You'd have to look long and hard to find a fast-food promotion as successful as Subway's $5 Footlong, which during the past two years has not only helped franchisees weather the economic turmoil, but was also recognized as one of the Top 10 New Products of the Decade by Ad Age. Since then, Subway has filed for trademark protection of the term "footlong," but that hasn't stopped a footrace of imitators. Footlong hot dogs, subs, cheeseburgers, they're all out there. Armed with a tape measure and a healthy appetite, we compared them, foot by foot.
1. Subway's $5 Footlong
On the menu: Eight footlong subs (Meatball Marinara, B.L.T., Spicy Italian, Tuna, Cold Cut Combo, Black Forest Ham, Oven Roasted Chicken and Veggie Delite)
Launch date: The footlong began as a promotion in March 2008 and has been on a roll ever since.
Knife and fork? No. But you'll need extra napkins to tackle the Meatball Marinara.
Tale o' the tape: As promised--12 inches, stem to stern
Price: Gotta ask?
Calories: Varies. Our Meatball Marinara weighed in at 1,160.
Taste: Seven pingpong-ball-size meatballs and tomato sauce layered across a foot of fresh-baked real estate proves there's more to Subway's success than an alliterative hook and snappy jingle. Ordered to go, the sub was still piping hot 15 minutes later at our desk. (Hint: Have it toasted, which helps it stay crisp.) Forks down, no one does it better.
2. Quiznos' Toasty Torpedo
On the menu: Five 13-inch, ultraslim toasted sandwiches (Pesto Turkey, Italian, Turkey Club, Tuna Melt and Beef, Bacon & Cheddar)
Launch date: March 2009
Knife and fork? No. They're so slender and light, you might be tempted to buy two and pretend they're chopsticks.
Tale o' the tape: 13 inches
Price: $4, though, curiously, ours rang up at $5--then a $1 discount was tacked on.
Calories: Varies. Our Beef, Bacon & Cheddar came in at 790.
Taste: Quiznos gets points for going the extra inch and coming in a dollar less than Subway, but we never thought we'd snarf a forearm's length of lunch and not be full--thanks to a narrow nosh that's about 2 inches wide. Our Beef, Bacon & Cheddar included lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and mustard on a "slim & soft deli baguette."
3. Sonic's Footlong Quarter Pound Coney
On the menu: A footlong beef-and-pork hot dog wrapped in a warm bun and topped with chili and melted cheese.
Launch date: The big dog debuted June 28 and will be Sonic's signature frank going forward.
Knife and fork? Provided, but easier to use the paper boat as a sluicelike delivery system
Tale o' the tape: As the fine print points out, it's a foot long before cooking; at delivery, a mere 11 inches.
Price: It was $2.99 through Aug. 29, when Sonic was to have finished an analysis to determine pricing
Taste: A dollop of warm, zesty chili, gooey cheese and a salty hot dog nestled in a steamy bun and swaddled in a wrapper inside a sleeve inside a bag: That ultimate guilty pleasure is delivered to you in the privacy of your car by a server on roller skates. The only thing that could top the experience would be for her to stick around to dab the chili from your chin.
4. Carl's Jr. Footlong Cheeseburger
On the menu: Three hamburger patties, three slices of American cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles arranged like a Dagwood dream on 12 inches of soft hoagie. The Deluxe includes tomato, lettuce and mayo.
Launch date: Test marketed in June and July at a half-dozen Carl's Jr. locations in Southern California and an equal number of Hardee's spots in Indiana. Expect another round of Southern California testing before a decision is made whether to unleash it nationwide.
Knife and fork? Yes. As sloppy as a sailor on shore leave.
Tale o' the tape: 12 inches
Price: $4, or $4.50 for the Deluxe
Calories: 850, or 1,080 for the Deluxe
Taste: Even in its first test phase, the Footlong Cheeseburger created a monster buzz. Like most Carl's concoctions, it tastes better than it sounds, and the hoagie roll did yeoman's duty here: With a light dusting of cornmeal on the bottom, it acts as the perfect counterpart to the greasy contents, collapsing just enough to be consumed without having to dislocate the jaw. If this culinary creature rears its head again, a single slab of meat would save time and dry cleaning.
Adam Tschorn covers men's style for the Los Angeles Times.