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Published: 10/23/2008

Restaurant review: Mancino's Pizza & Grinders ***

Next to chili dogs and cheeseburgers, nothing tickles my taste buds more than subs - fat, toasty submarine sandwiches with plenty of cold cuts, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, dressing, and whatever else can be crammed into a crunchy, fresh-baked Italian roll. Hot or cold, they can be devoured right then and there or taken home for a good meal at the kitchen table or in front of the TV.

The greater Toledo area has no shortage of local and national eateries specializing in subs - or, if you prefer, hoagies, heroes, po'boys, grinders, torpedoes, and so on. To quote from Shakespeare, "That which we call a sub by any other word would taste as sweet." Or something like that.

My own preferences have gone back and forth over the years, shifting as some favorites increased in price while portions dwindled. Most pizza shops offer subs, but the one I keep coming back to these days is Mancino's Pizza & Grinders, which seldom disappoints.

Mancino's five area franchises - in Holland, Perrysburg, Oregon, Temperance, and Bowling Green - offer a dozen choices of pizza, six or seven dinner salads, baked spaghetti, nachos, and cinnamon bread sticks. There's also soup in season along with oven-baked French fries, chips, and cookies, and a kids' menu. But Mancino's stock-in-trade is subs, more than two dozen of them. They range from steak, roast beef, meatball, and seafood to chicken Caesar, stromboli, and Italian, the house specialty.

The national chain of around 80 outlets got its start in the late 1930s when Sam Mancino opened his first place in St. Clair Shore, Mich. According to a blurb on the menu, the original recipes and the large portions have never changed.

We visited the Holland Mancino's in the Spring Meadows shopping maze. Opened in the early '90s, it was the first to set up shop in the Toledo area. "Unprepossessing" is perhaps the kindest way to describe the interior, with its jumble of tables and chalkboards advertising specials and super-sized "extras" such as extra meat, cheese, or vegetables for a nominal sum.

Among the pizzas, we opted for the 12-inch Mancino's Pride ($12), a good choice piled with sausage, pepperoni, ham, vegetables, and black olives. Less impressive were the oven-baked spaghetti with garlic toast ($5.50), a mediocre dish made somewhat less so by an order of three meatballs for an extra 75 cents, and the $5.25 nachos supreme with taco meat, cheese, vegetable, and sour cream.

But of course, we were there primarily for the subs, which range in price from $4.75 to $5.25 for a half to $8.75 to $9.95 for a whole. Though we enjoyed the Mancino's Club with turkey, ham, and bacon, and the stromboli with Italian sausage, spaghetti sauce, cheese, and banana peppers, nothing could compare with the Italian signature sub, the mother of all grinders, stacked as it is with ham, sausage, salami, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, mozzarella, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise.

At one point, it occurred to me that I may have had the same house specialty elsewhere, and I was right. Bellacino's, a downtown Toledo restaurant that closed late last year, opened under the Mancino's umbrella and offered the same sandwich. So does Caper's Pizza Bar on Byrne Road, whose owners also opened the Perrysburg Mancino's.

The easiest way I found to get to the Holland Mancino's was to go out Airport Highway and turn into West Mall Drive at Spring Meadows. A sign at Centers Drive points the way.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com



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