I VIVIDLY REMEMBER my first trip to Shut Up and Eat, back when it was a cart in a quiet corner of the À La Carts pod on SE Division. Their menu—heavy with blue chip purveyor names like Tails & Trotters, Carlton Farms, and Pearl Bakery—offered an Italian hoagie: that holy grail of cold cuts, cheese, and cool vegetables on crusty bread. The sandwich was such a loaded, jaw-dropping zeppelin that I went to the nearby magazine rack, grabbed a National Geographic, and took a picture of the thing dwarfing the magazine. (It wouldn't have wrapped halfway around.) It was just $8.50, it was two meals in one, it was delicious... but most excitingly, it told of someone who had spent serious time engineering an iconic sandwich that we know we want, but can't describe in every critical detail, and is cost-prohibitive to build at home.
Now Shut Up and Eat has proven their viability by going brick and mortar. Housed in a busy, comfortable shop on SE Gladstone, their already-strong menu has expanded along a similarly impressive track. With a full grill, a fryer, ovens, and a line of burners, their house-baked English muffins, roast pork, and sautéed vegetables add a level of restaurant finish to a variety of well-conceived items.
At the heart of the menu are two iconic sandwiches. The Italian hoagie is still there, and admirably still only $8.50. The ingredient list goes something like this: sopressata, mortadella, capocollo, prosciutto, provolone, sweet roasted peppers, olive tapenade, oil and vinegar, Italian seasoning, and a stalk of sautéed rapini. I may be leaving something out. The flavors within mingle in moments of vinegary spice, salty richness, earthy olives, and lingering herbs, making the foot-long, one-and-a-quarter pound sandwich eat interestingly—and surprisingly cleanly—beginning to end.
The Italian comes on a sturdy Pearl Bakery roll that chef/co-owner John Fimmano uses because it reminds him of Italian sandwiches back in Philadelphia; finding that it was a lot of chewing work, on one visit I asked them to sub in the softer roll they use for other sandwiches. They said they'd do it, but not to go "spreading the idea around." Sorry guys, it was a home run this way.
The Broad St. Bomber cheesesteak (all sandwiches are $8.50) is their second masterpiece, with its feather-light but abundant shaved fresh beef sautéed with onions, hot or sweet peppers, and American cheese. It has ideal proportions that look overwhelming, but eat without mess or greasiness. It's a handsome, rich, nearly creamy sandwich that screams "gut buster," but finishes without remorse.
The sweet Italian sausage and peppers grinder made for a strong third visit, with sliced, finely textured fennel sausage, thick sweet roasted peppers, melted provolone, and sautéed greens on their standard soft Pearl baguette. A special of spicy capocollo with roasted rapini and cauliflower was another knockout, with the flavors of the unlikely bedfellows able to stand out strongly.
Breakfast sandwiches ($6-7, available all day) are served on either an excellent freshly baked cornmeal-sweetened housemade English muffin, or a large housemade fennel-flecked biscuit. Oversized and strong enough for the job without being tough, these are filled with balanced combinations of properly cooked bacon, sausage, over-medium eggs, grilled squash, greens, and cheeses.
They're still working out their sides. A good 80 percent of the housemade, salted potato chips ($2) are dark golden and crisp, but some wad up in the fryer and remain uncooked. On the balance, you get your money's worth, but this technique could use some ironing out. The brussels sprout and sweet potato hash ($4) is a flavorful winter side, but it's about 3:1 potato to brussels sprout—a ratio for whose reversal I'd gladly pay a dollar more (you don't need a lot of potato if you're also having a sandwich). The roasted peppers and bread salad ($4) is a sliced, grilled sandwich roll tossed with cabbage, asiago, and thick, juicy charred peppers, but the cabbage doesn't have time to wilt, and the bread has no time to absorb juices and dressing.
Homemade applesauce ($2) and a grilled cheese ($2.50) are available for kids, and on one visit they were happy to serve us a simple plate of the fried chicken cutlets that normally go in their chicken parm sandwich.
Service over five visits was friendly and efficient. During slow times the cooks break down beautiful, watermelon-sized primals of deep crimson beef, trim great tubs of vegetables, and put bags of free day-old baguettes by the door. Shut Up and Eat was clearly a good restaurant jammed into a cart, and it's a pleasure to see the concept at work in a place more diners can enjoy it.
Beer, wine, coffee, juices, and soda available. Easy parking, four tables, a 10-seat counter, and quick turnaround, three meals a day.