Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Italian Hoagie

I have a thing for sandwiches.  I attribute it to growing up outside Philadelphia, where hoagies, cheesesteaks, and roast pork sandwiches.  My formative sandwich experience (I know this is a bit bizarre - people don't usually talk about formative sandwich experiences) was at the preeminent local sandwich shop in my hometown of Wayne, a place called John's Village Market.  They have an amazing Italian hoagie (still my favorite), which is the subject of today's blog post.

For those unfamiliar with a hoagie, it is a sandwich served on a long Italian roll and topped with cold cuts, vegetables, and cheese.  "Hoagie" is a regional term -- I pretty much only hear people from southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey use that name; elsewhere names like submarine sandwich, grinder, or hero can be used, though oftentimes these names have additional nuanced meanings.  In Philadelphia, the hoagie reigns supreme, and at the top of that pile is the Italian hoagie. 

An Italian hoagie is dressed with oil, sometimes oil and vinegar or a special house Italian dressing (but never, EVER, mayonnaise), loaded with Italian-style deli meats -- capicola, some sort of ham (I like pepper ham), and Genoa salami are nearly givens, while pepperoni, and occasionally mortadella and prosciutto are used -- and then topped with Provolone cheese, lettuce (romaine or Boston is the best, though iceberg is still used way too often), tomato, onion, and quite often pickled peppers (usually sweet, though you can get hot -- I always go sweet peppers).  Sometimes you get a shake of oregano or "spices" to top it off.  The bread is very important -- an Italian long roll (sometimes seeded) either makes or breaks the sandwich.  The result looks something like this:

An Italian hoagie from Dalessandro's (from
See how much stuff is in there?  That is important -- this is not some French baguette with one slice of cheese and one slice of meat artfully hidden within the bread.  The secret of the Italian hoagie is all the different textures and flavors mashed into a single sandwich that you can barely fit into your mouth -- but when you do it is an experience that really cannot be topped by any other sandwich.

I actually have not had Italian hoagies from very many different places, and I know I've missed some standouts in Philadelphia, but my top Italian hoagie list currently looks something like this:
  1. John's Village Market, Wayne: The meats they use on the hoagie are spicy like no other Italian hoagie I've had, and they are very generously sized.
  2. Salumeria, Reading Terminal Market: I only recently had their Italian hoagie, and it was fantastic.  They eschew the traditional pickled peppers for roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts, if you want them.  At the suggestion of a friend, I also had their prosciutto hoagie with the house dressing and artichoke hearts, and that may even be better!
  3. Paesano's, Philadelphia: Their Daddy Wad is a fancier Italian hoagie (mortadella, sopressata, and prosciutto, among others) topped with arugula instead of lettuce.  A great sandwich from Philly's best sandwich shop.
  4. A Cut Above Deli, Newtown Square: I mentioned this deli in a previous post about Ridley Creek, and they did not disappoint.  The hoagie is served on a seeded roll.
So there you go.  I'd love to hear about more places I should visit to have Italian hoagies -- Sarcone's is a glaring omission here and is definitely on the list.  If you've never had an Italian hoagie, you need to have one at least once -- but unless you find a place in the Philadelphia area or nearby New Jersey, it just isn't going to be the real thing.


  1. Lee's Italian Hoagie House used to be more prevalent but they still make a very solid hoagie. Honestly, 4 out of 5 mom and pop shops in the Philly area will serve you a delicious—if imperfect—hoagie. Most places will put any combination of oil, vinegar and mayo on at request.

    While the Italian Hoagie is clearly king, I'd say the Ham Hoagie is the queen of the cold sandwiches around here, and I've never had better than Claymont Steak Shop, just over the border in Delaware.

  2. Thanks for the tip about Claymont Steak Shop. I was hoping to go hiking in White Clay Creek State Park sometime, so I can probably take a little detour on the way back and try their ham hoagie.

  3. Living in New England, I've had Italian grinders and Italian subs, though I've avoided the Italian hero (his name was Alessandro). But I've never had the option of an Italian hoagie.

    Tell you what: Next time I visit relatives in the Philly area, and once I've gotten my cheesesteak fix, I'll reach for the Italian hoagie.

  4. @Nate -- I think Italian grinders and subs are quite similar in their ingredients. Having mainly had hoagies, my guess is that, if there is any difference, it might be in the proportion of ingredients, and perhaps the bread. I know that the Philly area has access to really nice Italian rolls, and these are absolutely crucial to a hoagie.

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  6. Hi Adrian .. it does look delicious .. way too much for me - but then a weekend lunch with a beer or lager in the garden and an open loaf topped with all your lovely goodies sounds just the ticket to share with friends .. cheers Hilary