Submarine Sandwich

Naval Submarine Base New London


submarine sandwich, commonly known as a sub, or a hoagie (Mid-Atlantic and Western Pennsylvania), hero (New York City), Italian sandwich (Maine), or grinder (New England), is a type of cold or hot sandwich made from a cylindrical bread roll split lengthwise and filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and condiments.

The Italian sandwich originated in several different Italian American communities in the Northeast from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. The popularity of this Italian-American cuisine has grown from its origins in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to most parts of the U.S. and Canada, and with the advent of chain restaurants, is now available in many parts of the world.

The use of the term ‘submarine’ or (after the resemblance of the roll to the shape of a submarine) reportedly originated in New London, Connecticut (site of the Navy’s primary submarine base) during World War II, written advertisements from 1940 in Wilmington, Delaware, indicate the term originated prior to the United States’ entry into World War II.

One theory says the submarine was brought to the U.S. by Dominic Conti (1874–1954), an Italian immigrant who came to New York in the late 19th century. He is said to have named it after seeing the recovered 1901 submarine called Fenian Ram in the Paterson Museum of New Jersey in 1928. 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. The ‘Philadelphia Bulletin’ reported, in 1953, 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; shortened to ‘Hoggies,’ then the ‘hoagie.’ Some sources credit Big Band songwriter Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael (1899–1981), but the use of the word predates his celebrity.

‘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, meats, cookies and buns with a cut in them. 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 to early 20th centuries, among the Italian community in South Philadelphia, when ‘on the hoke’ meant that someone was destitute. 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.’

Shortly after World War II, there were numerous varieties of the term in use throughout Philadelphia. By the 1940s, the spelling ‘hoagie’ had come to dominate less-used variations like ‘hoogie’ and ‘hoggie.’ It is never spelled hoagy. By 1955, restaurants throughout the area were using the term hoagie. Listings in Pittsburgh show hoagies arriving in 1961 and becoming widespread in that city by 1966.

Former Philadelphia mayor (and later 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. DiCostanza’s in Boothwyn 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 an exchange matching the customer’s requests and the deli’s offerings, the hoagie was created.

The New York term ‘hero’ is first attested in 1937. The name is sometimes credited to the ‘New York Herald Tribune’ food writer Clementine Paddleford in the 1930s, but there is no good evidence for this. It is also sometimes claimed that it is related to the gyro, but this is unlikely as the gyro was unknown in the United States until the 1960s. Hero (plural usually heros, not 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 sauce.

‘Grinder’ is a common term in New England, but its origin has several possibilities. One theory traces to Italian-American slang for a dock worker, among whom the sandwich was popular. Others say that it was called a grinder because the bread’s hard crust required much chewing. In Pennsylvania, New York, and parts of New England, the term grinder usually refers to a hot submarine sandwich (meatball, sausage, etc.), whereas a cold sandwich (e.g., cold cuts) is usually called a ‘sub.’ In the Philadelphia area, the term grinder is also applied to any hoagie that is toasted in the oven after assembly, whether or not it is made with traditionally hot ingredients.

The term Italian is used in Maine. The term has its origin in Portland, Maine in 1899, when Giovanni Amato of Amato’s Italian delicatessen first sold the sandwich, called ‘an Italian’ by locals.

The term ‘wedge’ is used in the New York counties of Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester, as well as the Connecticut county of Fairfield – four counties directly north of New York City. Some base the name wedge on a diagonal cut in the middle of the sandwich, creating two halves cut out of the top half of the bread with the fillings ‘wedged’ in between, or a sandwich that is served between two ‘wedges’ of bread. It has also been said wedge is just short for ‘sandwich,’ with the name having originated from an Italian deli owner located in Yonkers, who got tired of saying the whole word.

The term spukie (‘spukkie’ or ‘spuckie’) is unique to the city of Boston and derives from the Italian word spuccadella, meaning ‘long roll.’ The word spuccadella is not typically found in Italian dictionaries, which may suggest that it could be a regional Italian dialect, or possibly a Boston Italian-American innovation. Spukie is typically heard in parts of Dorchester and South Boston. Some bakeries in Boston’s North End neighborhood have homemade spuccadellas for sale.

Similar sandwiches include the Gatsby (South Africa), Blimpie (Hoboken, New Jersey), Po’ boy (Louisiana), Cosmo (Williamsport, Pennsylvania), Smoske (Belgium), and  Dagobert (Belgium).


2 Comments to “Submarine Sandwich”

  1. I love a good hoagie

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