April 2004 Best Bites: Local Heroes
The sandwich called a hero, hoagie, grinder, po'boy, or submarine is a crusty loaf filled with Italian cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and hot peppers. It's one of America's favorite sandwiches.
We tasted 19 of them and found, not surprisingly, that what distinguishes a good sub from a bad one is the quality of the bread and cold cuts. A great sub also should be properly dressed–neither too dry nor too moist–and should maintain a balance between sour, sweet, salty, and hot. To our surprise, we found that thinly sliced cold cuts taste better than thickly sliced ones. Four servers of subs stood out; another four weren't far behind.
Cornucopia (8102 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1625). Proof that paying a bit more is sometimes worth it. A dazzling array of high-quality, paper-thin slices of meats and cheeses and just a hint of sweetness in the bread make for an elegant sandwich. Price: $6.99 to $8.99; ask for an Italian meats sandwich–it's not on the menu.
A. Litteri (517 Morse St., NE; 202-544-0183). A generous, old-fashioned Italian-American sub from Washington's old-fashioned Italian market. Good meats and cheeses, with an olive salad. Price: $3.50 for a 6-inch sandwich; $4.50 for a 9-inch, on a hard roll; $7 for a 12-inch, on a soft roll.
Olazzo (7921 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-9496). A wedge of marvelous crusty ciabatta, good thin-sliced meats and cheeses, and just enough olive oil and vinegar to give the whole thing zing–it makes a well-balanced, delicious sandwich. Price: $6.50; available only at lunchtime.
Vace (3315 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-363-1999; 4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6367). Here's the near-perfect formula–good bread, good meat, a nice pepper-tomato-olive spread. It's properly moist, but the store sells them so quickly that you can buy even a prepackaged one with confidence that it won't be soggy. Price: $4–the bargain of the winners.
Da Marco Italian Gourmet (8662 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-588-6999). You have a choice of a crusty or softer sub roll, and both are the real thing. Good meats and a variety of hot and sweet peppers round out a solid sandwich, though it may be a bit on the vinegary side for some. Price: $5.20.
La Piazza (535 E. Braddock Rd., Alexandria; 703-519-7711). Crusty bread, nicely rolled meats and cheeses, with romaine instead of the usual iceberg. Caveats: No mortadella in the lineup, and salt lovers will want to bring along the shaker. Price: $6.
Marcella la Bersagliera (8540 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-951-1818). The Italian cold-cut sandwich had nice, thinly sliced meats and cheese, a little lettuce, and hot peppers on good bread. Price: $4.95.
Potbelly (locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia). The only one of the national chains–we also tried Subway and Quiznos–that makes a sub worth the name, Potbelly makes its Italian sandwich with good capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, salami, and provolone on toasted house-baked bread. It's also a bargain–only $3.79.