The Facebook group I have been talking about all week, If you grew up in St. Marys, PA you remember..., has managed to unearth some amazing memories and about 75% of them have to do with food. When I wrote Fry Bacon. Add Onions I was very careful about preserving some of the recipes that seemed to be unique to our little corner of the world. To this day my recipe for keuchels, passed down from my Great-Aunt Mary Dippold, seems to be the only one on the internet. But since hanging out in this group a lot of other food memories have surfaced. None seems to have a bigger following than Vito's hoagies.
Vito's hoagies were made at and sold by Vito's Dairy Dell which was on the corner of Parade Street and No. Michael Street in St. Marys. Since my Gram lived on Evers Avenue that meant Vito's was about half a block away. Whenever we visited Gram we always managed to get in a little walk down to Vito's for popsicles, comic books, candy and, of course, hoagies. He also sold the Sunday papers, Meisel's rye bread, and other things that grown-ups liked.
Vito's actually started out as Freddy's Dairy Dell when I was a kid but somewhere along the line Freddy decided to retire and he sold the Dairy Dell to Vito which is a good thing because it was a neighborhood treasure. Among other things Freddy passed on his recipe for hoagies and Vito was still making them the last time I was there.
Now before we go any further there are 2 things you need to know:
- Hoagies are NOT to be confused with subs, grinders, po'boys or any other kind of popular sandwich. Hoagies have 4 ingredients: bread, cheese, sauce and,
- Chipped, chopped ham. If you are not from our part of the world (western PA and parts of Ohio) you may be unfamiliar with chipped, chopped ham. This is a food product that is unlike any other. It is lunch meat that comes in a loaf but instead of being sliced like most lunch meat, it is “chipped” or shaved so it is very, very thin. I don't know why slicing it so very thin makes it taste so very good but it does.
WARNING: Hoagies do not – I repeat, NOT – contain lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions or any other superfluous junk. A hoagie is a beautiful thing and must not be tampered with.
Sometimes when I was in high school and stopped in at Vito's for something he asked me if I could help out for a little while if someone hadn't come in to work or it was extra busy. To tell the truth, I don't remember if it was Vito or Freddy who ran it then but one of my jobs was to make hoagies. Vito (or Freddy) would take a loaf of chopped ham out of the deli case, set the blade on the slicer to be a little higher than chipped but much thinner than most sliced deli meat, and slice up a pile. Then he would slice up a pile of white American cheese. Then it was time to make the secret sauce.
To make the secret sauce you got a quart jar of canned peppers, the medium hot ones that had been canned in a light tomato sauce (sometimes he made 2 kinds, the medium and the hot, using the appropriate peppers), throw the contents of the jar in the blender, blend until all the peppers were well chopped but not soupy, and you were ready to assemble.
First, you open a soft sub roll and lay several slices of chopped ham over it to cover the bun and drape over the edges. Then you add a couple slices of American cheese, then you spoon the pepper mixture down the middle of the cheese. Carefully fold the ham and the cheese over the pepper sauce and tuck in the edges. Close the bun and wrap in white deli paper.
And there you have it a perfect Vito's (or Freddy's) hoagie. If it sits on the counter in the middle of a stack of other hoagies for a couple hours it is just that much better. It gets kind of packed down and it never spoils because nothing in there is capable of spoiling.
So that's it, hoagie lovers. Keep an eye out for that chipped chopped ham. Next time we'll talk about Lebanon bologna – another deli delicacy I've never seen outside of central Pennsylvania.
Thanks for reading.