Why the Southern Kitchen team lives off of Publix subs, a.k.a. Pub Subs, all summer long

Rachel Taylor
Southern Kitchen

If you’re blessed enough to live in the South you know how special shopping at Publix can be. With stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, Southerners are never far away from a location. 

Along with a great shopping experience, Publix also prides itself on the food it makes fresh daily in the store. Some of us grab a box of fried chicken for an easy dinner and others pick up some great sweet tea for a get-together. But the most popular item in the Publix deli is the sub sandwiches

Appropriately nicknamed “Pub Subs,” these sandwiches hold a special place in our hearts. Most of us remember our very first Pub Sub, and over the years have perfected our orders. We won’t mention them by name, but other sandwich chains just can’t compete. Indeed, last year, Thrillist named the Pub Sub the best sandwich in the country. We agree. (And no, this story isn’t sponsored by Publix.)

Pub Subs come up in conversation at least once a week in the Southern Kitchen office; most of the Southern Kitchen team is very passionate about their love of the sandwich, but we did find one team member who finds Pub Subs to be “just okay.” His opinion is an outlier (it is wrong), so we don’t take it very seriously. 

Here are all the reasons why we love Pub Subs.

Liz Schrock: “The Pub Sub isn’t a fancy sandwich. It’s an approachable and relatable sandwich. The ingredients in a Pub Sub are always fresh (@subway), the bread isn’t soggy (@subway), the chicken tenders are juicy and crunchy at the same — it’s basically sub heaven. I’m definitely living my best life when I’m at the pool with a chicken tender Pub Sub (the king of all Pub Subs, by the way) and a beer.”

Kirk Davis: “Publix subs are a cut above all other sub chains and are probably the best subs on planet earth. Yes, yes I know there’s some fancy sub joint called Giorgianos or Spinaccis or something like that on the west side of Chicago or in the East Village in New York that’s absolutely to die for, but get off your bougie high horse for a second and listen to this: Publixes are in every neighborhood in the South and after a five minute car ride you can pop in and mosey down the bakers isle smelling delicious cupcakes, donuts and pies and find yourself in the deli, a.k.a.. the happy place. 

Next you have one of three decisions to make. Chicken tender, Ultimate or Italian. Every other sub is inferior. So don’t screw this up. If you are feeling the chicken vibes, get chicken tender and get them to toss them in buffalo sauce. This is non-negotiable. Next throw whatever your favorite cheese is on it and get it toasted. Add lettuce and spinach (just do it) and some tomatoes, onions and pickles if you want the fried chicken pickle combo, which I personally recommend. 

Pub Sub

The Ultimate and the Italian are just your can’t-go-wrong deli meat options. The Italian will be wetter with a little more character and the Ultimate is more of a comfort food option. They’re very similar. Mayo, mustard, lettuce, spinach, tomato, onions and either green peppers, jalapeños or pickles. Some pepper and oil and vinegar and it’s ready to go.

There is nothing on planet earth better than downing a Pub Sub after playing sports in the summer in the South. Winners eat Pub Subs and that’s a fact!”

Lindsay Davis: “I agree with most points in my husband’s Pub Sub rant. I would, however, suggest that Ultimate is better than Italian for the most variation in meats. The Pub Sub is famous because the sandwich artists are invested in their craft — much more than some *other* chains with questionable spokespeople. 

If you call it a ‘sub sandwich’ from Publix you’re also wrong; someone should trademark the term ‘Pub Sub’ if they haven’t. [Kirk’s] definitely correct that a chicken tender sub with buffalo sauce is unbeatable, and I will forego carbs for 24 hours in preparation or schedule an endurance run afterward because it’s that good. ... The fried chicken is what makes it and it won our taste test for that reason. (No, we are not paid to say this. It’s a fact).”

Kate Williams: “I’m going to go ahead and disagree with all of the nonsense about the Ultimate and Italian subs. The beauty of the Pub Sub is in all of the toppings and the copious amounts of mayonnaise, and you don’t want all of those salty meats interfering with the banana peppers, black olives, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar, and oregano. Boar’s Head turkey is 100% always the way to go.

I go all-out with my toppings — except when I’m packing a Pub Sub for a hike, in which case I always leave off the tomato — and my Pub Subs are all the better for it. I actually pretty much always only eat Pub Subs when I’m going on outdoor adventures, whether that’s a hiking trip, climbing trip, or shooting the ‘hooch. Because of this, I always associate Pub Subs with long afternoons and cold beers, a.ka. the best days.”

Chef Jeffrey Gardner: “The quickest way to make a Pub Sub seem like the most glorious sandwich in the world is to compare it to Subway. The bread at Publix has a substantial chew, unlike whatever it is they call bread at Subway. You know, the stuff with that weird chemical odor that smells like a nursing home and probably contains the same sludge Jack Nicholson fell into that turned him into Joker in ‘Batman.’ 

You can see the good people at Publix spread the mayonnaise along the inside of the bread, coast to coast, the way god intended; unlike Subway, whose awkwardly-designed squeeze bottles are guaranteed to produce a bead of caulk-like mayo accompanied by that disgusting bottle fart sound. 

Boars Head Turkey is my go-to and is always solid; though getting their Cuban, taking it home and buttering/pressing it yourself is a strong move too. I also like how Publix’s deli staff anticipate using every bit of their mise en place on each person’s sandwich. Then, when you only want banana peppers or pickles, they’re genuinely astonished or seem like they’re somehow derelict for not loading your sandwich up with a ’80s salad bar.”

Ryan Hughley: “I live just down the street from my local Publix and at this point the staff knows both my face and order. All I do is walk in and they get started building my Boar’s Head Italian Sub. I’m with Kate in that I get all the fixings possible and a little extra oil and vinegar because what’s an Italian sub without it?

Pro tip: I’ve discovered it’s never, under any circumstances, a good idea to actually go to Publix during lunch time. That’s a recipe for disaster. I once waited 45 minutes just to get my sandwich made and I’ll never go through that again. I’ll usually head to the deli either just before 11 a.m. or just after 1:45 p.m., that way I’ve missed the rush. I always end up grocery shopping for something I need to make dinner or just other stuff I need in the house so I’ll stop by the deli first, place my order, go shopping and come pick up my sandwich before checking out. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.”

Josh Conner: “Publix Subs are OK, bordering on meh. The bread is only OK. While the Boar’s Head meat and cheese are quality, the staff always slices them too thick for a proper sub, which should always have the meat shaved. The veggies are fresh, but there are too many options. 

There is no room on a true sub for spinach, carrots, cucumbers or sprouts. If you are ordering that, then you’re probably also throwing it on a gluten free, sundried tomato wrap with hummus and avocado and explaining to the person next to you why wheat is bad and turkey bacon tastes better the real thing. 

A ‘real’ sub just needs lettuce, tomato and shaved onion. Added pickled toppings are allowed, but you don’t need anything more than pickle slices, and maybe some banana peppers or jalapenos. Dressed with mayo mustard, oil and vinegar, with a final dusting of salt, pepper and perhaps a little oregano. 

The point is that a true sub shop specializes in the preparation of subs only and does it better that Publix in almost every aspect. Granted, Publix’s fried chicken is on point, but if you want a great sub, then find a true sub shop in your area.” [Ed: Boo.]

Rachel Taylor is a staff writer at Southern Kitchen. She moved to Atlanta earlier this year after graduating college in Maryland, and has been a digital audience specialist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Politically Georgia, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She has lived in France and Italy, and loves to travel.