Fat Kevin and the Hot Dog Sisters

Homemade comfort at Kenneth City’s Subslingers.

Creative Loafing Tampa

TAMPA, FL, December 1, 2004

By Laura Fries

magine death as a hot dog. The journey from microwave to homemade bun, the submersion in gooey condiments, the slow ascent to the virginal mouth of an elderly nun. Not every hot dog enjoys such a charmed path to the afterlife, but at Subslingers Jersey Subs, nuns ripping into big fat Jersey dogs is just part of the atmosphere.

The sisters are regulars at the sub shop on 54th Avenue in Kenneth City, part of the band of fiercely loyal customers that keeps this mom-and-son shop afloat.

The day starts at 6 a.m. for Pat Bratt, the owner who keeps this Twistee Treat franchise up and open for the neighbors: families with small children, cops on patrol and yes, a pair of nuns with hearty palates. Bratt starts off with the house specialty — homemade bread, nearly 200 loaves a week. She makes it all: the chili, the soup, the baked beans. It’s all good, she says, because she cooks it the way she likes it.

Her son Lionel Fox, 25, joins her around 11 a.m. to work the second of two 12-hour shifts. Every day, it’s Pat and Lionel and a crew of six employees, including Lionel’s girlfriend Mary Minshal, who helps out at the shop in order to spend time with her honey.

As places to spend your days go, Subslingers certainly isn’t bad. The signature ice-cream-shaped building has windowed walls, ice-cream-pink booths, faux ’50s advertising tins on the walls, and a monster selection of fabulous subs, hot dogs and homemade ice cream. The atmosphere is clean, safe and friendly — the type of place you could comfortably take kiddies, dates or grandfolks.

Subslingers prides itself most on its 16-inch subs — enormous sandwiches that can’t easily be lifted whole. Only a first-timer orders one of these expecting to eat the whole thing, likely accompanying the $7.25 sandwich with onion rings and a milkshake ($2.30, $3.25). Ten minutes later, Fox says, he knows he’ll be out there handing the customer a doggie bag: “You can always tell.”

Also popular are the specialty dogs on the menu. My appropriately named Dumpster Dog ($3.80) came loaded with Cheez Whiz-esque goodness, tomato wedges, bacon, a slice of pickle, pickled red peppers and onion. Piled into the chasm of a roughly split homemade bun, it was caloric hari kari, and it was fabulous. A purist might ask for a bigger hot dog, but really: this is food ya eat, not food you critique.

The absolute stunner on the menu, however, was the Fat Kevin sandwich. A cousin of its New Jersey brethren, the Fat Kevin consists of fried chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and French fries … piled inside a homemade bun, glued together with melted provolone cheese and marinara sauce, and graced with a crunchy crown of shredded lettuce and parmesan. It took me and a fellow staffer to take down this fighter of a sandwich — and neither of us is a featherweight. Technically speaking, the sandwich contains potatoes, chicken and cheese, but in practice, it all tastes fried. A gigantic lump of your favorite bad things, all together in one bun — the type of sandwich that cures hangovers, breakups and bad hair days simply by rendering you immobile for the next 24 to 36 hours. The secret to eating it, Fox says, is not to put it down — once you do, the thing falls apart and you’re done for.

The sandwich got its name from a staffer. Says Bratt with a laugh, “It was a big fat sandwich, and I have a big Fat Kevin.”

Not that you’ll have room, but you should spring for the ice cream. A chocolate brownie scoop convinced me that for $1.70 a scoop, you just can’t go wrong. Support good homemade food, local business and freedom by visiting Subslingers. Hot dog-hungry nuns can’t be wrong.

FEEDback: If you’re longing for a Fat Kevin of your own, Sibslingers is located at 5804 54th Ave. N. in Kenneth City (727-541-6392).

THIS STORY

was just one of many “cheap eats” short reviews I wrote on a weekly basis as Food Editor of the Tampa Creative Loafing.