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Oct 5, 2001 11:34 AM

What's in a name? Hoagies, Grinders, Wedges...

  • s

I'm looking for leads on a question that has intrigued me for quite a while -- namely, the origin and diversity of names for submarine sandwiches. And for that matter their significance -- do the different names actually refer to differences (either extant or historical) in the composition of the sandwich?

I first became interested in this when I was working in Putnam County, NY (just north of Westchester.) I noticed that the prevailing name for subs there seems to be "wedges." I have subsequently noticed this name in use in City Island, and so it presumably is used elsewhere in the Bronx as well. (Perhaps not coincidentally, many people in Putnam are transplants from the Bronx.) However, where I live in Orange County, which is only 15 miles or so from Putnam, the name wedge is not used.

There was a brief item in a food magazine recently -- I'll have to dig it out -- about this issue, and refering to an academic article on the topic.

Just a bit of chowhound trivia... Any tips or information will be appreciated -- thanks.

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  1. Well, you can probably find reams of stuff on this elsewhere on the Web.

    That being said, the names can have either visual, mechanical and/or linguistic roots. I would classify "wedge" as a visual/mechanical name to refer to how the stuffing gets and looks stuffed, as it were. "Grinder" is a New England term (unfortunately loosing out in recent years to the more generic "sub", but perhaps it will survive assimilation....), referring to the ground meat that was in the earliest versions, which were gyros. The NY "hero" is linguistically derived from the "gyro". "Hoagie" is Philly-speak, I believe, and this Bostonian cannot classify its origin.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Karl
      Mark DiBlasi

      Sorry, bro, but you're completely wrong about the origins of "hero" and "grinder". Neither of these sandwiches ever featured ground meat, and, in fact, "hero" was a phrase coined by Craig Claiborne's predecessor at the New York Times, who, back in the 1940's, said that "it would take a hero" to finish one of the huge Italian sandwiches at Manganaro's on 9th Avenue. Gyros didn't really proliferate until well in to the 1970's,and has nothing to do with the hero sandwich.

      1. re: Mark DiBlasi

        I stand corrected. thanks.

      2. re: Karl

        I too lived in Boston as a kid in the early 60's and we had both "subs" and "grinders" Subs were always cold sandwiches, and grinders were grilled and served hot. But,the terms may have changed over the years? Unlike the Phila. Hoagie where the tomatoes, onion, etc. are sliced, a Boston Sub always has the ingredients diced very fine. Chopped tomato, pickle, onion the size of pieces of rice, and chopped hot peppers, in that order(and never lettuce,mustard or mayo, only olive oil). Wedges seem to be a lower Westchester/Bronx thing that crept a bit north, but don't seem to be anywhere else in the country. I was first offered one in Yonkers when we moved from Boston,in 1965,and I didn't know what it was.

        1. re: Ted Matern

          You can still get grinders up in Vermont. They're served grilled and hot, with thinly sliced onions and shredded lettuce. Mmmm. I've never found them down in New York, however. Sure wish I could...anyone know of a place?

        2. re: Karl

          Hmm...there seem to be multiple Karls here...

          Here's a link to some additional information. Not much, but it's a start.


          1. re: Karl

            This is too appropriate! To have this come up in a thread called "What's in a name?" Yes, there are multiple Karls here, which is why just using a fairly common first name alone does not work as a useful moniker here. It is difficult to tell one Karl, or Mary, or even Deven, from another. Perhaps you, and all the other Karls out there, could either add a last name or come up with some other way of referring to your self. That way we can all get to know you for who YOU, not that other Karl, are.

        3. Grinders was the name in Providence in the 50's

          1. Mark has it right. Obviously a real man from a manly part of town. In my Bronx of the 1960's, it was a HERO and nobody would have had a clue if you called it anything else. WEDGE maybe could squeak by based on our affection for "The Wedge Inn" on Boston Post Road near the Westchester border. Case closed. Also, before the facelift of the storefront, Manganero's on 9th also went by (let's hear it Mark:) "HERO BOY". Make mine a roast beef and gimme a Yoo-Hoo) PS "Wedge Inn" not to be confused with the Hunt's Point strip club called "The Wedge" because of it's odd shape (not that I have any first hand knowledge of this den of inequity).

            3 Replies
            1. re: Big Ed

              Any guess where the line "sub" line geographically starts? West of the Hudson where--presumably--civilization ends? :)

              1. re: Big Ed
                Caitlin McGrath

                I'm not nitpicking in the least, but I got a laugh from your unintentional play-on-words-via-typo calling the strip club a den of inequity, rather than iniquity.

                1. re: Big Ed

                  The Wedge Inn . Boy do i remember that place . the best hero ever .

                2. j
                  Jason Perlow

                  I've only heard it referred to as a "wedge" in NY pizza places, specifically when asking for "Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana on a wedge". A meatball sandwich I've always heard referred to as a "Meatball sub" and cold cuts/salumi combinations as "italian subs".

                  In New England "grinder" is the preferred term, however strange as it may seem, many entymolygists and food anthropologists beleive "sub" or "submarine sandwich" originates from the submarine constuction yards in Connecticut in WWII, where the dock workers and construction teams would buy large sandwiches that would feed them for the day -- the fact that the sandwich looks like a sub is coincidental.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Jason Perlow

                    Wedge is standard in Westchester County and even in parts of Fairfield County as well.

                  2. As far as I can tell, "grinder" still prevails throughout western MA and CT, whether the sandwich is hot or cold. I grew up in the New Haven area, and the occasional use of that term here in Boston always reminds me of home.