Having spent my first 30 years in that part of the world, I’m a bit protective of Philadelphia’s staple foods.
In fact, when the print edition of IBJ carrying this story hits the stand, I will be in Philly, most likely indulging in one or more items from the classic Philly culinary triad of soft pretzels, cheesesteaks and hoagies.
But do I really have to travel to the East Coast for viable versions of these? I’ve found reasonable facsimiles of two of the three here (believe it or not, Jersey Mike’s actually does OK with the steak sandwich and, while inconsistent, Pat’s Philly Pretzels usually does fine with its core offering). But what about the hoagie?
If any place could pull it off, it should be the expatriate Pennsylvanians running Hoagies & Hops (414 N. Dorman St., 690-2386), which recently opened inside Flat 12 Bierwerks.
Realizing that I could be either too generous because of nostalgia or too harsh for the same reason, I invited IBJ colleague—and more recent Philadelphia transplant—Jared Council along.
We were both impressed by the comfortable attitude of the place.
“Even though Philly is about 584 miles away, the atmosphere really reminded me of home,” said Council, who took positive note of the unapologetically scrappy kitchen, the rack of Herr’s chips on the wall, and the photos of landmarks like the Rocky statue. “I could instantly tell that this hoagie joint wasn’t just inspired by Philly, but Philly was in its DNA.”
High praise, indeed. However …
“While I thought the setting was authentic,” he added, “the food could use a little work getting there.”
We were both satisfied with the abundance and quality of the turkey, ham and salami on the Brotherly Love hoagie ($12.99) as well as the way the meats balanced with the provolone cheese.
His issue was with the bread.
“The bottom of the hoagie roll was not as moist and soft as it should have been, making eating that part of the sandwich feel like work,” he said. “Maybe this had to do with the fact that the rolls were shipped from New Jersey. Whatever the case, it diminished the experience a bit.”
I concurred in regard to the Dutch Country ($11.99), although, when the upside is genuine—thin-sliced Seltzer’s Lebanon Bologna accentuated with Muenster cheese and whole grain Pogue’s Run Porter mustard—the good outweighed the not-as-good.
The price was a bit off-putting. Apart from a daily special, a 9-inch sandwich is going to set you back at least $8.99, which can be tough to justify for an assembled-rather-than-cooked lunch sans beverage or side.
We sided, anyway—with the aforementioned Herr’s Chips ($1.49 a bag) and Pat’s soft pretzels ($2.49). Alas, our baggie of pretzel nuggets proved impossibly tough. When politely returned, the counter worker tried to convince us this was the norm for Philly pretzels, but we would have none of that. A replacement, full-size pretzel was far more on-the-mark—resistant outside, soft inside.
On another visit, I took great pleasure in the Always Sunny sandwich ($12.99) featuring turkey, Muenster, horseradish mayo, banana peppers, peppadew peppers, lettuce and tomato. My only objection was that the delicious—and ample—bits of Smoking Goose Bacon were casually sprinkled on top of the sandwich, so most of them ended up falling off after a bite or two. Embedding them inside—or offering complete strips of turkey—would easily alleviate the problem.
Lest I sound like an overly critical tourist, I do want to point out one of the big pluses at Hoagies & Hops—the hops. Unlike most actual Philly sandwich shops, Flat 12 has plenty of house-brewed beverage offerings to wash down the meal. Another nice touch: 10 percent off every day for firefighters, police officers, military personnel and vets.•