The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: Pennsylvania

“Huh, so apparently there IS such a thing as eating too many sandwiches…”

~AFFotD Editor-in-Chief, Johnny Roosevelt, shortly before getting his stomach pumped

big old sandwich

As mentioned in our previous post, the simple concept of “a sandwich on a long roll of bread stuffed with cold cuts and condiments” has expanded well beyond our wildest dreams.

While many of these variations are all words for the same thing (the submarine begat the hero begat the grinder begat pointless regional squabbles about lexicon and so forth) these linguistic shifts have also helped create entirely new sandwiches made to be stuffed into submarine or Italian bread and embraced as a regional dish so fervently that even New Yorkers sometimes have to step in and go, “Woah, easy there,  Philadelphia, we get you invented it, but people are allowed to add different things to a fucking cheesesteak.”

Ha, just kidding, they’d never say that, they’re too busy trying to pretend they make the nation’s best hot dogs because…what, they’re sold in carts? Because it’s easy to go to a cart and have someone scoop out a three day old frank and top it with sauerkraut and mustard and that somehow makes your hot dog “supreme” to, say, every other type of hot dog that at least tries? Get off your fucking high horse, goddamn you.

Okay, sorry, back on track.  Anyway, for whatever reason, the state of Pennsylvania accounts for like, 40% of all the sandwiches on rolls of the entire East Coast, so we decided to give them their own section in our series on…

The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America:  Pennsylvania

italian sammy

Pennsylvania is a proud state, which is a way to say that 85% of sports fans who are objectively assholes about their allegiances live within its 46,000 square mile area. They took an active role in the founding of our nation, and, for whatever reason, they make a lot of sandwiches.

Also, their residents (especially people living in Philadelphia but especially people living in Philadelphia) will straight up slap you in the stupid face if you try to take these heritage food stuffs away from them.

We’d take them to town over that fact, but to be fair, we’ve written not one, but two different articles about how Chicago pizza is the best pizza in America and if you think differently you’re wrong, you’re wired wrong, you’re broken, there is something wrong with you, something in your past, and it has blackened your soul, and everything you ever believe or say is incorrect, and also we hate you, and also we just stole your identity to punish you because we hate you so much and goddamn it, this is an article about sandwiches, how the fuck have we wasted so many words talking about pizza and hot dogs?





Hoagies (Philadelphia Area, Parts of New Jersey)


A hoagie is a style of submarine sandwich that originated in the Philadelphia area. Pretty much everything that makes a submarine is in play with the hoagie, though Philly is unsurprisingly intolerant of many variations. You’ll typically be told to fuck off if you try to get mustard (or worse, mayo) on your hoagie, and you might have people shout “That’s not a hoagie, that’s a sandwich/sub” if you put any poultry on it.

The standard hoagie is, simply, a sliced roll of bread filled with a base layer of cheese, usually provolone (to prevent the bread from getting soggy), meat (preferably ham, salami, and prosciutto), tomatoes, onions, lettuce, hot or sweet peppers, topped with a dash of oregano-vinegar dressing.

And again, no mayo. Seriously. We’re not saying you’ll get killed, we’ll just say that Philly has left people hospitalized for stupider reasons.

The origin of the hoagie is about as complicatedly wishy-washy as that of the submarine sandwich, though like the “well, as stupid as it sounds, people just thought the bread looked like a submarine” aspect of all of the origin stories for subs, just about every explanation of hoagies stem from people calling the sandwich one thing, only to see it brutally melded and morphed into the word “hoagie” because, apparently, people in Philly used to be physically unable to pronounce words correctly (note—many native Philadelphians still can’t.

Don’t trust us? Next time you’re in the city, just ask ten people to say “Philadelphia” and “water” and write down the responses.  You will, without a doubt, get 2 people pronouncing it correctly, three people pronouncing it “fluffy-uh” and “wudder” and five people punching you really hard in the face for going up to them out of the blue and asking them such a stupid fucking question).

Some claim that a sandwich shop in Chester, Pennsylvania created the hoagie in 1925, and that kids would play hooky from school and buy the cheap sandwiches. As a result, the sandwiches were called hookeys, which became hokeys which became hoagies in a historical game of telephone.

Still others say that “hoggies” described people who worked at the World War I shipyard on Hog Island who would bring cold cut sandwiches to work during their lunches, and that a variation of the spelling eventually led to the sandwiches being called “hoagies” (because apparently it’s easier to make up a new word than to spell a word correctly).

One of the more plausible theories centers around Al De Palma, a struggling jazz musician who saw some fellow musicians devouring giant sandwiches for lunch one day and exclaimed, “You’d have to be a hog for eating that!”

Once the Great Depression hit, he decided to open a sandwich shop in Philadelphia and called his sandwiches “hoggies” which people kept mispronouncing as “hoagies” to the point that De Palma himself because known as “king of the hoagies,” again, because apparently when people spoke in Pennsylvania in the 1930s they had to fill their mouths with marbles first.  The least plausible basically involves someone actually saying, with a straight face, “A man working at Hog Island had his wife make a sandwich for his coworker, Hogan” which, ugh, seriously you guys? At least make your origin myths interesting.

Of course, not content to have just one type of roll-based sandwich, Philadelphia is also responsible for…

The Zep (Norristown, Pennsylvania)


The zep (short for zeppelin, because apparently anything that is sort of long looks like a goddamn long roll sandwich. Submarine, blimps, zeppelins, tunnels [FUCKING.  TUNNELS], at this point we’re worried that someday we’ll run out of long things to name Italians sandwiches after and some city will be forced to name their regional variation “the penis.”) is a variation of the hoagie made in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Unlike, say, the hero, where New York couldn’t stand not naming something so they renamed the sub after a lame joke, the zep actually is unique from the hoagie in a few important ways.

The sandwich contains no lettuce, and only one meat, cut thick, along with provolone cheese, raw onion and tomato, all dressed with oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, and hot pepper relish. Classically, the meat used is a cooked salami, and all zeps are put on fresh bread from Conshohocken Bakery, which makes a flatter and wider loaf than seeded rolls primarily used for hoagies. It’s essentially a simpler version of the hoagie, but it sticks to its guns, and for that we have no problem with them demanding to go by a different name. We also would very much like to eat one right now, please.

The Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia)


While the hoagie was declared the “official sandwich of Philadelphia” in 1992, few can argue that Philly’s most visible contribution to the sandwich landscape is the deliciously unhealthy cheesesteak.

While some people make reference to a “cheesesteak hoagie” as a type of hoagie (and basically a cheesesteak with added lettuce and tomato which, gross, why) these people are either stupid and wrong, or just aren’t very vocal on the internet. Either way, very few are making the case that a cheesesteak hoagie is in the same genre as a regular hoagie.

Though, cards on the table, we could be wrong, we’ve been without a Philly writer for some time, ever since he exploded when the Eagles lost to the Saints in the playoffs.  And we don’t mean he went on a rampage or anything, he literally exploded. Guts flying everywhere.  It was gross.

But, as a result, the Philly Cheesesteak stands alone as a unique offering to the submarine-type sandwich field.  While it’s gained popularity outside of Philly, if you order a cheesesteak, you’re getting a Philly cheesesteak, and if you’re in Philly and order it with swiss cheese, a resident of Philadelphia will spit in your cheesesteak. In a lot of ways going to Philadelphia to order a sandwich is a lot like visiting a totally foreign country—there are so many nuances and strange etiquettes involved that you probably will end up accidentally infuriating your host by, say, using your left hand for a hand shake, or for parroting someone who orders “wiz wit” and then asking for provolone.

Thankfully, while ordering one might be far more complicated than you’d have any right to expect, it’s origin is fairly simple. In 1930, hot dog vender Pat Olivieri picked up some beef and put it on his grill. It smelled good, as cooking steak tends to, and a taxi driver stopped and asked for a steak sandwich of his own.

The next day, people clamored to try one themselves, and he Olivieri eventually opened “Pat’s King of Steaks” to sell his cheesesteaks.  They originally did not come with cheese, until one of his managers decided to add provolone. The cheesesteak grew and expanded throughout the city, and developed its own distinct quirks and niches.  While there is no one “exactly right” way to make a cheesesteak, there are roughly 1,325,301 and a half WRONG YOU’RE WRONG STUPID STUPID JACKASS ways to cook one.

(Though honestly, readers of Philadelphia, can you explain to us your violent, vitriolic hatred of mayonnaise? It’s egg yolk and vinegar, combined to be deliciously unhealthy. It’s great, seriously. So why the hell do you act like it’s made out of used tampons and sulfuric acid the instant someone has the inkling to put it on a slice of bread? What did mayo do to you as a child? It’s okay, you can tell us. This is a safe place.)

The classic cheesesteak now takes thinly sliced rib-eye or top round steak, browned and scrambled into smaller pieces on a griddle with a flat spatula. Slices (or sprays) of cheese are placed over the meat to let it melt (Cheez Whiz, provolone, and American cheese are the three deemed appropriate, and we’re pretty sure people have died in arguments about which is better). Sautéed onions are typically added, though some allow for peppers, mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Wikipedia says mayo, hot sauce, and ketchup are common additions, but we’re pretty sure that if we told you to put that on your cheesesteak we’d be found floating lifeless in Delaware Bay tomorrow.

Finally, every single person from Philly who complains about the grave injustices done upon the Philly cheesesteak in the hands of non-natives screams from the heavens that the bread is one of the most important aspects. It has to be Amoroso, though some might try to get away with Vilotti-Pisanelli rolls, which is fine (as angry Philly residents flood the comments shouting “IT!  IS!  NOT!  FINE!”).

The bread has to have a chew, the meat has to be lean and thinly sliced, and the cheese has to be melty and gooey. Cheez Whiz tends to be the most popular, though it’s often viewed as the cheese of choice for tourists and drunks (we can vouch, there are few things better in this world than a wiz wit while you’re hammered at two in the mourning).

Generally, provolone and American cheese are both viewed as equally acceptable, just so long as there’s so much of it that your blood type becomes “dairy” for five minutes after finishing a full cheesesteak.  Anything else is just added bonus (though some insist that onions are essential) so long as you have good steak, good cheese, and good bread.

So that’s the Philly cheesesteak. Did we mention we don’t any writers from Philly? Hell, our editor-in-chief hasn’t ever even been.  We asked him before writing this if he had any insight to the rich culinary heritage of the state of Pennsylvania and he was just like, “I mean, I saw the first five seasons of It’s Always Sunny?”

Huh, will you look at that. There’s a mob outside our offices. Oh, that’s nice, they brought torches and gasoline, they must have known we were a bit chilly and…


Let’s try to get the rest of this entry done before the smoke gets too thick, shall we?

Roast Pork (Philadelphia)

roast pork

Similar to the cheesesteak is the pork roast, by which we mean to say that the only the two have in common are thinly sliced meat, Italian bread, provolone, and the fact that we’re able to make broad generalizations about each that are patently untrue and that we only write because we enjoy seeing people get pissed off over food.

Anyway, the roast pork sandwich is considered by some to be the best of the three big Philly subs, though it is far less famous. It consists of sliced roast pork with provolone and broccoli rabe on a hoagie roll.  Since broccoli rabe has a slightly bitter flavor, the pork has to be well flavored and of good quality so not to be overwhelmed.

DiNic’s, Tony Luke’s, and John’s Roast Pork are the three big players in the roast pork game. John’s Roast Pork claims to have originated the roast pork sandwich in 1930, and DiNic’s claims to have started selling roast pork in 1950. Tony Luke’s seems to have been the last to join the game, as their website is less about the history of the establishment and more a full page ad about their owner who, judging by his facial hair, was a stand-in for Tony Wonder.

Anyway, when tourists go to Philly they hardly ever think to order a roast pork, and for that they are bad and should feel bad.  Because Philly’s roast pork sandwich is divine.                                                                     

Barb Mills (North Central Penn, Jersey Shore)

 image not found


Sorry, sorry, just after the pain we suffered researching bombers, tunnels, and torpedoes we just…this was too much for us. This sandwich might have existed, once, but it has gone the way of the dodo bird, or of certain SNL sketches from the early 90’s that you wish you could watch online but you can’t because they’ve never been digitized and are now lost to time. #RIPTimMeadows.  Let’s move on, we only have one more sandwich to go.

Cosmo (Williamsport, Pennsylvania)

 cosmo menu

This one, thank God, exists in the folds of the internet, but barely. We found one article that let us know anything about it (it looks like you pretty much have to go to Williamsport to find people the exclusively call sub sandwiches “cosmos”) which also mentions, wouldn’t you fucking know it, bombers. Anyway, here is a Cosmo.


It actually does have some distinct differences from the sub/hoagie market. It’s an open faced, toasted sandwich that’s filled with cheese. While just cheese is a pretty common way of going about it, you can then add a handful meat toppings (Canadian bacon or ham are the two most prominent) which is then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and hot pepper relish.

And with that we come to an end on the Pennsylvania submarine sandwiches (shut up, they’re subs) of America.  That’s sixteen sandwiches we’ve covered, one sweet old lady who will be surprised to see her name linked with so many “fucks” online (BUT SERIOUSLY WIKIPEDIA? BARB MILLS? WE FUCKING HATE YOU!)  (not you, actual lady named barb mills, we hate Wikipedia for lying to us about a sandwich named after you).

We’re halfway through our submarine sandwiches of America tour, because goddamn, we sure do make a lot of sandwiches don’t we?


9 responses to “The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: Pennsylvania

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  6. A Barb Mills is from not from Jersey Shore, PA it is from the actually Jersey shore as in New Jersey. Wild woods.etc..

  7. Man. OK, a Cosmo is a hoagie/sub (interchangeable in that part of PA) but as you said, toasted, or more over, broiled. Build is this, Sub roll, usually from Lycoming Bakery, Mayo, meat, then cheese. The mayo is the fluid barrier here, not the cheese like a Philly hoagie. The sandwich then gets slapped under a broiler or salamander until the cheese is melted and a bit browned, and the roll is toasted. Fresh cold veggies go on next. Finished with Sandwich oil, vinegar, and hoagie relish (cherry pepper relish or “hot peppers”) if you want.

    If you don’t broil it, it’s just a sub or hoagie, depends on who is making it for you.

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  9. If you’re looking for weird versions of subs from Pennsylvania, you can’t go wrong with the doagie from the Shamokin coal area. It’s two pizza crusts or large, round pieces of bread filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, onions and tomatoes, then sliced like a pizza to serve. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Hell, actually you could probably do a whole article on odd foods from this area on its own. We have doagies, soupies, hot cheese pizza, pigeons, faggots (yes, you read that right) and many more. Learning the lingo was definitely interesting when I moved to the area.

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