After living on the Main Line for about 12 years I have as yet found only one place to get a truely great Hoagie: Lovecchio's Pizza Shop in Bryn Mawr, Just Behind Bryn Mawr Hospital off Haverford Rd.
I first encountered the Hoagie in Atlantic City at the age of 7 when my beloved late Uncle Jack bought me my first one cleverly disguised as a submarine sandwich. Even though the whole family worked in my Granfather Izzy's delicatessen in Strawberry Mansion, and I could have any sandwich I wanted anytime of the day, that first Hoqgie was a revelation. The combination of olive oil, cheese, spices meats and and vegetables was an instant sensory delight.
I remember the antipastos at a large Italian restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, with its delicious Genoa Salami. This was the same sensation on a roll. For the first time in my life I actually enjoyed the taste of cheese. The mild, slightly sweet provolone of the sandwich was the first time that cheese didn't taste to me like sour milk. Forever after, that first Hoagie, from the Atlantic Avenue Submarine Sandwich shop was the Gold Standard by which I measured all future Hoagies.
I had, much to my disappointment tried the Hoagies from a number of other shops. Primos, had much too much meat. They were nice enough about it. When I returned several months later and complained that eating their Hoagie was like eating a slab of boiled ham, they politely told me that I could just ask for half the meat and twice the vegetables. I did this a few weeks later but there was still to much meat and not enough lettuce, tomato and onion. At Dakota Pizza, the meat was sliced so thick, (probably by a worker trying to get his chores done quickly) that it tasted weird. Real Pizza in Narbeth came very close. But its Hoagie was so jam packed that it was served open face and you could barely close it and the roll was a bit soggy from the oil.
Lovecchio's to my mind is the only place, out here, that has this simple but elegant treat, an antipasto of a roll, done just right. They remind me of my two favorite greek sayings:
All things in moderation
Whatever is done rightly, however humble, is noble.
At Lovecchio's the humble Hoagie is done exactly right. Nothing is out of balance. No one part has been supersized at the expense of another. The roll is fresh and crusty. There are three italian meats, but only a single layer of each. They are in balance with the lettuce, onion and tomatoes, which blend their scents with the cheese and oil. It is the Hoagie done right, with taste and balance.
At other venues that have disappointed over the years, I feel like yelling out what Casey Stengle shouted during one memorable game, when his poor Mets hit into a triple play: "Does anyone here know how to play this game?"
Also at Lovecchio's the french fries are Steak fries, wide thin slices of potato lightly fried and very potatoey. What can I say. It takes a tough Italian to make a great Hoagie.