There are other great sandwiches besides Cuban sandwiches and, of course, barbecue sandwiches. Right up near the top of any Great Sandwich list is the Italian Sub (or Hoagie or Poor Boy or Grinder or Hero or Torpedo or whatever you called it where you grew up.)
The Washington Post had an article a while back about the best Italian subs in Washington. They purchased subs from seven different highly-rated sub venues within DC and had a group taste-test subs from each place. The winner was Mangialardo’s, a tiny former Italian grocery in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast DC. You can tell you’re getting close to Mangialardo’s by the police cars and fire trucks double parked as the drivers rush (or stroll) in to pick up sacks of subs for their colleagues.
We used to live a few blocks from Mangialardo’s, and I usually went there on Saturday. I brought Patrick in his stroller often enough that he was referred to as The Mangialardo’s Baby. My regular order was a G-Man on a hard roll with hot peppers.
The G-Man is the Platonic ideal of the Italian sub. It illustrates just what an Italian sub should be. Their hard rolls are perfect for Italian subs: dense with a good solid crust. (Mangialrdo’s also offers an insipid soft roll, but cast that thought from your mind.) The bread is filled with generous portions of ham, salami, mortadella, pepperoni, fontina, provolone, some oregano, and your choice of hot or mild peppers, all topped with lettuce and tomato. Mortadella is sadly underutilized in Italian subs, as is fontina.
Importantly, the lettuce is not shredded. I know, some people, many of whom are from Philadelphia, think that it is important to use shredded lettuce. If that’s the way you ate subs when you grew up, fine. There’s no sense in arguing. I will simply observe that I have never seen shredded lettuce in any high-end restaurant, and that many of the same people who prefer shredded lettuce also like Cheese Whiz. And that is fine. This is America, where each of us has and regularly exercises the right to make our own mistakes.
Mangialardo’s also makes their own Italian sausage, and it really is good. You should buy some. I’ve had their sausage subs, and the sausage is great, but for a sausage sub you really need a midlevel bread, something halfway between the dense hard rolls and the flabby soft rolls.
I rarely get to Mangialardo’s any more. I now live in Northwest DC, and the prize-winning DC Office of Traffic Obstruction makes the drive across town daunting. Also, the G-Man is pretty hard on the waistline — No Sandwich for Old Men. I’m down to maybe one a year, usually before Christmas when I go to a Harris Teeter (there’s one a block from Mangialardo’s) to find a Sarah Lee Pecan Coffee Cake for Christmas morning. Maybe I should go to Mangialardo’s tomorrow for some sausages, and maybe get a G-Man, too.
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