Jason's Deli, Jimmy John's & Joni's Deli & Grill 

Jason, Jimmy & Joni: Looking for lunch in all the fast places.

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The search for a good sandwich is an unending one. Unfortunately, with the demise of more and more mom & pop cafes, the sandwich quest leads me these days, increasingly, to chain operations—never my first choice of where to spend my money. But hey, ya gotta give ’em a try, right? You just never know where the next great Reuben might come from: Jason’s Deli, for example.

With the exception of one mixed-up order from Jason’s Deli—which I didn’t discover until I’d gotten home with my goods—I’ve had better-than-expected experiences with the food and service at the Gateway and Layton locations. I can’t really comment on all the others and haven’t tried the Orem or Murray stores, but since Jason’s resides in Cookie Cutter County (it has some 200 delis in 25 states), I imagine the others are equally dependable. Don’t go looking for Jason, however—the chain was founded by Joe Tortorice Jr. in Beaumont, Texas. Maybe he just liked the sounds of “Jason’s” over “Joe’s.”

Jason’s Delis are large, spotless eateries with extensive menus. The setup is cafeteria style: get in line, place your order and pick it up when it’s ready, which is usually quickly. Jason’s also does catering, and supplying offices and corporate get-togethers is a big chunk of the company’s revenue.

What surprises me is that Jason’s can cover so many bases so well: There’s soup, salads, sandwiches, paninis, “wrapinis,” pasta, potatoes and desserts. The sandwich selection alone includes po’ boys, “slimwiches,” muffalettas, classic favorites and “build-your-owns.” Amazingly, I haven’t been disappointed in a single one of them that I’ve tried. Well, all right: You won’t mistake the 9-inch muffaletta with ham, salami, provolone and tapenade ($11.99) for one from the Central Grocery in New Orleans, but it really ain’t bad in a pinch.

Much better, however, is Jason’s Reuben ($7.99). Thinly shaved hot corned beef is piled high and topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on soft rye bread. A tasty variation on the Reuben is the New York Yankee ($7.99), which combines corned beef with pastrami and Swiss on rye and offers a choice of mustard or mayo. At Jason’s, the new pot-roast po’ boy ($6.99) with provolone and smoked red pepper-cilantro aioli has become one of my favorite go-to lunch options. And most surprising is how satisfying a bowl of Jason’s zippy sea food gumbo is. On the other hand, $6.99 for a baked spud with toppings seems a tad out of line when I can buy a 10-pound bag of Idaho russets at my local supermarket for $1.99.

Seemingly overnight, Jimmy John’s “World’s Greatest Gourmet Sandwiches” have sprung up in Salt Lake City, Bountiful, Midvale, Layton and American Fork. Many more, no doubt, are on the way. When I saw the sign at Jimmy John’s that read “Bread so French it must be liberated!” my interest was piqued.

Unfortunately, the bread at Jimmy John’s is about as French as I am. In fact, it couldn’t be more American. Sub sandwiches at Jimmy John’s come on a “French loaf” which is most reminiscent of a hot dog bun on steroids, slightly more crispy but just as flavorless. Order the Pepe ($4.75) sub sandwich and what you get is a few thin slices of smoked ham and provolone, crispy shredded lettuce, tomato and mayo. These are pretty much the opposite of Jason’s over-stuffed sandwiches; they’re thin and disappointing, from the tuna (adorned mysteriously with alfalfa sprouts and cucumber) to the blander-than-bland Turkey Tom sandwich ($4.75). True, Jimmy John’s sandwiches are cheaper than Jason’s. But sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. In this case, that’s pretty much a Subway sandwich, but without the bread choices Subway offers.

Joni’s Deli & Grill is the type of place I wish was a chain/franchise, since it would be nice to have easier access to the great food and service there. But Joni’s is a definite one-off, if only because there’s just one Joni Sorenson, the deli’s namesake. During my 15 years as a paid restaurant critic, I’ve learned a few clues about how to identify great eateries. I’ll share with you my most important discovery: I’ve never had a bad meal in a restaurant where someone called me “hon.”

Of course, Joni calls everybody “hon,” but that doesn’t make me feel any less special at Joni’s. Particularly when I get my lips around her scrumptious garlic burger ($4.25), cooked with love and just the right (restrained) amount of seasoning. City Weekly circulation manager Larry Carter, who’s never given me a bum tip yet, turned me on to Joni’s. He’s crazy about the chicken Philly sandwich ($5.89) there, and I can see why. The straight Philly cheesesteak ($5.89) is also wildly popular at Joni’s, although I can’t quite come to grips with the slathered-0n mayonnaise.

Here’s another reason to stop by Joni’s Deli for lunch (it’s only open 11 a.m.–3 p.m. on weekdays): sloppy Joes. When was the last time you saw a sloppy Joe on a restaurant menu? My memory doesn’t even go back that far. For this and many more reasons, Joni’s Deli & Grill makes me think of that favorite Emeril Lagasse phrase: “Happy, happy, happy!”

JASON'S DELI
Various Locations
JasonsDeli.com

JIMMY JOHN'S GOURMET SANDWICHES
Various Locations
JimmyJohns.com

JONI'S DELI & GRILL
52 E. 1700 South
801-466-6662

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