Eat These Words: Hoagies of TV History

By: Joe Lofranco

In the latest edition of Eat These Words, our intrepid food columnist Joe Lofranco tries to find the best $25 and Under hoagie options in Toronto while reflecting on the great sandwich quests of Bill Cosby and his own personal hoagie recipe.

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I don’t use my cable TV much anymore. It’s free with my apartment, so I’ve still got it, but it’s just hard to find anything good on. There was a period though, when I was getting home from work every day around 6pm, and I’d turn on the TV and flip to the Christian channel, CTS, and I’d be treated to an hour’s worth of The Cos. I grew up in the 80s, so The Cosby Show was the show. I also remember when The Simpsons came around in 1989 in the same time slot (Thursdays at 8pm) and tried to take on The King of Sitcoms.

The show was close to perfect: not as sexy or risqué as Cheers, so it was good for the whole family; not based in a far-off land dealing with heavy subject matter like M*A*S*H, so it was accessible while also not shying away from important or controversial topics; it was genuinely funny, and sweet while not being saccharine. Thirty years later I remember so many specific moments, or even lines, from the show that it kinda surprises me. And then there were the hoagies. Sometimes it felt like Cliff was Wile E. Coyote and the hoagies were the Roadrunner, always escaping him at the last second when Clair would burst in and remind him that he was on a diet. Do you remember the episode where Cliff dreamed that all the men got pregnant? Of course you do. Martin gave birth to a schooner (because he was in the navy, get it?), Theo a car, and Cliff: a giant hoagie. Hoagies were an inextricable aspect of Cliff’s character, showing both his Philadelphia roots, and his love of the simple things. I loved those sandwiches. I don’t know if they had some kind of prop guy design them, but nothing ever looked as delicious as they did. Bill Cosby taught me to put potato chips on my sandwiches; I’d never done that before him.

Bill Cosby has some thoughts and feelings on hoagies.

Bill Cosby has some thoughts and feelings on hoagies.

Toronto’s filled with good sandwiches. I’ve already been over California and San Francesco with you, you know about Commisso’s veal, there’s Banh Mi available on the cheap on Spadina and the expensive hipster version at Banh Mi Boys. Deli favs at Caplansky’s New Yorker, Yitz’s and Katz’s, Bread and Roses in High Park makes one of the greatest roast turkey sandwiches in the world, hell, you’ve got your pick. But no hoagies. Sure, you’ve got Subway and Mr. Sub, but I’m being serious here. Belly Busters at Yonge and Lawrence is really the only place I can think of, but those are technically subs, not hoagies. New York Subway on Queen actually has better burritos than subs. We’re missing out here.

The difference, as far as I’m concerned, between a hoagie and a sub is a few key ingredients. According to Cosby himself when he would make Hoagies for Fat Albert, he’d use salami, provolone, onions (Fat Albert “loved onions, he loved lots of onions”), ham, peppers (not hot ones), some lettuce and olive oil. But on his show, he always had chips in there as well. There are a few key ingredients here that lead me to believe the hoagie (as Cosby knows it) was of Italian origin: provolone, sweet peppers and olive oil. Most subs don’t have that. Cosby’s hoagie actually reminds me a lot of the Muffuletta, except it’s on a long roll instead of a bun.

Over the years, I’ve tinkered with my own version of the hoagie, which I present to you here. I see one of the essential changes as the decision to leave out the lettuce altogether. I didn’t really feel like it added anything to the sandwich itself. My versions of the hoagie don’t have a name yet, so feel free to suggest some for me. The Joe-gie? I dunno.

The Hoagie.

The Hoagie.

The Hoagie Sangwich:

1 can pitted black olives

1 clove of garlic

Mortadella

Capicola (or, as my father calls it Cabagol)

Genoa Salami

Provolone

Havarti

Sweet Roasted Red Peppers

Lemon Juice/Zest

1 can anchovies

Salt and Pepper

Capers

For the Olive Spread:

In your magic bullet, add your rinsed olives, some lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, half a can of anchovies (make sure you rinse them first), the peeled garlic, and a bunch of capers along with a good bunch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I’m not giving specific measurements here because it doesn’t work like that: you gotta figure out whether you like a little more lemon or a little less, etc.

Add a pinch of salt and some pepper. You could also squirt in a touch of hot sauce if you want. Puree that stuff up real good. Add more Olive Oil if necessary. When you’re all done, you can toss that into a tupperware, cover the olive spread (tapenade if you’re fancy) with a layer of Olive Oil, and it’ll stay fresh in the fridge for a couple days (if you want it to last longer, I’d drop the fish, but it makes a huge difference in taste!).

Assemble the Sangwich:

Next, slice open your roll.

Spread a bunch of tapenade on both sides (if you’re making this for later, lay down the cheese first to act as a barrier so the bread doesn’t get too soggy).

Lay down your cheese and meat in layers, alternating between the two and then you’re good to go.

The variation I use simply substitutes the olive spread for an olive salad. Make it the day before if you can:

Smash a few garlic cloves and toss them in a bowl with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Open a can of artichoke hearts, rinse and then quarter them and add them to the bowl.

Next add some roasted red peppers.

Take a good variety of olives, kalamata, Spanish queen, black, green, red, whatever, and chop ‘em up and get rid of the pits if any.

Add some more oil and a pinch of salt and some pepper and mix it all up.

Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and toss it in the fridge to marinate over night.

Put the sandwich together the next day and eat.

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