In this country the period between Labor Day and the end of the year is chock full of holidays. With Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s all piling into shared months, it seems every time you turn around there is a new reason to celebrate. But once January hits there is a lull. The festive vibe dies down and we are left out in the cold — literally.
But the truth is that there are holidays running just about every day of the year, you just have to search to find them. And yeah, maybe they might be a bit smaller and not as well-known as some others, and not all of them will include flying reindeer and door-buster sales at department stores, but that’s no reason to ignore them entirely. Why not put a bit of pep in your week this Tuesday as we celebrate National Cold Cuts Day?
While to some, cold cuts may not seem like much to get excited over, we beg to differ. Sliced meats have held their place in every lunchbox and deli counter in America for the last hundred years and have become a staple everywhere from tailgate parties to your mom’s fridge. Every animal from cow to pig to fowl has a variety, and they can be found on just about every type of sandwich coast to coast.
But when it comes to South Jersey, there is one sandwich that makes better use of cold cuts than perhaps any other, and that is the Italian sub. The sandwich has its variations, but the standard version starts with a long roll to which various cured Italian meats such as salami, capicola and prosciutto are added and topped with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, oil and vinegar and spices.
A bit of history
The origin of the Italian sandwich – they weren’t referred to as “subs” until after world War II — goes back to the early 1900s, when Italian immigrants came to this country in droves, settling in the Northeast in cities like New York and Philadelphia. The Italian sandwich, which had roots in the Southern Italian city of Naples, became a popular lunch option among the immigrant workers who held mostly labor-based jobs at the time, working in construction and on the docks of the waterfront as longshoremen. Who served it first is the source of much debate, but the best known legend states that James Manganaro came to New York during the early 20th century to work with his cousin in the deli business in New York City. His version of the sandwich, which was sold at the now-closed Manganaro’s is what popularized it within the region.
As the 20th century rolled on, Italian families began to expand out into the suburbs, and New Jersey being both geographically and culturally wedged between the two big cities, suddenly became a mecca for all things Italian, including the now famous sandwich, which is why it can be found just about everywhere in the Garden State.
Great spots to grab one
Just about every deli and sub shop in the area has some version of the Italian Sub (or hoagie, or hero depending on where you go), but in South Jersey, there are a few spots that really stand out from the crowd.
White House Subs in Atlantic City has managed to make a name for itself, with its well-established fame traveling well beyond our region, as it has become a known right of passage for celebs in America’s Playground to stop in, grab a few subs and leave a signed picture, of which hundreds line the walls in this small, yet beloved, institution. As far as Atlantic City is concerned, White House is where the sub caught on and is the official OG.
“Back in the 40s and 50s many of the workers in our area did not have a lot of money, so the best thing for them to do was to grab a big roll and throw a few pieces of meat in there. And that is really how the submarine’s popularity began around here. It was what the workers ate in Atlantic City,” says Wayne Richardson, manager at White House Subs.
Over the years, White House has developed a reputation for producing a variety of great sandwiches, including one of the meanest cheesesteaks this side of the Liberty Bell, but the sandwich that put them on the map, and remains their signature to this day, is the Italian.
In White House’s version, provolone cheese joins forces with capicola, coteghino and salami and is topped with lettuce, tomato and onion along with a bit of oil and, if the customer requests it, vinegar. White House prefers not to mess with perfection.
“We deal exclusively with Philadelphia Deli Meats,” Richardson says. “In fact, our salami is created from the same recipe built specifically for the White House back in the 1940s. We stay consistent. If you talk to someone who came here back in the ‘50s and comes in today, they will say ‘this sub tastes exactly the same as it did 70 years ago.’ I hear it all the time.”
White House Subs is owned by the Basile and Sacco-Conley families, and if the Sacco name sounds phonetically familiar, that is to be expected, as they own Sack O’ Subs, another popular local chain of sub shops where you can grab a great Italian sub, should you not want to make the trek into Atlantic City. Sack O’ Subs has locations in Ocean City, Egg Harbor Township, Ventnor, Absecon, Atlantic City and Northfield. Another spot with White House ties is Pete’s Subs and Deli in Egg Harbor Township. The shop is owned and operated by Pete Nistico, a lifelong sandwich man who spent his childhood working at White House Subs and learning the art of crafting the perfect Italian sub. The subs you will find at Pete’s will immediately remind you of their more famous cousins at White House. Another pseudo-relative of the White House is Dino’s Subs and Pizza in Margate. Dino's opened in the early '60s (across the street from where the current location stands) and in 1972, original owner Claire Saponare sold the shop to Joe Tozzi. Tozzi had worked as a manager at White House for years before he took over at Dino's, selling the same classic Italian subs he spent years slinging in Atlantic City. Tozzi passed away in October of 2019, and new owner Tim Wainwright has pledged to keep the history and flavors intact at Dino’s.
White House may be king in Atlantic City, but if you are anywhere near Mays Landing, folks will point you in one direction for a great sandwich — Sugar Hill Sub Shop.
Run by the bubbly and friendly owner Denise Delany, Sugar Hill Sub Shop has been serving up tasty subs piled with fresh cold cuts since 1982. Options on the menu include everything from classics like roast beef and ham to more exotic choices like their jerk-seasoned turkey breast. In addition there are a wide variety of signature sandwiches with names like “The Dagwood” and “Dazzling Danny’s Special Club.” While the Italian sub is what they are best known for, those in the know will tell you to go for the version known as “The Italian Stallion.” A sort of top shelf variant on the classic, The Italian Stallion features black peppered ham, prosciutto, genoa salami and smoked provolone piled high on an Formica roll with lettuce, tomato, onions and your choice of oil and vinegar or mayo.
“We use a smoked provolone and really high-quality imported meats. It’s the best stuff you can get,” says Delany proudly as she plates one of Sugar Hill’s signature subs. “We’ve been around for 38 years and we have never advertised. People know us purely through word of mouth,” Delany says.
Patrons at Sugar Hill are given the option of three different types of Formica rolls — old-fashioned seeded, multigrain and classic A.C. style.
Roses Garden Grill has been a staple for great Italian subs for years in its original Northfield location, and now they have added a second outpost in The Exchange in Galloway. Rose’s has an entire subsection of its menu dedicated to Italian subs, with no fewer than eight options to choose from. Their main one is called the Atlantic City and contains Genoa salami, capicola, coteghino and mild provolone topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. Other varieties swap in various ingredients such as sharp provolone and prosciutto, and in some cases, even tuna.
For the deep southerners
Primo Hoagies may have gotten their start in Philadelphia back in 1992, but they have steadily expanded throughout the deepest parts of South Jersey with locations in Ocean City as well as Sea Isle, Avalon, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Rio Grande. And though they may technically be considered a chain, don’t let that dissuade you from visiting, as Primo Hoagies produces what is hands down one of the tastiest Italian subs (or “hoagies” if you prefer) found anywhere. Unlike most shops on this list, they do not use A.C. style sub rolls, instead opting for a sturdy, heavily sesame-seeded roll which is then stacked with various meats and cheeses plus lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar and spices. They are of course famous for their “Italian specialty sandwiches,” of which they offer no fewer than five varieties: Italian, Mild Italian, Sharp Italian, Mild Sharp Italian and Old Italian.
And about that bread …
Though it may be National Cold Cuts Day, we couldn’t just skip over the device that holds just about every great sub together in South Jersey — the A.C. Sub roll. A staple in our neck of the woods since just after World War II, these crusty loaves can be found pretty much everywhere that serves a good sandwich, and just about all of them come from one of two Atlantic City bakeries: Rando or Formica’s.
Both bakeries have been around since the early 1900s and have outlasted just about every competitor in the area. So what is the secret to this beloved carb?
“The one thing that is truly unique about Atlantic City sub bread is the water,” says Frank Formica of Formica’s. “The water in Atlantic City has won the national taste testing in Virginia three times and the fourth time they told us not to come back. Our tap water is the purest in the country and it’s naturally soft which means it’s great for making delicious, crusty bread.”