The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: The South

“New Orleans, please, guide us back into the welcoming arms of sandwiches that actually exist and aren’t goddamn sarneys.”

~Recently Adopted AFFotD Credo

po boy

Throughout the course of about 9,000 word and 21 sandwiches (so far) we’ve learned a lot about the diversity of America’s lunches.  In trying to discover every type of submarine sandwich, or sandwich on a long roll that can somewhat remotely resemble a sub, we’ve lusted after the Philly cheesesteak, we’ve saluted the simplicity of the sub or hoagie or not hero because we arbitrarily decided that we hated New York’s reason for naming it a hero.  We’ve existentially pondered the creation of the French dip, and we’ve lost most of our collective minds at all the goddamn sandwiches that seem to have been named by like, the only three fucking people that use that particular term to describe sandwiches.  Tunnels?  Who calls their sandwich tunnels, huh?  That’s stupid, they’re stupid, and they should at least post a blog or something about who first started calling them tunnels so our staff can finally have a peaceful night of sleep.  Now, we just toss and turn.  “But what the fuck is a bomber?  What the fuck is a bomber.”

We’re tired.  We’re hungover.  We haven’t shaved for days.  But hey, we have a lot of delicious southern long roll sandwiches to talk about, and practically all of them exist!  Yay for that!

The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: The South


It’s been a long road, filled with delicious sandwiches and a truly confusing browser history (non-porn sub-category).  We’ve traveled the nation together, gained a good fifteen pounds (that’s called “sticking to your New Year’s resolution, everybody) and have personally destroyed the homes of fifteen people who think that “sarney” is the correct term for a sub sandwich.  But we’re in the clear now…well, almost.

Now, a lot of these sandwiches are ones you know.  Po’ boy.  Cubans.  As far as we can tell there’s only one awkward entry that will be impossible to write anything about it, and guess what, it’s “Rocket” which probably isn’t even from the South but we don’t fucking care, we’re going to just rip it off like a band-aid.

Rocket (Texas or Cheyenne, Wyoming)


So, a lot of us didn’t know that apparently “rocket” is also what people call “arugula” which is actually surprising since arugula sounds foreigin.  Hell, we should call arugula “rocket.”  We’re gonna start doing that right now.  Or, right after we finish mashing our faces into our keyboard because we know next to nothing about Rockets as a sandwich other than the fact that they first showed up in Texas in the 1950’s, and that mayyyybe people in Cheyenne at one time referred to subs as rockets.

Can we just link to a Massachusetts shop that sells subs as rockets, accept that they first showed up in Texas, and move on?  They’re…just normal fucking subs, you guys.  Please, free us from this terror.

Cuban Sandwich (Florida)


Oh thank God.  We’re free.  We’re free to talk about delicious sandwiches that exist in the real world, that we can see, taste, touch, smell, find Wikipedia pages for.  Oh happy days.  Despite its name, the Cuban is an American creation, originally created in cafes catering to Cuban immigrant workers in the Key West and Ybor City.  The origin of the Cuban sandwich is somewhat muddled, but the migration of Cubans escaping Spanish rule in the late 1800s and early 1900s largely spurred its evolution into an American treasure.  Originally, an earlier version of the sandwich was a common lunch for workers in cigar factories in both Cuba and Key West.  When the cigar industry shifted to Tampa in the 1880s, the sandwich started to appear in workers’ cafes around Tampa, from which it spread to Key West and Miami.

In 1896, La Joven Francesca Bakery was founded in Tampa to bake Cuban bread, a unique white bread roll that includes small amounts of fat in the baking process.  This bread is the backbone of the Cuban sandwich, and as the sandwich continued to be consumed by blue collar Cuban workers until The Silver Ring Café opened in Tampa in 1947 as the first Cuban sandwich shop.

The sandwich itself is simple, yet delicious (though some debate exists as to what constitutes a “true” Cuban sandwich).  A 8-12 inch section of Cuban bread is lightly buttered or brushed with olive oil on the crust and is cut in half.  Yellow mustard is added to the bun, followed by roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and dill pickle, all in layers.  Then, you have the option to press that fucker in a plancha (basically a Panini press without grooved surfaces) and compress that sucker until the cheese has melted.  Slice diagonally and you’ve got yourself some magic.

There are some disputes as to what else to add to the sandwich.  AS a general rule, Tampa Cubans tend to add salami to the mix (possibly due to an influence from Italian workers in the city), while mayo, lettuce, and onion are available, but typically frowned upon.  Tampa and Miami have long been mired in a dick measuring contest about who makes the “right” Cuban.  In Tampa, the press is optional, the salami is mandatory, and if you want mayo, lettuce, or tomatoes than bully to you, pal.  In Miami, there’s no salami, the sandwich has to be pressed, and lettuce, tomato, and mayo aren’t even options.  While it seems somewhat silly to have such a contentious relationship over, you know, a ham and Swiss sandwich, if you’ve had one, you’d understand.

The Peacemaker aka La Mediatrice aka the Oyster Loaf (Louisiana)

oyster loaf

While this sandwich is essentially the same as the Po’ boy, which will be the next sandwich on this list (spoilers) we have to stay true to the spirit of this sandwich series and talk about the origin of each separate term for a sandwich.  In the 1800s, a sandwich of fried oysters on French loaves was known as an oyster loaf in New Orleans and San Francisco, while also going by  the names of “peacemaker” and “La Mediatrice.”  The recipe for the sandwich first appeared in 1838, making it one of the oldest long roll sandwiches in American history.

The oyster loaf was nicknamed “La Mediatrice” meaning “the peacemaker” due to the 19th century anecdote that husbands would return from a late night of drinking the next morning with a piping hot oyster loaf to pacify their angry spouses.  While we still use the term “oyster loaf” today (not so much with La Mediatrice) it’s usually as a subset of the general genre of po’ boys.  There are some slight differences between an oyster loaf and a fried oyster po’ boy, of course, though oyster loaves tend to be longer and more densely filled than their apostrophe craving cousins.

Po’Boy (Louisiana)

 po boy

While an oyster loaf can only be filled with oysters (shocking, we know), po’ boys in general are a traditional Louisiana sandwich consisting of meat (roast beef generally) or fried seafood (most people skew towards that option).  They’re served on baguette-like New Orleans French bread with a crisp crust and fluffy center, which is one of the key differences between a po’ boy and a sub.

The sandwich version is served hot, with fried shrimp and oysters, but you can also get po’ boys stuffed with soft shell crab, catfish (usually fried), crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, fried chicken breast, roast beef smothered in gravy, or French fries (also smothered in gravy).  Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, “hot” (coarse-grained Creole) or “regular” (American yellow) mustard, and mayonnaise are then added, with onions being optional (though the mustard also only appears on the non-seafood po’ boys).

The generally accepted history of the po’ boy as a standalone sandwich type, freeing itself from the limiting shackles of the peacemaker, cetners around Benny and Clovis Martin, former streetcar conductors who founded a restaurant and, during a four-month strike against a streetcar company, served their former colleagues free sandwiches.  These strikers would be referred to as “poor boys” and the name stuck.  And because, again, no one knows how to pronounce words, it was naturally shortened to “po’ boy” by the Louisiana dialect.  Of all the Cajun food to come out of Louisiana, the po’ boy is one of the more simple yet delicious fares, available in restaurants, pre-packaged in convenience stores, and it’s one of the few sub sandwiches that stays true to the American tradition of “when in doubt, fry the shit out of your food.”  And we love them for that.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our nation’s tour of long rolled sandwiches.  It’s been a grueling few weeks.  Relationships have crumbled.  Whiskey stocks have been depleted.  Writers have quit, screaming and tearing out their hair while leaving our offices in the kind of psychic break that one only can experience when the true weight of their insignificance in the universe has been imparted on them.  But (some of us) have made it through.  We’ve survived.

And now we’re really hungry for a sandwich.


4 responses to “The Regional Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America: The South

  1. So you do a piece on the po’boy (fried oysters are the only thing that should ever go in a po’boy), but you neglect the muffaletta. I find that a little curious since the title of the post is titled Italian and Submarine Sandwiches of America. Are you guys so phallocentric that you’re automatically biased against a sandwich made with a round piece of foccacia? HMMMMM?

    • We did strongly consider the muffaletta, before realizing that by opening the discussion to rounder and less-penis-shaped bread styles, we would have to include the Dagwood and just about every other sandwich style. It was a slippery slope, and we were already leaning towards insanity rounding up all of the junk-shaped sandwich styles

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

  3. Pingback: American Sandwich Series: Lesser-Known Regional Sandwiches of America (Mountain, West Coast and Southern Edition) | affotd

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