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Constructing an Italian Sandwich

I'm going to sound like an old fogie but here goes ....

When I was young an Italian Sandwich had all the toppings (along with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano) nestled BETWEEN the cold cuts and the bread. Some times the cold cut rounds were cut in half, so they'd fit better, The cut edge of the bread sort of held the diced tomatoes, etc, in place and absorbed a bit of the 'juice'. The sandwiches weren't meant to travel far, perhaps a quick trip for the shop to home .... if you carried them too long they got mushy.

NOW ... it seams no matter where I go, they slice the sub roll, lay the full circles of meat and cheese across the roll and then put the toppings on the coldcuts, so when they close it up, the toppings are surrounded by cold cuts and they slide out when you bite into it. And the juice pours out and makes a mess. I guess they are good for the "long haul" but they're no fun to eat.

Even on a braided roll, the top is rarely separated from teh bottom, it's side-sliced (like a non-New England style hotdog roll) and the toppings are cradled by the cold cuts.

It doesn't matter how high quality the bread and fillings are, if they all fall out, in my opinion it's NOT a good sandwich!!!

Am I the only one who feels this way? Can somebody tell me where to get a sandwich made the "old fashioned" way?


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  1. was the roll maybe scooped out a little like VN Banh Mi? and the roll softer? I hate things served on a kaiser for this reason. personally I think the oil and vinegar needs to be near the bread to absorb and don't mind mushy one bit.

    1. Gosh, thanks for this. Totally on your bandwagon. The vast majority of any kind of place slinging subs take little to no care in construction. It's just a total afterthought, if that. My friends think I'm OCD, but I think the whole world basically has absolutely no idea how a sandwich ought to be constructed. This is practically the most important part fer crying out loud and nobody cares ! /rant

      1 Reply
      1. re: Nab

        Right there with you. The bread->meat->toppings construction leads to the tragedy of topping slippage and is unsatisfying to eat. It's a broader sandwich construction issue, I think, not just italian subs - lots of places don't realize that the purpose of the *spread* (mustard, mayo, whatever - of course I'm talking about a turkey sub here, not an italian sandwich) is to hold the toppings in place, not to sit idly next to the meat. I do wonder if it is a regional thing - I grew up in NY and went to school near Philly and never encountered this issue until I moved to Boston.

        One place that *may* do it right - though I haven't been for a while and haven't had a sandwich there where this would be an issue - is Domenic's Paninoteca in Waltham. They use their own (fantastic) ciabatta rolls, which are flatter and more suited to a proper construction anyway, so I'd say they have potential.

      2. I understand and share your obsession, however I disagree with your construction preference. And it's likely the way each of us was introduced to it. To me, the colorful array of diced pickles, onions, tomatoes, hots, olive oil & oregano are visually appealing where I can see them, in the middle, on top of the salami slices. Then that fresh combination of flavors is the first to hit your tongue. There's an art to eating the sub so you retain most of the innards, the head tilt, etc. But if you really prefer it your way, can't you just ask them to put that stuff on the bottom? I don't see why that would be a problem. Gawd, now you have me craving an Italian.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Niblet

          Thanks to all for the responses. It's nice to know I'm not alone ....

          Niblet, I agree with the visual you present. For some reason a lot of places construct tuna subs with the 'toppings' on the bottom. Does that make them 'bottomings' rather than 'toppings'?

          My preferred Italian subs will show the toppings, think of it this way ... open the sub roll, put the coldcuts on one side (if you slice them in half so they aren't folded, and put the straight side to the middle of the sandwich, you'll get a nice 'scalloped' edge, and then put the toppings on the other side and close .... voila! toppings visible and nestled between the bread and the coldcuts.

          1. re: SPBoston

            You might like the version at J Pace & Sons near the old Martignetti's in the North End.

            1. re: Niblet

              I do like J. Pace's Italian sub. I think the meat there wraps halfway around to the top part of the bread so that there is at least partial contact of the oil/vinegar-soaked veggies with the bread itself.

        2. Folks, SPBoston is looking for a place to find this type of sandwich in Boston, so we'd ask everyone to keep general conversation about what an ideal Italian sandwich should be over on the General Chowhounding Topics board (feel free to start a new thread there) and focus here on where to find this kind of sandwich locally. Thanks!

          1. YES ... The Italiano @ Casa Razdora is made old school .... Mortadella, Soppressata, Genoa Salami, Provolone, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Pickles, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Hot Peppers ... The coldcuts are sliced to order and the bread is homemade ... it is on 115 Water Street in the financial district. You will not be disappointed !

            Casa Razdora
            115 Water St, Boston, MA 02109

            1. SPB, The sandwich you're talking about is not really "Italian", but Italian/American. That being said (and this is for "Nab" also), I really like the sandwiches at "Bo-Tes Imports" (they really care) in Norwell, and now available in their new store in Duxbury. It's all about "balance", and they do this right. They have a sub if you want it, but I always ask for the daily recommendation/special. They do several versions of Italian sandwiches and paninis. Always very fresh and always delicious. I know it's a little out of Boston, but well worth the drive.

              9 Replies
              1. re: CocoDan

                Glad to see that I am not the only one obsessed with sandwich construction. Its amazing that people who make sandwiches for a living are the worst sandwich makers ever. Its as if they have made so many sandwiches that they couldn't give a rats ass how its thrown together anymore.

                My biggest pet peeve with sandwich making is when they seperate the vegetables so the layers end up going bread, condiment. onion, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and bread. Why should the onions be ostricized like that? Or on an italian, they put the oil and vinegar on the meat side of the bread and not on the veggie side.

                I like a lot of veggies on my sandwiches - getting sandwich makers to understand this is almost impossible and if they are making it in front of me, I have to say three or four times "more lettuce please". Kind of like Anna's with the salsa.

                Another pet peeve of mine is when they attempt to cut the sandwich/sub in half after its made - they rarely cut through the whole way, so when you try to pull it apart, the sandwich starts to fall apart and spill its contents. Especially frustrating when trying to drive. :-)

                I miss the italian subs I used to get growing up in upstate NY where all the veggies were thinly sliced on a meat slicer - most place here seem to chop the veggies and/ or give whole pieces of lettuce - its just not as good that way as it becomes a mess of gloppy toppings instead of layers.

                And I prefer for the sub roll to be sliced all the way through so they can lay down the meat and veggies in evenly distributed layers. When they leave one edge uncut, the meat gets all bunched up on the uncut side and the veggies get pushed towards the cut side when they fold it so you end up eating it like a taco and have to take two bites each time to get even distribution of meat and veggies.

                  1. re: Niblet

                    Yeah, its that leafy green stuff that 99% of sub lovers actually like on their sandwiches.

                    But I can see with your use of a foreign language to denote your disgust, that you're just too good for the stuff. Its a good thing we live in a land that we can decide for ourselves what we prefer on our own sandwiches.

                    1. re: LStaff

                      Well your statistics certainly trump my tongue-in-cheek exclamation. But enjoy it however you like, it's no skin off my nose.

                      1. re: LStaff

                        I have never had or asked for lettuce on my Italian sub. I respectfully think your 99% is slightly off the mark.

                        1. re: LStaff

                          lettuce? lettuce? there's no lettuce in an authentic Italian sub! Now go confess your sins to Fr Tony!

                          I still think that Tutto Italiano in Hyde Park does the best. Quality ingredients sliced to order of perfect bread, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Thinly sliced tomato and onion, hot pepper, evoo, a sprinkle of oregano, imported provolone. . . damn my high blood pressure!

                          1. re: Bellachefa

                            I had an Italian from the Tutto Italiano in Wellesley yesterday and it had lettuce on it. Didn't ask for it but didn't specify not to put it on, either. In any case, it was delicious!

                            1. re: kt1969

                              well then, I have lettuce on my face - I do so love their procsuitto and fresh mozz basil sandwich almost as much!

                          2. re: LStaff

                            Lstaff probably should never go to Giuseppe's in Nonantum, where a giant cardboard head of iceberg with a red slash through it is prominently displayed next to the menu. Not liking lettuce on subs is more prevalent than you might think.

                    2. I bet if you ask any sandwich maker to just fold the meat over, so covering just the bottom half of the bread, you will get closer to what you are looking for.

                      1. For the sake of research, I tried an Italian at Bob's in Medford today. (Actually it was soprassata and provalone but same difference). I ordered it with everything, no lettuce, and that meant sliced red onion, chopped tomatoes, pickles, hots, oregano and oil and vinegar. It's a mighty fine sandwich, but the construction issue you describe was (partially) on display. While the meat and cheese did not cover over the whole sub roll, the toppings were placed atop the meat and so when folded back together, the toppings were mostly inside the meat and not touching the bread. However the oil and vinegar did manage to soak through to get to the bread and that was my favorite part.

                        Pictures below:

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: yumyum

                          Love Bob's just like the rest of us, but that right there is what gives me nightmares worse than being stuck in a cat-hoarders house.

                          1. re: yumyum

                            Now that is some fine research right there. And the spillage is plainly observable. Although obviously the problem will be deemed the central veggie placement, I personally (and I realize I'm standing alone here) don't mind that so much as that the veggie slices are too large; I think they should be uniformly diced. Also the ratio is off, there are too many peppers and red (I have an issue with that too, they should be white) onions. I don't see pickles, and possibly only a small slice of tomato. Ratio is paramount in a great sub. It still looks tasty though.

                            1. re: Niblet

                              Oh, I managed *somehow* to get it down. ;-) And truth be told I don't have the same kind of OCD about the construction as the other nutters on this thread. Good point on the ratio, though. Balance is key.

                              I find that taking care to assemble a sandwich seems to be a dying art but I wouldn't say that the guys at Bob's don't care. They simply do it differently. I really liked the red onions and the pickles. I like that "everything" assumes the oregano shake and oil/vinegar. I like that they slice the meats to order. All told, it was a fantastic sub, if a pain to eat.

                            2. re: yumyum

                              What I remember from times past is the oil/vinegar and seasoning going on the bread itself, but still having the filling inside the meat. Near Bob's Sessa's might be a better option for what the OP is looking for. They cut the meats to order and take their time assembling it. I believe they have a seeded bun option which maybe halved but cold cuts are normally whole. Maria's Cold Cuts could be even better but I haven't been there since they moved to Teele. At Sessa's you can certainly tell them how you want it prepared as they are making it, but the Italian owner (except for the charbroiler cook the sandwich people at Bob's are Brazilians) reserves the right to respond in his own way -- which he probably will and perhaps at length if you seem too pedantic (the remaining daughter or other employee won't). Another Somerville option which cuts the meats to order is Johnnie's Foodmaster on Rt 16 and they are very customer friendly. Won't be the best sub you ever ate (house bread, some what sloppy toppings), but they use beano, its fresh, and they are very willing to please.

                              I ended up somewhere today that I had planned to try for a while and noticed some cold cuts cut in half, but the owner was more than a bit distracted and bread was a travesty -- definately not what the OP was looking for, but their chicken parm was cheap and tasty.

                              414 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02144

                              Johnnie's Foodmaster
                              45 Beacon St, Somerville, MA 02143

                              1. re: yumyum

                                So I got an Italian with everything at Bob's today, the small one on a Portuguese roll (cannot fathom finishing a bigger one). Layers of folded meats and cheese on the bottom, toppings on top (no lettuce). Nice degree of soakage give how fast I wolfed it. Maybe it depends on who's making it.

                              2. Now I have to admit that this never occurred to me - I had plenty of subs growing up (and it was a zillion years ago, too), but never noticed how they were made. Just that they were delicious. But then again, I was too young to care (back then - still young - ahem - and I really care now, haha).

                                But don't get me started on the monopoly of Boar's Head cold cuts. It's not that they aren't tasty - they might be fine [edited to add: I don't buy them. Too expensive & it just #$@#s me off so much I refuse to buy them. End of rant. Sort of]. It's just that now it's almost impossible to find any other brand cold cuts, except for some small shops (and the Russian grocery store on Broad St. in Lynn has a huge variety of interesting imported cold cuts). It's just that I despise monopolies - this started w/Stop & Shop, when they decided to sell ONLY Boar's Head. The gastronomic equivalent of the dominance of HP products in stores (yeah, another monopoly, in my view - resolved by Amazon, however).

                                Makes me so mad!!

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: threedogs

                                  You know Shaws and Star Market and BJs and many other places DON'T carry Boars Head cold cuts, right? In fact, I can't think off the top of my head of anyplace other than Stop and Shop and a couple of neighborhood delis that do carry them.

                                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                    But can you think of any place that DOES sell Boar's Head - along with a selection of competitors, right along side them?

                                    Right now I live in Watertown, (which seems to be a food-mecca for a Chowhound) and have a huge choice of places to shop. If I wanted to go to Shaw's or Star (same store, btw), I could get over there with a short bus ride, or even shorter ride in the car.

                                    But many times I lived in different areas where the choice wasn't that easy. And that's the thing - many, many people live in different areas where there is only one store to do their grocery shopping. Many people can't afford to drive all over the place to find a few items.

                                    Now I realize that cold cuts aren't something that are essential for anyone. In fact, they are probably at the bottom of possible healthy choices to eat. But when a company comes along and decides to strong-arm a store into selling their product - and ONLY their product - well, even the (old school who aren't even around anymore) ol' North Enders didn't do THAT.

                                    THAT'S what makes me so angry.

                                    1. re: threedogs

                                      "But can you think of any place that DOES sell Boar's Head - along with a selection of competitors, right along side them?"

                                      No, because Boars Head requires exclusivity contracts. (Same reason why you can't walk into a fast food place that has both Coke AND Pepsi products.) BUT, if that's what you're pissed off about, then you're pissed off at the wrong people. Boars Head did not walk into Stop and Shop's main office and hold a gun to the head of the VP in charge of deli operations and force him to sign their contract. There was no strong-arming there.

                                      To put it in the simplest, most reductive terms, this is what happened: Stop and Shop decided it was in their best interest as a company to sign an exclusivity agreement with Boars Head to provide their deli meats and cheeses. (Why did they do this? Because Boars Head offered them the best profit margin with the exclusivity agreement.) If, for whatever reason, it stopped being in S&S best interest to carry Boars Head -- that is, if another deli meat distributor offered them even better terms -- then BH would be out of S&S stores next week.

                                      In other words, the people you should be pissed off at are Stop and Shop, not Boars Head.

                                      Incidentally, I'm well aware that Shaws and Star are the same company, but at least for the moment, they still have stores under both names. Therefore, I mentioned both names.

                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                        I never said (at least I don't think I did - another old fogie here) that I was pissed off just at Boar's Head. I think I said that it just pissed me off - yeah, I'll go w/that, then, I'll be mad at S & S. Fine.

                                        And of course they (S & S, or any business for that matter) can & should make profitable choices (*legal of course) on their end.

                                        I can also NOT shop there, which I seldom do, as I already mentioned. I feel very fortunate that I, for one, live in an area where I have a choice, as food is way too important for me!

                                        But I hope you're not taking this way out of context (esp. since I didn't explain in my first post) - by me saying I'm pissed off about this doesn't mean it's a real, big important part of my life - it's annoying, and, if I can afford it, I'll shop places that have a good selection instead of one brand.

                                        That's all. And that's for the one or two times a year I might buy cold cuts.

                                        1. re: threedogs

                                          That's fine. It's just that you equated Boars Head with the Mafia in your initial post, which seemed over the top considering there is absolutely nothing illegal or unethical about exclusivity contracts.

                                          1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                            Well, that's my bad, then - didn't mean what they were doing was illegal. Just my form of ... poetry, lol.

                                            It is a rather unique (at least fr my non-business viewpoint) stance for a company to take, though - can't think of any *other* food item where the company says, well, we'll give you a good price, but you can't sell any competitors here. I mean (the Roche Bros seem to back me up in this presumption I have on how they do business), at least I never heard of any...

                                            (also want to say that I, nor my family, nor any of my friends, are not associated with, nor ever have been - nor want to be associated with - any grocery store, cold cut emporium, sandwich shop or Italian import company [wouldn't mind being a sampler in the latter, tho]. It's just me here, my kids, and my two remaining canine sidekicks...)

                                            1. re: threedogs

                                              Actually, food companies regularly pay to get placed on the best shelves -- that is, at eye level or on the endcaps -- in supermarkets. They're called shelf fees or slotting fees. One of the supermarket's best revenue streams, in fact.

                                  2. re: threedogs

                                    Three dogs -- check out Karl's Sausage kitchen on Rte 1 Saugus. They make their own. Not much selection in the Italian arena (but they do have genoa salami) but an excellent stick bologna and a huge variety of ham.

                                    There's a few small shops near me that sell Boar's Head, but interestingly they also sell Kayem Boloney ... the Boar's Head just tastes wrong.

                                    1. re: SPBoston

                                      You know, I've been meaning to check out Karl's for so very long. I lived not too far away for such a long time, too - when I'm in the area, I am DEF going to stop in. Didn't realize that they make their own cold cuts - sausages, I figured (and I bet both are incredible).

                                      I usually don't eat any kind of bologna, though, and now that I'm trying to lose, I'm actually keeping away from ALL cold cuts. But my weakness is really good Italian salami - esp love capicola. And, true to this thread - a great Italian sub. Love them just as the OP describes, but also any other way, if the ingredients are terrific to begin with.

                                    2. re: threedogs

                                      I shop primarily at Roche Bros. They used to carry Boar's Head but then, last fall, I think, they had a sign up stating that Boar's Head demanded that Roche's exclusively carry Boar's Head and no other products. Roche Bros. does their own line and carries some other lines so they declined and now no longer carry Boar's Head. This might be why you are seeing only Boar's Head at Stop & Shop-- maybe they caved to Boar's Head demand.

                                      1. re: bostondiner

                                        Woo-hoo & a big hooray for Roche Bros!! That's exactly what I'm talking about.

                                      2. re: threedogs

                                        Where it comes to supermarkets Johnnie's Foodmaster carries Dietz and Watson (better than Boar's Head) and some DeMoula's carry Columbus Salame Company so there are supermarkets trying to stock something more interesting. There are also plenty of ethnic alternatives as you mentioned: Arthur's in Chelsea for Corned Beef/Pastrami from NYC, Courthouse Seafood carries a local Portuguese Presunto (unfortunately only by the piece), Karl's for their own meats, there are Italian cold cut places (Maria's in Somerville, Cold-Cut Factory in Everett, etc) which carry more of a variety and no Boar's head.

                                        Cold-Cut Factory
                                        533 Ferry St, Everett, MA 02149

                                        Johnnie's Foodmaster
                                        45 Beacon St, Somerville, MA 02143

                                        1. re: itaunas

                                          This reminds me - every time I happen to be in Chelsea, I end up not having the address of Arthur's with me! Happened a few months ago - asked a few people but they had NO idea. Going to look it up right now & put it in my purse - so\ next time I won't be swearing to myself! Still haven't been there yet...

                                          We have an awesome amount of independent places to buy foods here in this area. I can't even describe what it was like to spend 2 1/2 years in Tucson ... (like... living in a desert? bad joke - but true in so many ways.. sorry Tucson, but you have NOTHING for a Chowhound out there).

                                          I used to live in Malden - but the Cold-Cut Factory must be new (that is, new for this oldie). Never heard of it. Looked it up - sounds like it might be really good. And yeah, no Italian in his/her right mind would use Boar's Head (IMNSO). Esp. when it means taking orders from THEM (to only carry their brand), lol.

                                          Cold-Cut Factory
                                          533 Ferry St, Everett, MA 02149

                                      3. I had a great Italian sub at the Meat Spot in Watertown. Now, I can't say that I was paying as close attention to the sandwich construction as I will after reading this thread, but the toppings were definitely not wrapped in the meat and nothing slid out.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Pia

                                          Too close to me. Too tempting. Just ate out & I have to conserve the calories!! (very tempting...)

                                        2. The wikipedia article for Spuckie contains some interesting info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spuckie

                                          "Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti's Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crust roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer of cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy)"

                                          1. Could it also be a factor of poor bread choice? And I don’t mean flavor or consistency, I’m talking width. Some of the finest subs layered in veggies and oil can stay together on sub roll of the proper width for the topping it is supposed to hold. For today’s gigantic (I’m not complaining) subs, they need a good solid sub roll of sufficient width….