In these days anyone in American can describe what a sub sandwich is. The most common fast food restaurant in today’s America is the Subway chain of sandwich shops. So, as the chain grew so did the use of the term sub to describe that pile of meats, cheeses, and toppings that get stuffed into a long bun.
But step back in time a little and such wouldn’t be so true. When stationed in Boston in the early 1960s ordering a sub might just get you stares. In Boston, and much of New England you stepped up to the counter and ordered a meatball grinder. Grinders were sold in grinder shops and they came either cold or hot. My favorite was, and is, a hot pastrami grinder with banana peppers, onions, and lots of Swiss cheese. A cold and very crispy Kosher dill slice on the side would also be appreciated.
Living in California during the mid-1960s you went to the market deli and ordered a sub. It was usually served on a split, long, crispy white roll and contained cold cuts, cheese, may, tomato, and shredded iceberg lettuce. You could also order a hot roast beef or pastrami dip with onion and cheese. The bun would be slightly dipped in au jus.
Drive through Eastern Pennsylvania and you’ll be looking for a hoagie shop and in Philly it’s going to be a cheese steak hoagie. In New Orleans you won’t find a hoagie but there will be many varieties of Po’ Boys to choose from. And you’ll probably be asked if you want it dressed or wet. Dressed is mayo, lettuce, onion, and tomato. Wet comes with a ladle of gravy poured over the contents. Get you a half shrimp-half oyster po’ boy with gravy sometime. You not go back home.
There was a time in America where you would order subs, grinders, po’ boys, hoagies, heroes, Italians, wedges, zeps, torpedoes, and more.
To finish up, next time you’re in Florida look for a Cuban. In some areas it’s a general name for a sub. But, elsewhere it’s a special kind of sub made from pork lunch meat, and always comes with cheese, pickles and mustard. And you’ll be asked if you want it pressed. Just take my word and say, “Yes.”