All Hail the Hoagie
We take them for granted, these overgrown sandwiches, these irreplaceable vessels of flavor, brimming with crunch and heft and oregano. But whether it’s a $5 Italian from down the block or one served in a dimly lit private dining room at one of our city’s finest restaurants, all hoagies have this in common: They’re ours. — Edited by Bradford Pearson
“Dad, what’s a hoagie?”
My six-year-old asked me that a few months ago while sitting at the dinner table. The impetus for the question was only tangentially culinary — her teacher had accused a tween of smelling “like a hoagie” — but it sent my mind spinning: How does my daughter not know what a hoagie is? A bright, precocious child, with a mind and mouth totally devoid of hoagies.
She’s plowed through Cristina Martinez’s lamb barbacoa and bellied up to steaming bowls of pho on Washington Avenue. She has a favorite cheesesteak order — Gooey Looie’s, ketchup/no onions, with an Arizona green tea and barbecue chips on the side. How has she not experienced the wonders of a hoagie?
The answer, I realized, was simple: We all take hoagies for granted. They’re overshadowed, and underglorified. (The Sunday Night Football crew isn’t showing hoagies as they cut to commercial.) And yet they’re always there. If you have a few bucks and an appetite, a hoagie can soon be yours.
The overstuffed, piled-high guide that follows is an attempt to rectify this slight. They’re a pure hoagie celebration. No cutlets. No parms. No banh mi. All of those are delicious and worthy of their own glossy packages, but this ain’t it. This one’s for the cold cuts, and the shredded lettuce that falls onto the butcher paper after your first bite. This one’s for seeded and unseeded, with a dash of oregano. This one’s for this town’s overlooked culinary cornerstone, the one whose name will be debated and chewed over but is most certainly Philadelphian in origin.
As I packed my daughter’s lunch the morning after our hoagie conversation, I looked through the fridge to see what she might like. There was a little chickpea curry, some collard greens with black-eyed peas. … Instead, I grabbed a leftover hunk of a DiCostanza’s hoagie, wrapped it up, and shoved it into her unicorn lunchbox.
After school, I asked how she liked her lunch.
“It was great,” she said. “Can I have it again sometime?” — Bradford Pearson
25 Essential Hoagie Shops
Maybe there’s some tiny spot down on Wolf Street that we missed, or a Delco shop you went to as a kid after Little League. But in a city of endless hoagie choices, these are the spots you can always count on. Keep reading here.
A Short Interlude to Praise the Wawa Hoagie
I can tell my personal history by which Wawa I was frequenting — after-school snacks in Abington, late-night thesis-writing runs in Ardmore, summertime beach hoagies in Margate, grad-school dinners in University City. It was always there, without judgment. Seriously, how many other computers in your life ask if you want to add bacon to literally anything? “Say less,” the Wawa touchscreen assures you as it checks it off and prints your order out.
And I know: Debating the merits of the Wawa hoagie has become a cottage industry in Philly media. But at 2 a.m., the neighborhood deli has already been closed for 12 hours because it ran out of rolls, and it doesn’t care that you’re drunk and need some comfort in the form of meats and cheeses on bread.
In Wawa, you’ll find all kinds of people having all kinds of days, ordering whatever will make that day better for them, even if that’s some Frankenstein hoagie concoction that would make a food critic weep. Wawa doesn’t mind; it knows who you really are, and it loves you just the same. — Laura Swartz
Secrets to the Perfect Hoagie Roll
Hoagies in Philly are perfect because their rolls are perfect. And thanks to the decades-old baking traditions of a handful of Philly-area families, our city’s hoagie rolls rarely exhibit the same exact kind of perfection. Keep reading here.
Last Summer, We Honored My Late Father-in-Law by Eating Hoagies
I don’t remember who proposed Hoagies for Tony, but honoring him via his favorite sandwiches clicked. So on Father’s Day, my wife, mother-in-law and brothers-in-law ordered lunch from A & LP, the pizzeria and deli whose neon red capitals have lorded over the corner of 15th and New Jersey in North Wildwood since 1953. Keep reading here.
A Brief Interview With Our Managing Editor as She Eats Her First Hoagie
Carla Shackleford, managing editor: So what is this called again?
Philadelphia magazine: This is a South Philly Italian, from Cosmi’s at 8th and Dickinson. Before you start, when did you move to Philadelphia?
CS: December 2019.
PM: And you’ve never had a hoagie before right now.
PM: Was there a reason you didn’t?
CS: I tend to go for hot foods. I do eat cold-cut sandwiches. Giant, down the street, makes a delicious Italian one, but I don’t know if it’s called a “hoagie.”
PM: So what are your first impressions, visually?
CS: It’s neatly done. Tightly done. Which is good, because a messy sandwich is no fun. The bread’s not too hard. It’s not too greasy. My hands are still clean, which I appreciate.
PM: So this is the sandwich that I get, because it’s right by my house. I probably get it twice a month. This is my ideal hoagie.
CS: I was thinking on the way over that I was going to judge you if this was a bad sandwich. [laughs]
PM: I judge people based on these kinds of things, too, so you judging me on whether I have bad sandwich taste is perfectly valid.
[Carla takes a bite, followed by 23 seconds of silence.]
CS: It’s good. It’s good. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the sharp provolone in this, because provolone can either taste like soap or it can taste amazing, but this is good. It’s not that meat-forward; I don’t really taste the meat so much. It’s very cheese-forward.
PM: Sometimes there’s so much meat that every single bite is overwhelmingly meaty. Whereas I like this one because it’s more balanced.
CS: This is weird, but I judge a sandwich like this. [Gently squeezes the nub end of the roll] This part — if it’s too crunchy, I think that’s a bad thing, because I want to be able to eat the last bite of my sandwich. And if it’s too hard, it means the bread’s not that fresh. [Still eating] Mm-hmm. It’s good. I would order this again, exactly this way. You’ve got good taste.
PM: I’ll take it.
CS: This is really …
PM: It’s growing on you! I think at first you thought it was a good sandwich, and now I feel like it’s developing into maybe even a very good sandwich.
CS: It might be the bread.
PM: I think you’ve hit on something big. It’s the bread. The bread’s the most important part. The bread can mask average meat and everything else, but you can’t mask bad bread.
PM: So you’re on board.
CS: I’m on board with the sandwich. Personally, I think I’d do half the amount of cheese next time. And it wasn’t too much cheese; it’s just a pronounced flavor.
PM: It is a pronounced flavor.
CS: I would say that the meat being thinly sliced is a plus. There’s nothing worse than a sandwich with cold cuts where the meat is too thickly sliced. It’s almost unchewable at that point. You’re just gnawing through it. But this would be my order. I would order this sandwich again.
PM: That fills my heart.
CS: You did good.
Published as “All Hail the Hoagie” in the February 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.