Movable Feast: Hoagies

Given that we here at The Current are, at best, amateur foodies, it was probably presumptuous of us to think we could judge who made the best Italian hoagie in University City.

This is the Italian hoagie, after all—the sandwich that, were it not for the mighty cheesesteak, would reign supreme over all other Philadelphia sandwiches. Who were we to judge?

That’s a good question, folks. But we decided we’d take a shot at the hoagie taste test anyway, mostly because we wanted to eat hoagies. Here’s what we found.

4309 Locust Street, $6.58

This sandwich shop is something of a legend among Penn alums, many of whom return to the place with each visit back to their alma mater.

For the most part, we found their hoagies lived up to the hype. Though one taster raised his eyebrows at the “improper construction” of the Koch’s hoagie—the meat and cheese were on top of the sandwich, rather than layered on the bottom, which made it somewhat difficult to eat—the authentic Italian taste was undeniable. “It tastes pretty good,” conceded our hoagie snob. We had just one criticism: While heavy on the ham, the salami distribution was a tad light for our taste. One added bonus was that Koch’s threw in two tasty dill pickles along with the hoagie—something none of our other stops offered.

The Original Pizza Express
Market Street between 35th and 36th , $4.50

The big surprise of our hoagie experiment was The Original Pizza Express, a lunch truck that boasted great service and, according to a majority of our tasters, the best sandwich of the day. This hoagie had just about everything: The bread was fresh and flavorful. The salami was potent but not overwhelming. It looked liked a real Italian hoagie and, with just enough oregano in the mix, it tasted like a real Italian hoagie, too. While one taster didn’t like the lettuce overload, most of the comments were positive. One taster described the sandwich as “very savory,” another added “”very satisfying,” and another, clearly impressed, simply said: “It’s the obvious winner.”

Lee’s Hoagie House
4034 Walnut Street, $5.88

Though the service at Lee’s, a regional chain with five city locations, was top-notch, we were slightly disappointed with our hoagie, which seemed to lack the flavor our other sandwiches had.

The biggest problem? A heavy dose of oil and some over-juicy vegetables made for an overly soggy hoagie. The sogginess didn’t do much to help the roll, which we found a tad chewy, and the meat didn’t offer much of a punch, either. We tasted a lot of salami, but not a whole lot else. Said one taster: “It’s a little bland.”
Not that the sandwich was without its charms: It offered a tasty array of sweet peppers that complimented the meat quite nicely, and we found that, of all the sandwiches we tasted, Lee’s was the easiest to handle and eat.

Originally published on January 26, 2006