, this club sandwich looked and tasted even better. As one of McAlister’s top sellers, it certainly did not disappoint. I would highly recommend this sandwich if you choose not to wait for the Chick-Fil-A sitting under a heat lamp.
For my side choice, I opted to go with the mac and cheese. This was pretty standard tasting as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t Mom’s homemade dish crafted with love, but it definitely wasn’t the shit that Kraft labels as mac and cheese. The cup size was a decent portion, but it lacked the flavor and spices to make you go, “Wow, this is damn good mac and cheese.” There was plenty of melted cheese throughout the cup and the noodles were warm and soft. It was a solid dish all around. I would categorize this side as something you put on as a reserve when you can’t make up your mind.
I thought the spud we ordered was average at best. It was very impressive-looking considering the combined two potatoes topped with pepper jack cheese, turkey, ham, bacon, onions, and black olives. While it sounds and most definitely looked appetizing, the potatoes were dry and a bit overcooked. There seemed to be a little too much pepper-jack as it overpowered the rest of the toppings. I guess it didn’t help that I forgot we had a cup of sour cream, but I’m not sure that could have saved this already-dying beast. For the price of what we paid for it, I would not choose to go down this path again.