Editor's Note: Fearless sandwich eaters Hawk Krall and Caroline Russock decided to take on this hefty project (hopefully you two aren't regretting it now!). For the next few weeks, they'll be tackling Philadelphia's sandwich scene, from the classic cheesesteaks to the roast porks to the cold cuts. They'll be sharing the finger-licking favorites here. Let's get the ball rolling with this roundup of 10 of the best Philadelphia Hoagies You Should Eat.
Everyone knows Philadelphia for its awesomely gooey cheesesteaks but until recently the full scale of the city's sandwich greatness wasn't getting nearly as much recognition. There are a whole host of incredible sandwiches to be had in Philly.* Delicious Italian roast pork sandwiches dripping with pork juice, provolone and braised greens. Or the thin pounded, breaded and fried chicken and veal cutlets, piled high with freshly made mozzarella, broccoli rabe and even prosciutto.
And of course, our famous hoagies loaded with every imaginable combination of cold cuts, topped with roasted or fried long-hots (long, skinny, medium-hot peppers), pepper shooters (pickled cherry peppers stuffed with provolone and/or prosciutto) or finely chopped hot pepper relish.
* And in this list, we had to squeeze in one from New Jersey!
Origins of the term "hoagie" (and the sandwich itself) are disputed, the most common being that the sandwich was popular with Italians working at the city's Hog Island shipyard in the early 1900s. Other explanations involve street vendors known as "hokey-pokey men" and various derogatory terms for immigrants and vagrants. Philadelphians believe the hoagie is its own beast, with almost nothing to do with subs, heroes, grinders, torpedoes, or any other regional variation of a sandwich served on a long roll. The basic elements are similar but several details put the hoagie in a class of its own.
The biggest difference between the hoagie and "cold cuts on a long roll" from any other part of the county is the bread. The best hoagies in Philly come from delis that use bread delivered daily from a local bakery. When the bread runs out, no more sandwiches, or they'll hesitantly offer to make you the same sandwich on a lesser kaiser or steak roll.
The best cheesesteak joints also follow the same code. At some neighborhood markets, you actually pull the bread out of the paper bakery bag yourself and hand it to the deli man, probably very similar to how the first hoagies were born.
And what about mayonnaise? Well, if you want the authentic real deal Italian hoagie experience, no way, stick with olive oil, hot pepper product and maybe some dried oregano. But mayo is perfectly acceptable (and delicious) on pretty much everything else: turkey and swiss, bologna and American cheese, cheesesteak hoagies (an amazing combination of hot steak and cheese with cold crisp lettuce, tomato and onion, that we'll get to in the next roundup)—most of which are available at even the most authentic neighborhood delis.
The most legit, "old-style" hoagies are built on crusty seeded Italian bread, most often from Sarcone's or Liscio's. But you'll also find really good hoagies on softer long rolls, Del Buono's bakery in Jersey making some of the best we've ever had.
Lesser hoagies from pizzerias, lunch counters, and convenience store chains often use softer, pre-packaged rolls that have a tendency to fall apart under the weight of their fillings. They're passable if you're hungry but not a great introduction to the genre, and sort of sad to eat in a city full of so many great hoagie places.
* And one in the Jerz!
The Hoagie Map
View 10 Hoagies in Philly We Love in a larger map
The 10 Hoagie Spots
About the authors:
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.
You already know Caroline Russock from all her Cook the Book, Bake the Book, and Drink the Book recipes each week. After attending Pratt Institute with a focus on fine arts, Caroline worked in restaurants everywhere from San Diego to Sicily.