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The Philadelphia Hoagie: Mysterious and Delicious

Posted on Thursday, October 1, 2020

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In the City of Philadelphia, a mystery lies between two 8-inch Italian rolls. Known throughout the United States as subs, heroes, and grinders, these long sandwiches are known as “hoagies” in the City of Brotherly Love, but nobody really knows why.

A hoagie can be filled with many things, but what most consider the “classic” Philadelphia hoagie consists of Italian deli meats such as ham or salami, cheeses such as provolone or mozzarella, and an assortment of toppings from peppers to onions, often with fixings of Italian dressing, oregano, and even a splash of vinegar. However, the way this trend started remains a little murky.

One of the most popular theories is that it came from the delicious sandwiches made by Italian immigrants constructing warships at the Hog Island Navy Yard during World War I. Their sandwiches would be dubbed “hoggies” as a reference to their place of work, and the Philadelphia accent transformed this into the “hoagie” term we use today. However, while this shipyard closed in the 1920s, the term “hoagie” didn’t appear in print until the 1940s, so some cast doubt on this story.

Many theories abound as towards the origin of the hoagie, ranging from it being a hastily-made lunch given to the poor or “hokey pokey men”, to local bakeries creating the hoagie as a means of promoting a Gilbert and Sullivan opera in the 19th Century! However, the most likely origin for this mouthwatering classic comes from a jazz musician by the name of Al De Palma. During the late 1920s, he witnessed a former worker of the Hog Island Navy Yard eating what he considered to be a comically large sandwich. He allegedly remarked, “You’d have to be a hog yourself to eat a sandwich that big.” Once the Great Depression hit, he felt inspired to recreate the massive sandwich he witnessed, thus he opened a sandwich shop that sold the very first “hoggies”. These delectable delicacies grew so popular that he formed a chain across Philadelphia, and the sandwich’s legacy only grew from there.

All this talk of sandwiches must have made The Constitutional Walking Tour’s Senior Guide Michael quite hungry. Check out his journey above to discover the best of Philadelphia’s famous and flavorful finger food!

With such an appetizing array of hoagies, nobody would blame you if your stomach started rumbling. See below for the three hoagie locations Michael sampled, as well as a selection of other top-notch places to buy yourself a fabulous Philly favorite!

Campo’s - Philly Cheesesteaks & Hoagies (Area: Old City)

214 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215.923.1000

Campo's - Philly Cheesesteaks and Hoagies
A beloved staple of Old City and visitors taking The Constitutional Walking Tour, Campo’s is just a short walk from the National Constitution Center where The Constitutional Walking Tour departs from and concludes. Founded in 1947 as a humble grocery store and butcher shop, Campo’s has been family run for decades! Although they’re best known for their Philly Cheesesteaks, Campo's hoagies are the stuff of legends. The Constitutional Walking Tour also offers a VIP Philly Cheesesteak Experience & Tour at Campo's (advance reservations are required - call 215.525.1776).

Campo's Italian Special Hoagie

Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies (Area: Center City)

51 N. 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215.592.7799

Carmen's Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheesesteaks

Among the famous international vendors of Reading Terminal Market, Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks presents a more local flavor to this popular culinary attraction. Family owned and operated since 1983, Carmen’s cash-only storefront has a wide variety of delicious hoagies on the menu. They even have a vegan hoagie made with seitan beef!

Cosmi’s Deli (Area: South Philadelphia)

1501 S. 8th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
215.468.6093

Cosmi's Deli

Known as one of the greatest local hoagie spots in South Philly, Cosmi’s Deli is beloved for honing the “true art of the hoagie”. Cosmi’s takes pride in its status as a local eatery, using local bread for its sandwiches as well as fresh imported Italian meats. Founded as Cosmi’s Market in 1932, for nearly a century Cosmi’s has been delighting customers with its rich and indulgent sandwich recipes.

Cosmi's Deli - The Godfather Hoagie

Di Bruno Bros. (Area: Multiple locations across Philadelphia)

Location near The Constitutional Walking Tour:
834 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
267.519.3115

Di. Bruno Bros.

Founded in 1939, today Di Bruno Bros boasts five locations across the city and is widely considered the city’s most popular gourmet deli. Though their selection is dizzyingly diverse, their hoagies are known to be dependable and delectable. Made from the highest quality imported ingredients in a farmer’s market setting, Di Bruno Bros establishments are not ones to be missed.

Matt and Marie’s (Area: Logan Square, Center City)

100 N. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
267.273.1940

Matt & Marie's

A much more recent fixture to the Philadelphia hoagie scene, Matt and Marie’s owner and top chef both left New York City to hone the art of the Italian sandwich. Though new to the city, Matt and Marie’s specializes in artisan recipes. To find the perfect bread, they spent months sampling 30 local bakeries, all to find the best roll to to make their artisan hoagies very appetizing.

Pastificio (Area: Packer Park, South Philadelphia)

1528 Packer Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19145
215.467-1111

Lauded by Philly Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer, this Pastificio Homemade Pasta Co. has a high pedigree. An Italian market and deli, Pastificio is beloved throughout much of South Philly for its positively pleasing pastas and hoagies.Pastificio Homemade Pasta Co.

Primo Hoagies (Many locations throughout the Philadelphia area)

Location close to The Constitutional Walking Tour:
128 S. 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215.925.4500

Primo Hoagies, 128 S. 11th Street, Philadelphia

One of the most widespread distributors of hoagies, it might be surprising just how recently Primo Hoagies was founded. In 1992 the hoagie shop was founded in South Philadelphia, but it has since rapidly expanded into 95 locations in 7 states, from New Jersey to Florida. This award-winning hoagie stop uses bread baked every 2 hours to ensure they have the freshest supplies.

The Foodery at Rittenhouse (Area: Center City)

1710 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
215.567.1500
The Foodery

More experimental than many other hoagie places on this list, The Foodery at Rittenhouse is a trendy deli, eatery and bar that boasts refined charcuterie and over 600 beers. But their hoagies, too, are quite beloved, featuring more traditional sandwiches of Genoa salami and mozzarella, but also vegetarian and pescatarian hoagie options.

Wawa (Area: Many locations across the Philly region)

Location along The Constitutional Walking Tour:
6th & Chestnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106
267.299.6269

Wawa - 6th & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, along The Constitutional Walking Tour

Across much of the Eastern seaboard, Wawa is a household name. It is difficult to overstate the relevance of Wawa, especially in its relationship to the hoagie.

With 900 stores from New Jersey to Florida, Wawa is the convenience store most responsible for spreading the word about this unique Philly sandwich. Unlike many other sandwich chains, Wawa refuses to ditch the name, and instead educates outsiders about what a “hoagie” means. To celebrate this, every year they have what is known as Hoagiefest, during which they partner with local charities and businesses to construct the largest hoagies of all time. Their all-time record was well over a mile and a quarter in length! To make their hoagie deliveries even easier during such harrowing times, they utilize an app and their ordering kiosk to minimize contact. Safe, smart, and scrumptious! You can also get Philly soft pretzels at Wawa.

Wawa - The Spicy Italian Hoagie
 

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