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What makes a hoagie a hoagie?

I know traditionally Hoagie is simply the Philly name for a sandwich (basically an Italian hero). I know it's a regional name, but as a NYer who has had Italian combo sandwiches in a few states and areas, there is something taste specific to a hoagie. I have family from Philly and we recently got a hoagie (it was called this on the wrapping) at Wegman's in Ithaca, NY. Tasted just like a true Philly hoagie.

Any ideas what gives it the distinct taste?

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  1. This argument could go on forever, but for me first and foremost is the bread, then lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, hot or sweet, oregano, oil, maybe vinegar. Meats can vary but should be top level, preferably Italian, not Boar's Head or anything like it. l use dried coppa and aged prov on mine, or even Italian tuna in oil. IMVHO, l would say that maybe 30% of hoagies around Philadelphia are good or better,again mainly due to the quality of the bread and the provenance of the meat. My particular fav is from Cosmi's in South Philadelphia.

    Please forgive my prejudices, but Wegman's, l think not.

    14 Replies
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      You can have a great hoagie with meats worse than Boar's Head... I'm thinking like a Jersey Shore hoagie, great bread, crappy meats, but still delicious. In general, better quality meats of course make a better quality hoagie though.

      Some qualifying factors to me: bread not cut all the way through, meat not rolled/frilly like you see in deli meat ads, cheese usually put on the bottom, mayo not included on the Italian varieties unless requested, and like you said, hot and sweet peppers available--NOT the neon green banana peppers, but pickled cherry peppers.

      Now I want a hoagie.

      1. re: barryg

        As l never thought of mayo, thanks for bringing it up, it is huge.

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          I agree, no Mayo ever on an Italian combo, hoagie, wedge!

        2. re: barryg

          Really great list. A couple of other things I have noticed, comparing it to the sandwiches that I grew up with outside NYC (ours were wedges... ). Philly always seems to pile the lettuce and tomato on top, and there is always oregano put on, regardless of whether its an italian, american or tuna hoagie. Also often the oil is put on at the end, rather in the beginning on the bread. And vinegar seems more the exception rather than the rule around here.

          I had never noticed the cheese order. Thats interesting. Wonder if there is a reason..

          1. re: cwdonald

            Not all places do the cheese first but most do. Something about the way the cheese combines with the bread makes for a better taste. I think it's important.

            1. re: barryg

              Guess l am not as observant as l thought, never saw it done any other way. OTOH, l think Chickie's adds cheese after vegetables on veggy hoagie, not to any detriment either.

              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                They do put a more shredded/crumbled cheese on top. I think they may only do that for the sharp prov, where it's hard to get a clean slice. I was thinking about putting sharp prov as an exception to this rule.

                1. re: barryg

                  l think they put the sharp prov through a meat grinder.

          2. re: barryg

            Not to knock Jersey, but I had hoagies in Point Pleasant and LBI. They were awful.

          3. re: Delucacheesemonger

            I find it interesting that you said the key is the bread. One of the keys to good bread is the water that is used and as a NYer, I can say there are few places in the country that have worse water than Philly. My father referred to it as Schuylkill Punch growing up. While I've been to Philly numerous times, I don't ever, and I mean ever, remember having bread that comes close to the breads made in the Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, even Westchester County. I'm not saying you're wrong, just saying I wonder where the bread is imported from.

            Also, it's rare these days to find a deli that doesn't deal with Boar's Head, but I will say, I am in full agreement with you. Boar's Head cold cuts are absolute crap. Always have been.

            Lastly, I wasn't comparing the overall greatness of the hoagie at Wegman's, but the general taste was true Philly hoagie. And you'd be surprised by what some supermarkets do these days. The single best Vodka sauce and Chicken Salad I ever had was from Turco's.

            1. re: jhopp217

              In the philadelphia area, boar's head is the outsider. Most delis deal with one supplier. Dietz and Watson and thumans are the dominant brands in the philadelphia area.

              I do think you have missed out on the better bakeries in the philadelphia area. To start with Sarcones is a great bakery. There are others as well. And some of the delis actually make their own bread.

              With regard to water, any good bakery can treat water to get it to be better for baking. That's trivial.

              And your comment about LBI or Point Pleasant. There are bad delis everywhere. The Jersey shore is rife with over priced places that serve horrible food. On the other hand there are some decent places as well. The White House gets a lot of good pub.

              1. re: cwdonald

                I thought Boar's head was pretty much a nationwide source of cold cuts. D&W is much better. I don't pretend to know Philly's bakeries at all.

                Water - trivial? Wow, tell that to the thousands and thousands of pizzerias across the country that import NY water in an effort to match NY pizza. Its far from trivial for good bread, it's essential.

                1. re: jhopp217

                  They are wasting their money. You can replicate water easily. Ask anyone that makes beer. And we have a place here in Philadelphia that is importing water from Naples. Its marketing BS.

              2. re: jhopp217

                As much of a "local" girl that I am, and as much as I ADORE the bread from Sarcones, jhopp has a point about the bread
                the BEST bread EVER is from a bakery in Brooklyn (I think it'sVilla Abate) my cousins used to bring it down when coming to visit... I could eat a whole loaf of the braided bread with sesame seeds on it

            2. I remembered seeing a somewhat recent discussion on this topic and a quick search came up with these.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/763574
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/764900

              1. Agree with Deluca cheese monger.

                Something not usually mentioned: in a hoagie the loaf is sliced almost but not quite in half so there is a "hinge". They lay the loaf open, then lay on the cheese first, then the meats, then the veg. The wet stuff is therefore not touching the bread.

                On a Sub - which reminds me of substandard - the roll is sliced in half and the top part lies on the wet veg.

                1. If it's not on great bread, loaded up with lots of VEREY THINLY sliced ITALIAN meats and provolone, drizzled with olive oil... it AIN't a hoagie... imnsho!?! A tuna "hoagie" is just tuna salad in a long roll... same for an "American"... just a ham & cheese sandwich in a roll. Absolutely NO vinegar or mayo!!

                  I grew up in SE PA and recommend Dicostanza's (in Marcus Hook) and Phil & Jim's in Parkside. Used to be a place called Wojie's in Brookhaven... understand guy moved out to ARizona or Nevada and made a killing making REAL hoagies... with the GOOD rolls shipped in every day.