Memories of an American classic: the submarine sandwich

It was heaven and had just the perfect combination of "stuff." The bread was soft and fresh and if you timed your visit just right, it might even be warm. I could sense it sigh as I bit into it. The blend of salami, capicola ham and pepperoni combined with provolone cheese felt as though each component was specifically made just to compliment the other. Lettuce, tomato and onion-- freshly sliced for flavor and crunch -- were added but what really brought the whole sub together was the dressing. The idea of putting salad dressing on a sandwich was off-putting to me as a child, but I was just beginning my culinary adventure. A sandwich was supposed to have mustard, ketchup or mayo just spread on one slice of bread. In this concoction, a slight drizzle of oil and vinegar mixed with a bit of garlic, oregano (and perhaps a few other ingredients) touched every component of this hearty offering. I was hooked. Any attempt on my part to improve on this was an utter disappointment. I tried different cheeses, extra cheese, different meat, extra meats, no tomato and so on, but to no avail. Finally I decided that just ordering an Italian sub was the way to go. I could not put my own fulfilling spin on it.

I wouldn't have a clue as to whatever happened to that store or its proprietor. I hear that area has grown but I haven't even driven through there in probably 20 years. Still, I can see mom heading into the store and grabbing my dad's hand (because we were in the parking lot) to head to the other corner of the plaza. There, we were greeted as regulars and enjoyed a special sandwich that I like to think could have been created by a close relative of the guy behind the counter. While I'm glad the sub has been demystified and is abundantly available anywhere, I will always remember those coveted nights with my dad and one amazing sandwich.

I love a good sub, don't you? Circa 1941, Benedetto Capaldo, a deli owner in New London, Connecticut, made a living by furnishing the nearby Groton submarine base with sandwiches. His creation was named after his best customers and the submarine sandwich was born. They aren't hard to find anymore. While quality might be a question from some places, the sub sandwich and all of its creative variations are abundant. That wasn't always the case though. As a boy, my father (perhaps sensing my future as a food geek) used to take me to a little Italian deli that made a wonderful sub with just the right amount of everything on it. It was in the same plaza where mom grocery shopped so I looked forward to grocery night when dad and I could steal away for our sandwiches. In those days, there was no Subway or grocery store deli counter so you were forced to go to an Italian deli. Those were not, however, on every corner in rural Florida. But this little shop in Spring Hill, about 90 minutes north of downtown Tampa, made one helluva sub. Owned by a first generation Italian-American, this guy could make a sandwich. To-go was not en vogue yet, so dine-in was the option of choice. I recall the sandwich being served in a red plastic basket with checked paper and filled with chips.

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