The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: Midwest and West Coast

“We just wanted to write about sub sandwiches.  That’s safe, right?  Delicious, universally loved sub sandwiches.  Then the madness came.  Then the darkness fell.  Then came the Sarney.”

~Found Footage From the Ruins of the Building That Once Housed AFFotD’s Main Office

iitalian sammich

When we started this journey, we were happy.  We were unified.  We were just sitting around the writer’s table, adding whiskey to our coffee (office culture dictates that you can’t drink hard unmixed hard alcohol until at least eleven in the morning), laughing, loving.  Living.  Then, in walked Johnny Roosevelt, our Editor-in-Chief and winner of 2013’s “drunkest at our Christmas party” award.

“Ladies.  Gentlemen.  Ghosts of the cool Presidents that would have been considered alcoholics in today’s society.  We haven’t really talked about sandwiches much, have we?”

And hell followed.

It seemed simple enough.  We would just write about all the sandwiches we could think of that are served in long rolls.  Basically, variation of submarine and Italian sandwiches, a cornerstone of our culture.  We started with the East Coast to cover subs and Italians, and followed it up with Pennsylvania sandwiches so we could write about hoagies and cheesesteaks.  We didn’t need to get into dagwood territory, because writing about various sliced bread sandwiches would easily creep into the mundane, and also fuck Dagwood Bumstead.

Then the voices came.

“Tunnels.  Bombers.  Torpedoes.  Barb fucking Mills.  Try as you might, you will not find them.  They only exist in name to haunt you.  Your charge is futile.  Your destiny is pointless.”

Anyway, here are some motherfucking sandwiches from the motherfucking Midwest and West Coast and we guarantee we’ll come across another non-existent sandwich and we will lose our motherfucking minds.

The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: Midwest and West Coast

regional sandwich

“Father, we have not seen you for so long.”

“I know, my child.  But I have been given a sacred duty, and I cannot rest until it is completed.”

“…Aren’t you just talking about a bunch of sandwiches?”

“You wouldn’t understand my child. You’re far too young and sober to understand.

Italian Beef (Chicago)

 italian beef

In the realm of “hot, impossibly unhealthy, amazing” sandwiches, Philadelphia has reasons to take pride.  The roast pork and cheesesteak are soaring testimonies to humanity’s ability to take the concept of a sub sandwich (fine, Philly residents, “hoagie”) to unparalleled heights.  But we were just getting started.  Because here comes Chicago’s offering, the delectable, heart-stopping Italian beef.  Oh, also, it’s also a pretty common sandwich to find (looking at you, bombers) so we’ll be guaranteed to find loads of fun informative tidbits about it without losing our minds staring into the empty void of the internet.

First appearing in Chicago during the 1930s, the Italian beef has been around almost as long as grinders, hoagies, subs, all of them, but it manages to avoid falling into the trap of “being named for honestly arbitrary and stupid reasons.”  It’s beef.  On Italian bread.  Ta-fucking-da.  It’s also deliriously delectable and impossibly messy when done right.

Like all things delicious and invented before the invention of the telephone (note- we have no idea when the telephone was invented.  1972?) there are multiple stories pertaining to the creation of the Italian beef.  Al’s Beef, which opened in 1938, claims that they invented the Italian beef with a recipe that came out of necessity—with meat being scarce in the great depression era, Al Ferreri and Chris Pacelli, Sr. would thinly slice whatever beef they could get in order to make sure everyone could get some meat during Italian weddings.  This beef would then be used to make sandwiches for the wedding guests.  A more generalized theory states that Italian immigrants working in the old Union Stock Yard would bring home tougher, less desirable cuts of beef sold by the company and, to make the meat more palatable, would slow roast it to make it tender, and slow-simmer it in a spicy broth for flavor, both using Italian-style spices and herbs.  This would then be thinly sliced and used to make a sandwich.

And finally, Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company, who produce much of the Italian beef and sausages consumed in Chicago, and have since opening in 1925, basically tells the exact same version of the story that Al’s Beef claims (thinly sliced meat so more people can have it, served at weddings, etc etc), only giving credit to Pasquale Scala in 1925.  But it basically comes down to this—there wasn’t a lot of meat, so some Italians in Chicago decided to slice it up, make it taste delicious, and put it on sandwiches.  Sorry, we said “some Italians in Chicago” where we met to say “some genius Italians in Chicago.”

The Italian beef takes seasoned roast beef, dripping with its own juices, which is then placed on a Italian roll.  While cheese can be added to make a “cheesy beef” more often than not an Italian consists just of beef on bread, though really, a true Italian beef comes with beef and peppers and if you’re not getting peppers or dunking your sandwich into the juice, you’re doing it wrong and should feel bad.  The proper way to make an Italian beef is easy.  Pick up meat from a vat of juice with thongs, place in a loaf of bread.  Dip that loaf back into the juice (in order of wetness, you’re getting it either “dipped,” “juicy,” or “soaked”) and add peppers (either hot, sweet, or both).  You can also get a “combo” where an Italian sausage is added to the whole enterprise, because if there’s one thing Chicago does better than anywhere else, it’s get far more excited than warranted when they see a scene in a movie or TV show that was filmed in Chicago.  But if there’s two things they do better than anyone else, it’s get you extremely fat, extremely quickly, and extremely deliciously.

God bless you, Italian beef.  You’re…probably going to be the easiest article in this entry, aren’t you?

French Dip (Los Angeles)

french dip

Oh hey, another sandwich that manages not to be intolerably obscure!  Maybe this one entry will be different.  Maybe this article will be easy.  We can dream.

The French dip, with is about as French as fried potatoes, was invented in at the beginning of the 20th century in Los Angeles (we know, we’re as surprised as you to hear something delicious and unhealthy originated in LA) by one of two restaurants who each claim to have come up with the concept.  Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet (which, um, what the fuck kind of name is that?  Did you go up to someone with receptive aphasia and write down whatever gibberish their brains thought was them saying “Let’s eat some dinner”?) was founded in 1908, where they claim to have created the sandwich that year after dipping French bread in jus (our only complaint with this sandwich is that you have to use goddamn French to describe it) to soften it at the behest of a customer who had just had dental work (1908 dental work, no less, which probably just consisted of letting a horse kick you in the face).  Other customers noticed and asked for that themselves, which is going to briefly lead to a semi-related but completely rambling tangent that is a side effect of spending 11,000 words writing about sandwiches.

Were restaurants somehow different before, say, 1950?  We honestly cannot count how many origin stories for classic food dishes involve, “A customer wanted something not on the menu, the chef whipped something up, and all the patrons around were like ‘Oh, then I will order this too!’”  Hell, one of the origin stories of the hoagie is that some asshole at a grocery store saw the owner’s wife making herself a sandwich and was like, “Oh, make one for me too, just put all your lunch meats onto a roll please,” which is incredibly fucking rude and if that happened today the response would be “fuck off and buy something we’re actually selling, this is my lunch.”  If you went to a restaurant today and said, “My teeth hurt, can you make this bread soggy so I can chew it” you might be told “how about you order some goddamn soup instead?”  And if you somehow got them to dip your bread, what is the likelihood that everyone else in the restaurant would start clamoring “Oh yes, I’d like some of that soggy bread.”  Don’t get us wrong, bread soaked in salty, fatty juice is one of the more delicious things in the world, but if you saw one for the first time you’d think that the something was inherently wrong with that piece of bread.  You wouldn’t stand up and declare, “Sir, instead of my hamburger, I would like that piece of bread that looks like it was out in the rain and also some mud got mixed in there because it is brown, and I have no idea how much I will pay for that because this is literally the actual moment of the invention of a dish so it’s not even close to being on the menu.”  Does anyone else just think that’s super weird?  Or is your response, “You guys are thinking about this way too much, we’re concerned about your sanity, stories are allowed to be apocryphal”?  It’s the latter, isn’t it?

Anyway.  Moving on.

The second location to claim to have invented the French dip was Philippe The Original, which also opened in 1908, though they attest that the French dip was invented there in 1918.  There’s no single story for how Philippe invented the sandwich.  One source says that the sandwich was created when a cook accidentally dropped the sandwich into a pan of meat drippings and, instead of starting over with a new sandwich like literally anyone living in a post-Health Code world would, just gave it to the patron who ate it and liked it, as opposed to any other human being who ever existed who would say, “Um, I ordered a sandwich, and you gave me something sopping wet, what the fuck is wrong with you?  No, I’m definitely sending this back, I don’t, I mean, I can’t, I can’t even.”  So, explanation one—a cook (or, possibly, a server) who was complete shit at his job dropped a sandwich into a bunch gravy, shrugged, and gave it to someone who had never eaten a normal sandwich before and happened to assume that sandwiches were supposed to be served soggy.

The second explanation was that a patron didn’t want his meat drippings to go to waste, so he asked that his sandwich be dipped in them, in which case, why the fuck was he back in the kitchen and why should he care if a restaurant ends up throwing things away when preparing a dish?  It’s a fucking roast beef sandwich, not an Native American buffalo hunt.  Others insist that a chef dipped a sandwich into a pan of meat drippings after a customer complained that his bread was stale, which we really hope is true, because sarcastic chef’s doing something they assume to be ridiculous as a “fuck you” for annoying complaints by patrons is one of our favorite reasons behinds the invention of some of our favorite things.

The French dip itself is pretty similar to an Italian beef, if even more simple.  It’s a roast beef sandwich on a “French roll” served au jus (with the juice the meat was cooked in).  You’ve probably seen it as a sandwich with a cup of jus that you use for dipping (hence the fucking name) when you’ve ordered it at, say, Bennigan’s.  The two places that claim to have invented it sever it pre-dipped.  Either way, meat, juice, bread, sandwich.  Cheese?  Sure, fuck it, if you want some cheese on it we won’t stop you, but it’s not part of the original sandwich.  Pick up soggy bread, eat soggy bread, have a heart attack, don’t care because everything in your mouth tastes so fucking good right now, and repeat until death.  There, French dip.  We hate to admit it, but you guys did some good work here, Los Angeles.

Garibaldis (Madison, Wisconsin)


Oh, oh no.  We’re…we’re getting into the territory of sub sandwiches that only like, .01% of the population knows about, and it’s the same .01% that doesn’t know what the internet is and still calls their refrigerator an “ice box” aren’t we?  We see a reference that “In Madison, Wisconsin [submarine sandwiches] have been known as garibaldis” from a 2003 language quarterly article written by Dave Wilton of Albany, California that started our initial descent into madness by insisting that people call sandwiches “bombers” but after that, we found one (fucking.  One) restaurant in Madison that doesn’t even reference the “world famous Garibaldi, the REASON WHY PEOPLE CALL SUBS GARIBALDIS” on their homepage, but hey, some random etymological website says that it’s a type of sub, so let’s drive ourselves insane researching it.

We’re going to start getting drunk now.

Anyway, the Garibaldi is a sandwich of ham, salami, melted spicy cheese, tomatoes, and banana peppers on French Bed that is served at Paisan’s.  Listen, Paisan’s, you seem like a nice enough restaurant.  You’re menu devotes three pages to alcohol, and we love you for that.  But when you invented your Garibaldi in 1957 and then trademarked it (if your menu is to be believed) then apparently people are going to assume that it is an actual type of sub sandwich, and we’re going to go insane trying to give credence to the people that say “the Garibaldi is a unique sub, like the Cosmo, that is native to one town in the nation.”

So goddamn you, we’re going to try.  Paisan’s sells Garibaldi’s.  So does Porta Bella, opened in Madison in 1968, and Delitalia opened in 1983.  So there.  There, Garibaldi is a kind of sandwich on a long roll, and we’ve proven that or something.  It’s apparently a popular sandwich among University of Wisconsin alumni, many of whom make it a point to stop by Paisan’s whenever they visit Madison, and given that we got drunk to have the patience to do all this research, one of them sounds like it would hit the spot right about now.

Sarney (?  Uh…England…or?  Seriously, Fuck Sarneys)



*deep breaths*

*Breath in, breath out*


You see that fucking map?  Squint really hard at it, because those single yellow dots in Northern Texas, Washington, and Southern California represent the .03% of Americans who bafflingly responded to the question of, “What do you call the long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on?” with fucking sarney.  There are no pictures of sarneys, just this miniscule portion of the population who decided to raise a giant middle finger to the staff of AFFotD that has to write about fucking sarneys now.  It’s in (a) dictionary, helpfully as, “as sandwich.”

Apparently it’s in no a unique type of sandwich, and it didn’t originate in America.  It’s just a British slang term for sandwich.

Fuck this game.  We’re done here.

Coming up next are the long roll sandwiches of America’s south.  Or, really, mainly New Orleans, but hey, there are a few others there.  Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to drink so much that we erase all trace of the word “sarney” from our minds.


2 responses to “The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: Midwest and West Coast

  1. Pingback: American Sandwich Series: Classic and Timeless American Sandwiches (Part 1) | affotd

  2. Pingback: British Sandwiches, Ranked From Best to Worst | America Fun Fact of the Day

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s