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In Search of the Great Philly Hoagie
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Call it what you may: Sub, Submarine sandwich, Italian Sandwich, Hero, Torpedo, Zeppelin or Grinder, there is something unique and special about the Philadelphia (or Philly) Hoagie.  Some of it has to do with the type and freshness of the bread, or with the quality of the meats and cheeses or the type and quality of the oil and condiments. But the properly assembled combination, while reproducible throughout the Delaware Valley, is difficult to obtain outside of the region.
 
HoagiesThe Hoagie, a form of the submarine sandwich (or sub), is unique to the Philadelphia / Delaware Valley area.  It generally consists of an elongated roll (called a "hoagie roll", similar to a baguette), oil (olive is best), vinegar, cheese, lettuce (shredded/sliced), tomato, onion (sweet, thinly sliced, not just any kind, usually Italian, Vidalia or similar), sweet or hot peppers, oregano, mayonnaise (although purists only accept olive oil for the standard hoagie) and a selection of cold luncheon meats. In many areas the default cheese on a hoagie is Provolone, while in others it is white American cheese. Cheese-only hoagies (Provolone, American, or Mixed) replace the meat with extra slices of cheese.  (source: Wikipedia)
  
The traditional history of the term "hoagie" places it's origins on the Hog Island shipyard, in the Delaware River where during WW I the workers of Italian background brought sandwiches that became known as "hoggies" and later "hoagies" after WW II.  However, there are several other unrelated versions.  Some of them seem to me more believable than others -- but, they could have happened simultaneously and independent of each other, so I suspect there may some element of truth in several of them.
 
The use of "hoagie" is common throughout the Philadelphia Metro / Delaware Valley area, but outside of the city, it is also common to use "sub".  And you will encounter many Sub Shops.  That was my experience growing up in the Delaware Valley. The local town had a Sub Shop which made great subs (i.e., hoagies).   At school, we would have "Hoagie Days" due in part I suspect to the influence of Philadelphia, where some of the food suppliers and menu preparers were headquartered or originated. 
 
If you go into an establishment that sells hoagies and order a sub, they will have no problem with your request (and vice versa).  Well..., in some areas you may get a dirty look, but they will know what you mean.  However, do not use any other term as they will either not understand what you want or, if you order a grinder for example, you will get your hoagie oven roasted or toasted in a broiler (which is also called a cosmo in some areas). 

The main variation of the hoagie is the type of meat(s) that are included. Almost all hoagie (and sub) shops have on their standard menus:

Ingredients usually include lettuce, cheese (default depends on establishment - either white American or provolone), tomato, onion, with optional dill pickles and hot or sweet pepper rings or hot pepper seed. Condiments can include salt, pepper, oregano or Italian seasoning, oil, vinegar, mustard, and mayonnaise.  [Note: When placing the order, you will usually have the option to specify whether you want to add or subtract (hold) specific ingredients. If not offered the opportunity to specify, don't hesitate to take the initiative and specify your preferences.]  You also may have option to have meats prepared either hot or cold.
TIP: If you order a hoagie that you will not be able to eat right away, have them hold the tomatoes, oil, and vinegar.  You can have them placed in a separate container(s).  Then when you are ready to eat, just add the items or substitute your preferences.  That will keep the hoagie bread from getting too soggy prior to eating

Hoagies prepared in an Italian establishment are normally with olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar.  They sprinkle the bread first, then may spray on more after adding the main ingredients, but sometimes before adding the final seasonings. Many local deli's and sub shops may use a vegetable oil (often soybean or a mixture of soybean with 10% olive oil for flavor) and a generic vinegar.   I believe olive oil with a red wine or balsamic vinegar provides better flavor and enhances flavor combinations best.  Oregano, or Italian seasoning which includes oregano, is one of the keys to the aroma and taste of a true hoagie.

While the cheesesteak is the most well known Philly food; from my experience, the hoagie is consumed in equal or greater numbers due to it's many variations and since it is almost always eaten cold -- so it can last longer before being eaten.

It's difficult determining who makes the best hoagie, as it is so subjective.  However, below are some links to at least identify several that most people agree make a great hoagie.  An easy rule of thumb in the Delaware Valley, especially South Jersey, is if it's available in an Italian Pizzeria or Deli, then you will almost always get a good hoagie. If it's a "Sub" Shop, your chances are also good that you will get a decent hoagie (Sub).

References for advanced research and study of the Hoagie:
Holly Eats - Eating In Philadelphia - Good Food. Cheap.  The Best Hoagies and other Philly foods.
Wikipedia - Hoagie
Campo's Deli - hoagies shipped direct to your door
Primo Hoagies - Voted best in 2004 by Philly Style Magazine
What's Cooking America - History of Hoagie, Sub and more.
Dietz and Watson - Deli Meats and Cheeses - used by many of the better Hoagie establishments. Philadelphia based.
Sarcone's Bakery - Rolls used by many Hoagie establishment in Philly area.
Amoroso's Bakery - Used by many Hoagie establishments in Delaware Valley area.


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