Firehouse Subs puts out the calories on new menu choices

Posted by on Feb 18, 2014 in Dining, Jacksonville | No Comments

Firehouse Subs Hearty & Flavorful menu displaySubway has made healthy eating a plank in its marketing foundation since they trotted out Jared Fogle’s “Subway diet” in 2000. These days, it’s business as usual for the world’s largest fast food chain. Fat and calorie counts decorate napkins, paper cups, sneeze guards and more, espousing healthy lifestyles at every location.

Now, Jacksonville-based Firehouse Subs is shoehorning smart diet choices into its own menu. Its new Hearty & Flavorful selections include six sandwiches and four salads tipping the scales at less than 500 calories.

For a chain ostensibly “founded by firemen,” even in this PC world, does healthy eating have a seat at the proverbial firehouse table? And, how does it really taste?

I joined the hungry masses February 18 to find out. Firehouse hosted a tasting at its Northeast Florida corporate-owned locations, slinging free food to pitch the slimmer offerings. And these skinny subs may yet (cue the cliché!) catch on fire.

Firehouse co-founder Robin Sorensen sat down with me to discuss the re-engineering of the new subs. It used to be that customers complained about too much bread on their subs. Some would even ask for their large subs on medium-size rolls. Meat … good! Bread … bad. They got it.

Each sub in the new lineup features the same portion meat as a medium sub, with one-third less bread and half the cheese (one piece vs. two). That equates to a petite, or approximately 5-inch, sub roll. Bring in different flavor-filled sauces and low-cal mayo, and you’re getting there. New flavors include a Sriracha Beef, Hook & Ladder Light, Turkey Salsa Verde, Capt. Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Grilled Chicken, Turkey & Cranberry, and Momma’s Homemade Chicken Salad.

Robin admitted it was a challenge to limbo below the 500-calorie bar with the chicken salad and turkey/cranberry subs, but both clock in under the wire … at 495. In fact, the turkey-cranberry creation was almost a lost cause, save a serendipitous stumble on a concentrated cranberry spread from California that was never meant to be a sub topping. Used full strength, it’s mouthwatering and makes the grade.

Four chopped salads are second cousins to the new subs and likewise feature 4 ounces of meat each. They include a Firehouse Salad with turkey breast, chicken or ham, Italian with Grilled Chicken, Hook & Ladder and chicken salad. Each is made to order and served in a real bowl.

Turkey & Cranberry - Firehouse SubsBack to the subs and my dinner choice, the Turkey & Cranberry. It featured smoked turkey breast, Monterrey jack cheese, that zingy cranberry spread, lettuce, tomato, onion and light mayo on a light wheat roll. The fruit-filled spread dominated the flavor profile but in a good way, with the turkey playing the straight man of sorts for a sweet yet salty, melty finish. The portion was just right. The woman across from me even commented this was the first time she’d managed to finish an entire Firehouse sandwich.

I only got around to this one sub but will be back to sample others in the collection. Now, will Firehouse do for my pre-fatherhood diet what it did for Jared at Subway? Don’t suck in your waist on that one, says my Fitbit One. If you want to give it a go, do your homework first and check out Firehouse’s full-disclosure nutrition info on its website.

Firehouse will host a similar tasting at its 700-plus locations nationwide on March 18. The free sub deal doesn’t include chips, drinks or sweets. But with what you save on your waistline (and wallet), you probably won’t mind throwing a brownie in the mix.

UPDATE: The Hearty & Flavorful menu will debut nationwide in early March. I don’t have pricing yet for the sandwiches and salads, but will try to get it.