If there's one thing most Cincinnatians enjoy, it's a good hoagie. Known by other names across the US— hero, submarine sandwich, po'boy, wedge, grinder— the hoagie has become a staple of the American delicatessen's lunchtime repertoire.
Where the heck did the name "hoagie" come from, anyways?
The sandwich (and the word “hoagie”) likely originated in Italian-American communities of the northeastern United States— most closely associated with Philadelphia.
Conventional wisdom in the City of Brotherly Love holds that Italian-American shipbuilders and dockworkers at the Hog Island yard favored the sandwich during World War I. They were working around the clock to produce ships for the war effort and could not step away to grab a bite, so many of their wives made them hearty loaf sandwiches stuffed with cheap lunchmeats, cheeses and vegetables— essentially an entire meal on a bun— to get them through the day.
The "Hog Island" sandwich became known as a "hog-gie," which in the Italians' accented English sounded like "hoagie."
As Italian-Americans from the northeast moved west with manufacturing jobs in the early part of the 20th Century, a lot of them settled in and around Cincinnati; the West Side (historically a Catholic area) and Northern Kentucky in particular, had large Italian populations. The hoagie— both the sandwich and the word— was probably introduced to Cincinnati as a result of this migration.
A Cincinnati-style hoagie?
Though lesser known than Cincinnati-style chili (itself not chili at all, but a thin meat stew of Greco-Mediterranean origin), the Cincinnati-style hoagie is a ground steak patty on a long bun, topped with tomato, onion, pickles and either a mushroom reduction or tomato sauce.
A distant cousin to the Philly cheesesteak, it is less dependent on butter and grilled vegetables. Often, a Cincinnati steak hoagie is served on a long poppy seed bun instead of true French bread. There are plenty of places to get them around the Tristate area, too.
A hoagie hotbed.
The most famous might be LaRosa's steak hoagie.
Starting with one location in the Westwood neighborhood in 1954, Donald "Buddy" LaRosa built a booming chain of pizza restaurants. Now numbering over 60 locations throughout the Tristate region, LaRosa's is a household name for every Cincinnatian. The chain's menu features nine different hoagies (in case the standard steak isn't your style), including the Baked Buddy— capacola, salami and pepperoni with LaRosa's signature sweet tomato sauce— named after its founder.
Another classic pizza parlor known around town for its hoagie selection is Pasquale's in Bellevue, just across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati.
Open daily, Pasquale's offers 16 variations on the sandwich, all on garlic-salted buns. In addition to the classic Cincinnati-style steak, it serves up a culture-bending Goetta Hoagie (blending the region's strong German and Italian cultural roots) sure to please any true denizen of the Blue Chip City.
A bit pricier, but worth the drive on taste alone, is Ferrari's Little Italy in Madeira, Ohio, about 15 minutes northeast of downtown.
Opened in 2002 by the Bassano family, the restaurant features medium-priced, sit-down Italian fare for lunch and dinner. If you have a Jones for a hoagie and found yourself out in the 'burbs, try their Veal Parmesan hoagie, topped with provolone cheese and marinara sauce, or their Italian hoagie, featuring capacola, salami, provolone and an olive spread.
While you're there, pick up some fresh bread to take home; the restaurant features its very own bakery!
Hoagie Day? This is a thing?
Apparently so. September 14th is recognized as National Eat a Hoagie Day. We're not quite sure who is the governing body in charge of food holidays, but if you need an excuse to calorie splurge at lunch, go with it.
One of the joys of retirement living is having the time to explore and do what you want to. Living well sometimes just means adding some spontaneity and joviality to your everyday life. So, on September 14th, go bravely forth to your local deli or pizzeria and remember those hardworking Hog Islanders: scarf a hoagie.
We won't even make you wipe your mouth.