Subway's Steak Cali: What You Need To Know Before You Order

Despite running the "Eat Fresh" slogan for years, Subway has found itself saddled with an image of sub-par sandwiches. No doubt the lawsuit covered by the Washington Post charging that the tuna served by Subway contained no tuna DNA helped contribute. So, Subway needed a new face and last week initiated a broad-scale update called the "Eat Fresh Refresh." 

The update consists of new ingredients, ones improved in their return, and a whole new series of sandwiches. "The Eat Fresh Refresh makes Subway better than ever with freshly made, craveable, and delicious sandwiches to excite new and returning guests," Trevor Haynes, President, North America at Subway, said in a press release.

One of these new sandwiches is the Steak Cali Fresh. Its purpose is to combine most of the new ingredients in a "chef-recommended" sandwich to present the best face of the newer Subway. That sounds good, right? One hopes but let's look at what their new centerpiece is like and how it might represent the repainted brand. 

What is in the Steak Cali Fresh?

As mentioned, the Steak Cali Fresh was intended to highlight the new, fresh ingredients served by Subway. The "Cali" part is a nod to the idea of California's bounty and perhaps to Wolfgang Puck's California Cuisine, the locally sourced ingredients that the food features, and how it now dominates the idea of what California is.

The sandwich itself may not match its namesake. It contains, as one might guess, steak. In addition to the steak, there is the new hickory smoked bacon, smashed avocado, and mozzarella from the Wisconsinite cheesemakers Belgioioso as well as the tomato, spinach, red onion, and mayo one would expect in a Subway sandwich (via the Subway website). These are between a new type of bread offered by Subway: hearty multigrain. In the abstract, the Steak Cali Fresh appears as if it caters to everything people are "supposed" to love: cheese, meat, and avocado. If all goes well, then, this is Subway putting its best foot forward.

Was the Steak Cali well-received?

Of course, in Subway's "Eat Fresh Refresh," one must actually eat the freshness offered. So, let's see how people responded to its taste.

Two YouTube fast food channels were broadly positive. "Is the Subway Steak Cali Sub the best out there?" Something New asked. "No." However, they still gave the sandwich an 8 out of 10 even though their order had missed the smashed avocado because the flavors of the sandwich still worked well together. Johnny Clyde gave the sandwich (with avocado) a 9.2 overall with 9.6 awarded for the taste of the sandwich and an 8.8 for his perceived value of the meal.

Those positive takes are balanced against the absolute trashing that the new Subway menu received in The New York Post. "Chunks of mealy 'steak' looked and tasted like Fourth of July barbecue leftovers," Steve Cuozzo snarled. "Hickory-smoked bacon on both sandwiches was a gristly, flavorless affair beyond rescue by a smear of smashed avocado."

In short, even with their efforts to rejuvenate themselves, Subway still tastes like Subway. It's a fast food sandwich shop. It may be tasty enough, but if you are in New York City, you might want to find an actual deli instead. This is especially true when you consider what you are paying for it.

Wait! What are we paying for it?

For what Subway is, Subway has grown expensive. In his review, Johnny Clyde touched on how his sandwich had cost $8.49. It was also only a 6-inch sub. According to one Reddit post, the footlong version of the Steak Cali Fresh costs $13.99. Of course, prices vary across stores. However, if we double what Clyde paid for the 6-inch, the math works out.

Clyde gave Subway the benefit of the doubt though. After all, the sandwich featured more expensive ingredients like the smashed avocado and nice mozzarella. Others responded to the Reddit complaint about the price in a similar manner. The opposing point is that Subway had previously squandered most of its relationship with their customer base by removing the roast beef, as Brand Eating covered, and being accused of tuna fraud. Instead, some point out, you could buy a mound of deli meat and build your own sandwich for a fraction of the cost.

What else are you paying for?

The other reason you might want to consider making your own sandwich is that you better control your nutritional intake. Yes, Subway used to advertise itself by shouting "Eat fresh!" and this is the "Eat Fresh Refresh." However, even a 6-inch Steak Cali Fresh has some nutritional red flags. 

The issue is the sodium content of the sandwich. A 6-inch, according to Subway's own nutrition table, would fill you with 1,270 milligrams of sodium. A footlong almost doubles that to 2,530 milligrams of sodium. The footlong pro almost doubles that, dripping with 4,040 milligrams of sodium. 

The American Heart Association suggests an absolute maximum intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day but really recommends you to limit yourself to 1,500 milligrams. Even the 6-inch almost exceeds the ideal daily limit of sodium. 

The sodium levels are not the only nutritional concern one might have about the Steak Cali Fresh, but they do serve as a general indication. Carbohydrates, fats, and cholesterol are also high with a 6-inch boasting 44 grams, 33 grams, 135 milligrams of each respectively. Yes, the 6-inch does indeed fill you with 33 grams of protein and a quarter of your daily value of vitamin A. However, such nutritional boosts are offset by the drawbacks coursing through this fast food. 

The new Subway?

Part of the "Eat Fresh Refresh" restart was that stores would close early on July 12 and launch the new menu on July 13 with one million free subs on offer (via PR Newswire). The Steak Cali Fresh would come in with a bang to ensure stable popularity with Subway's customers. 

That, however, did not happen. "What a great refresh..." a Subway worker wrote on Reddit. They posted pictures of a very obviously slow workday. "We've made 3 sandwiches all day, in a usually very busy store." Others commented with similar experiences. A few had regular busy days, but no real interest. 

The upshot is that Subway has introduced an expensive flagship with nutritional shortcomings and ingredients of disputed quality to represent the culmination of its new ingredients while it continues to get hammered for its tuna. As Restaurant Business wrote in 2018, Subway has been in decline for years with swathes of stores closing in each calendar cycle. The corporate aspect of Subway has also ignored the needs of their franchisees throughout all this, as Eat This, Not That! reported in April. 

The Eat Fresh Refresh was almost certainly conceived by corporate as a jumpstart to save the brand, but the Steak Cali Fresh does not seem to be the sandwich to do it.