I Need a Hero!
A submarine sandwich, also known as a sub, grinder, hero, hoagie, Italian sandwich, po’ boy, wedge, zep, Hodgson, torpedo, bocadillo or roll, is a sandwich that consists of an oblong roll, often of Italian, Spanish or French bread, split lengthwise either into two pieces or opened in a “V” on one side, and filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings, and sauces. The sandwich has no standardized name, and many U.S. regions have their own names for it and in where they found at least 17 different names for the same product. The usage of the several terms varies regionally but not in any pattern, as they have been used variously by the people and enterprises who make and sell them. The terms submarine and sub are widespread and not assignable to any certain region, though many of the localized terms are clustered in the northeast United States, where the most Italian Americans live.
The name “submarine” has become virtually the standard term in Canada, thanks to a large chain of fast-food restaurants serving the sandwiches under the name of “Mr. Submarine” (or Mr. Sub currently). The chain offers several variations of the sandwich, all served on the long thin roll. These variations feature different varieties of meats, along with sliced tomatoes, chopped lettuce and a “special” sauce applied in the final stage of assembly.
The sandwich originated in several different Italian American communities in the Northeastern United States from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. The popularity of this Italian-American cuisine has grown from its origins in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts to spread to most parts of the United States, and with the advent of chain restaurants, is now available in many parts of the world.. In Europe this would simply be known as a Baguette, a Ciabatta, or a barra, named after the type of bread being used. These types of bread are traditional breads in use in France, Italy and Spain for centuries.
The use of the term submarine or sub is widespread, and its use is disputed given the fact that it’s a naval vessel, not a sandwich. One theory is that it originated in a restaurant in Scollay Square in Boston, Massachusetts at the beginning of World War I. The sandwich was created to entice the large numbers of navy servicemen stationed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. The bread was a smaller specially baked baguette intended to resemble the hull of the submarines it was named after.
Many say that the name originates from Groton, Connecticut, where there is the largest United States Submarine factory. The sandwiches were commonly eaten by workers in the naval yard. Another theory suggests the submarine was brought to the US by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York in the early 1900s. In 1910 he started Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store on Mill Street in Paterson, NJ and named the sandwich after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called “Holland 1” in the local Paterson museum in 1918. His granddaughter has stated the following: “My grandfather came to this country circa 1895 from Montella, Italy. Around 1910, he started his grocery store, called Dominic Conti’s Grocery Store, on Mill Street in Paterson, New Jersey where he was selling the traditional Italian sandwiches. His sandwiches were made from a recipe he brought with him from Italy which consisted of a long crust roll, filled with cold cuts, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, Italian herbs and spices, salt, and pepper. The sandwich started with a layer of cheese and ended with a layer of cheese (this was so the bread wouldn’t get soggy).”
The term hoagie originated in the Philadelphia area. Domenic Vitiello, professor of Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania asserts that Italians working at the World War I era shipyard in Philadelphia, known as Hog Island where emergency shipping was produced for the war effort, introduced the sandwich, by putting various meats, cheeses, and lettuce between two slices of bread. This became known as the “Hog Island” sandwich; hence, the “hoagie”.
The Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual offers a different explanation, that the sandwich was created by early twentieth century street vendors called “hokey-pokey men”, who sold antipasto salad, along with meats and cookies. When Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta H.M.S. Pinafore opened in Philadelphia in 1879, bakeries produced a long loaf called the pinafore. Entrepreneurial “hokey-pokey men” sliced the loaf in half, stuffed it with antipasto salad, and sold the world’s first “hoagie”.
Another explanation is that the word “hoagie” arose in the late 19th-early 20th century, among the Italian community in South Philadelphia, when “on the hoke” was a slang used to describe a destitute person. Deli owners would give away scraps of cheeses and meats in an Italian bread-roll known as a “hokie”, but the Italian immigrants pronounced it “hoagie.”
Other less likely explanations involve “Hogan” (a nickname for Irish workers at the Hog Island shipyard), a reference to the pork or “hog” meat used in hoagies, “honky sandwich” (using a racial slur for white people seen eating them) or “hooky sandwich” (derived from “hookie” for truant kids seen eating them). Shortly after WWII, there were numerous varieties of the term in use throughout Philadelphia. By the 1940s, the spellings “hoagie” and, to a lesser extent, “hoagy” had come to dominate lesser user variations like “hoogie” and “hoggie”. By 1955, restaurants throughout the area were using the term “hoagie”, with many selling hoagies and subs or hoagies and pizza. Listing in Pittsburgh show hoagies arriving in 1961 and becoming widespread in that city by 1966.
Former Philadelphia mayor (now Pennsylvania governor) Ed Rendell declared the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia”. However, there are claims that the hoagie was actually a product of nearby Chester, Pennsylvania. DiCostanza’s in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania claims that the mother of DiConstanza’s owner originated the hoagie in 1925 in Chester. DiCostanza relates the story that a customer came into the family deli and through the series of the customers’ requests and the deli’s offerings, the hoagie was created.
A local Philadelphia variation on the hoagie is the zep made in Norristown, Pennsylvania. It is a variation on the traditional hoagie, with no lettuce and only one meat. It is made on a foot-long crusted roll, with provolone cheese covering meat, chunks of raw onion, and slabs of tomato. It is dressed with oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, and hot pepper relish.
The term hero originated in New York City in the late 19th century when Italian laborers wanted a convenient lunch that reminded them of home. The name is credited to New York Herald Tribune food writer Clementine Paddleford, who wrote in the 1930s that you needed to be a hero to finish the gigantic Italian sandwich.
“Hero” (Heros as the plural so not to be confused with the word “Heroes”) remains the prevailing New York City term for most sandwiches on an oblong roll with a generally Italian flavor, in addition to the original described above. Pizzeria menus often include eggplant parmigiana, chicken parmigiana, and meatball heros, each served with tomato sauce. Pepper and egg heros and potato and egg heros are also popular.