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Hot smoked turkey and provolone on a toasted wheat roll at Firehouse Subs. [Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan]

Hot subs of the heroic variety

There's no shortage of great deli spots in Southern Oregon, but Medford's up to two spots that serve piping hot sub sandwiches in environments honoring heroes of a different stripe.

Firehouse Subs, the Medford Center's newest dining addition, pairs piping hot subs with a rescuer-friendly environment, and names full of fun firefighter wordplay, such as the "Hook & Ladder" and "Engineer" specialty sandwiches. At Firehouse, if you want the works, be sure to ask for it "Fully Involved."

Setting Firehouse Subs apart, at least from other chains, is the way the restaurant steams the meats on their hot sub sandwiches before serving. I found the results, on toasted bread, to be juicy, tender, and with none of those browned-on-the-outside, cold-in-the-center experiences I remember from back when Quiznos franchises were at every turn.

For my first visit to Firehouse Subs for dinner, I went for their Smoked Turkey Breast, the restaurant's $5.55 special of the day, knocking $2.94 off the regular price of a medium eight-inch sub. 

Adding a bag of Miss Vickie's chips and a large Coke must be how they get'cha. It added $2.89, meaning my savings were totaled out to a nickel. Three steps forward, 2.95 steps back.

If we're honest, the chips weren't that necessary, as the medium sub has a hearty serving of tender hot turkey, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, onions, tomato, mayo and deli mustard, all with a kosher dill pickle on the side. Cut into four-inch halves, larger appetites should find it plenty of food, while others will probably end up saving the second half for later. Smaller appetites and those counting calories may prefer their line of smaller subs, which go for $3.99 each.

Waits weren't quite as short as the easy-to-recommend Jimmy Johns, which delivers sandwiches to boot, but about five minutes during the dinner rush should be OK for those on a time crunch.

The firefighter theme, owing to the Jacksonville, Florida-based chain's origins founded by firefighter brothers in 1994, carries through the dining area, with bright red, diamond-plate accents, genuine firefighting equipment on the walls and a unique hand-painted mural honoring Medford Fire-Rescue.

Inside, the chain touts its Public Safety Foundation, with posters touting such slogans as "Enjoying more subs helps save more lives." What does that mean? Well, Firehouse Subs' website says that 0.13 percent of purchases goes to its nonprofit foundation funding life-saving equipment, training and disaster relief, among other causes.

But fans of sandwiches and rescuers have more than one choice.

Open since 2016, Heroes American Cafe, next to Bi-Mart in the Bear Creek Plaza, takes an expanded and local approach to the similar concept.

There's not as much wordplay on their menu, but like Firehouse, they serve subs hot or cold. Heroes' grill-focused menu also includes burgers, fries and tacos, not to mention a coffee and juice bar.

The spot, open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., honors police, firefighters and military with photos on the wall and a "Blue Lives Matter" flag near the front of the store. More substantially, veterans, active military and first-responders, teachers and educators all qualify for a 10 percent discount. 

For everyone else, there's clean surfaces, a warm greeting as you enter and a grill-focused menu full of fair prices, and some bargains, such as a $5.50 quarter-pound burger basket lunch special with fries, and $2 tacos.

On my visit Wednesday, I went for the Italian sub ($8.95) which started with a nice and chewy white hoagie roll, buttered and grilled to a golden brown crisp, with salami, capicola, ham and Provolone cheese, then topped with olives, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a nice drizzle of Italian dressing.

For $3.50 extra, I added an abundant order of hot, crispy fries and a drink. It was definitely overkill, considering the sandwich was so substantial with its generous portion of fresh-tasting meats and veggies.

With hearty portions served with community pride, there's plenty to like at these two hero sub shops.

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