If you’re a sandwich-seeker, someone always on the lookout for the next great sandwich in your city, you know the joy of finding a place that really nails all the little nuances that make for a truly satisfying meal. The ratio of bread to meat to veg to sauce — what can seem like a simple dish can be much more complicated than you’d think at first glance. Well, New Yorkers, specifically those who live and work in the Financial District, just got a great new sandwich, and it can be found just a few blocks from the new World Trade Center down a little side street being made by a former banker: Dave's Hoagies.
You may have read about Dave Bagan. He has gotten good press from Grub Street and Gothamist for being particular about the bread he’s using for the five hoagies (Italian, turkey, prosciutto, roast beef, and vegetarian) served at his new spot Dave’s Hoagies, which opened in early May. Parisi Bakery worked with Bagan to create exactly the right kind of bread to surround the meats, sourced from the Lorenzo Food Group in Englewood, N.J.
"Bread is critical since it's the ‘cradle’ of the sandwich," Bagan noted. "The crust should not be too firm where it can cut the roof of your mouth, but should have enough give so it's easy to bite through. I prefer a softer crust while others swear by a harder seeded crust (heathens)."
While acknowledging that everyone who grew up eating hoagies has an opinion about what makes one perfect, Bagan believes the roll should not have too much bread in the interior so you can appreciate the other ingredients. "The roll we use is slightly sweet so it offsets the saltiness of the peppers, artichokes, etc. Most importantly, the bottom of the roll should never break! Parisi Bakery has created the perfect roll for me. Amoroso Bakery in Philly is not too pleased."
For context, Bagan is from South Jersey near Philadelphia, where he ate two Italian hoagies a day for lunch and one at Terrigno’s Deli every weekend — sandwiches made with a chewy Italian bread. But there’s more going than just good bread. There’s a layering strategy, a philosophy surrounding what lovers of Italian-American style sandwiches know as the experience that you could call "the drip," a component tactic, and a fantastic finishing touch.
There are varying opinions as to how to best layer a hoagie — as many layering philosophies as there are hoagie shops. Should the cheese be first or the meat? Or should it be the vegetables? Last summer, as part of his research, Bagan was surrounded by eight members of the Terrigno family (mostly women) telling him how he should layer his hoagies (he said it could have been a movie scene). "I decided to layer mine so that the cheese is first, followed by the meat and then the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.," he said. "It keeps the peppers and artichokes from immediately falling out."
Then there’s the drip, a sign that a sandwich was made by trustworthy hands. That occasional "Pat. Pat-pat. Pit. Pat-pat," that soft sound of glory — pure flavor in liquid form, means that most likely, every bite of that sandwich is going to be appropriately seasoned and flavorful. It’s a very reassuring sound.
Bagan is a believer in the drip. "Any worthwhile hoagie should have enough moisture come out of the end of the roll so that you can sop up the juice with the end of the roll for your final bite," he said. "If you can't do that, it's too dry. Furthermore, the longer you wait to eat a hoagie, the better it will be. It should be able to travel well and I've enjoyed quite a few on the train from Philly to New York City."
Were truer words ever spoken? There’s a special place in heaven for a man who makes a sandwich the way he’d like to eat it. But there’s a nuance to the drip, too! Of course, first of all, it has to be vinegar-based — that tang and even coating is an essential part of the sandwich. Bagan wouldn’t reveal the ingredients that make up his personal formula (he tested 30 recipes), but did confirm that vinegar base, adding that it should have some mystery ingredient (usually herbs) that keeps people guessing as to what gives it that special taste.
"I would never order a hoagie with just mayonnaise or mustard, so the oil and vinegar dressing is the key," explained Bagan, adding that he doesn’t even keep mustard in the store. "Traditional hoagie shops in Philly will squeeze oil and vinegar on the top of the sandwich, which is fine but too messy for the customers I'm serving. I decided to 'paint' the roll with a balsamic vinaigrette so the vinegar in present whenever you get a bite of bread. I always get hot peppers on my hoagie. They are essential. You need a balance between the meat and cheese, and the vegetables."
As for the vegetables — this is Bagan's little twist on the traditional hoagie (hoagie sauce versus oil and vinegar squeezed on top, red onion instead of white, and the artichokes which are found in some places but not all). They contribute to the great flavor of the sandwich and the drip.
The finishing touch? A sprinkle of grated Parmesan that adds an unexpected salty tang at the end.
Go. Get the Italian (Genoa salami, hot soppressata, and hot coppa) with the works (sharp provolone, chopped Romaine, tomato slices, shaved red onions, roasted red peppers, chopped hot cherry peppers, diced artichoke hearts, all dusted with Parmesan). Lovers of the White House Special in Atlantic City won’t find a sandwich that equals it in length, but you can finally get a taste of that classic right here in Manhattan. It’s a great sandwich made by a nice guy in a spot that if there’s anything good about this world, will have to fend off customers.