Meatball Sandwich: A Deliciously Confusing Culinary Creation

The humble meatball sandwich, a staple of Italian-American cuisine, has sparked a debate as heated as the marinara sauce it’s often served with: what is the proper name for this culinary delight? Is it a “meatball hero” or a “meatball sub”?

Both terms are widely used, but the answer, as with many language-related matters, is nuanced and depends on regional preferences and historical context.

The Case for “Meatball Hero”

The term “hero” originates from Philadelphia, where Italian immigrants began selling sandwiches in the early 20th century. These sandwiches, typically filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables, were dubbed “heroes” due to their generous size and ability to satisfy even the heartiest appetites.

As meatball sandwiches gained popularity, they naturally adopted the “hero” moniker, becoming a beloved staple in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.

The Case for “Meatball Sub”

The term “sub” has its roots in New England, where submarine sandwiches, or “subs,” emerged in the early 20th century. These sandwiches, typically served on long, crusty rolls, were named after submarines due to their torpedo-like shape.

As meatball sandwiches spread throughout the United States, they were often referred to as “subs” in regions where submarine sandwiches were already popular.

Regional Variations and Historical Context

The terms “meatball hero” and “meatball sub” are often used interchangeably, with no clear regional boundaries or historical precedence dictating one over the other.

In Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, “meatball hero” remains the dominant term, while in New England and other parts of the country, “meatball sub” is more common.

However, it’s important to note that these are just general trends, and individual preferences can vary widely.

The Takeaway: A Deliciously Confusing Choice

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer to the question of “meatball hero” versus “meatball sub.” Both terms are widely used and accepted, and the choice often comes down to regional preference or personal habit.

So, whether you call it a “meatball hero” or a “meatball sub,” one thing is certain: this classic sandwich is a delicious and satisfying treat that has captured the hearts (and stomachs) of many.

Additional Considerations:

  • Other regional variations: In some areas, meatball sandwiches may be called “meatball hoagies” or “meatball grinders.”
  • The role of the bread: The type of bread used can also influence the name. For example, a meatball sandwich served on a long, crusty roll is more likely to be called a “sub,” while one served on a smaller, softer roll may be called a “hero.”
  • Personal preference: At the end of the day, the most important thing is to call it whatever you like!

As it happens, I live less than a mile from Bartolini’s, a restaurant famous for its meatball sandwiches. Infamous, maybe, as they have a meatball sandwich challenge.

Others would criticize us for not calling it a meatball sub, even though that is exactly what it is—sub is short for submarine sandwich, so I think that’s a little bit of splitting hairs.

I tried a few others. One day, I went to my old favorite, Bombacigno’s, for a late lunch. Twenty-five minutes after placing my order, I discovered that they had only one remaining meatball, but they had substituted Italian beef for the remaining portion of the sandwich. I could have had worse things happen to me than what happened to me. The thinly sliced beef had started to shred, and the meatball had become dense and dumpling-like from its longer-than-usual immersion in the red sauce. Neither were presented at their best. However, this sandwich was so good that I couldn’t help but wonder why it wasn’t a standard combination—aside from the fact that it merely added the two to each other rather than truly combining them. However, the time for a meatball/beef combo might have arrived.

Now that we’re firmly in the Ms, we’re about halfway through the list. If you have been following along, you will know that there are only so many ways to sandwich items before you begin to see some repetitions. I’m not sure if it’s because the sandwiches aren’t very novel or if I just don’t have the motivation, but it seems like the “What can I write about X sandwich?” question appears in a lot of my sandwich posts lately. And even though, to the best of my memory, we haven’t yet done anything precisely like a meatball sandwich, it is still a meatball sandwich. It’s a basic. Although they’re kind of a South Side Chicago thing around here, I’m pretty sure you can find a meatball sub anywhere people of Italian descent are preparing sandwiches.

I was surprised to see that the meatballs, all by themselves on that garlicky grilled bread, didn’t seem all that appetizing. That was resolved (at least for me) with some red sauce and parmesan. Reddit still thinks this sandwich looks too dry).

Speaking of tiffs, which are another word for “argument,” “row,” “fight,” “squabble,” “dispute,” or whatever else we use, let me tell you about a little altercation I had in a Southern California supermarket once while I was teaching a class at the cooking school next door and needed anise seeds. The people I was teaching with insisted that fennel seeds and they were the same thing. Thank goodness for America’s multiculturalism, I went straight to the meat counter and asked an Italian-American butcher if he knew the answer. He immediately agreed, saying, “Of course they’re not the same thing!”

In the United States, these grinders were frequently offered at Italian-American spaghetti restaurants, which also frequently served meatballs and spaghetti. It’s interesting to note that I’ve heard that meatballs in tomato sauce aren’t served with pasta in Italy. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to every part of Italy, so I can’t state with certainty* However, it’s funny that Italian-Americans are giving them out like candy.

These sandwiches are technically known as “grinders,” and if you refer to them in any other way, you were not raised in Connecticut. You most likely hail from one of the other 49 states that refer to them as hoagies, submarine sandwiches (or subs), torpedo sandwiches, hero sandwiches, poor boys, or hero sandwiches instead of grinders. (Which, as the shoe is on the other food, I now realize are all just to confuse the foreigners.) Because there are hot meatballs bobbing in tomato sauce, ready to be sandwiched between two pieces of crusty bread and topped with melted cheese to be eaten, let’s just call them meatball sandwiches. Who wants to argue over names?

I was loosely inspired by the recipe in Tartine Bread, where meatballs sandwiches were sometimes the staff meal at their bakery. I futzed around with the recipe quite a bit and came up with what I’ve been digging into for lunch lately. This recipe makes kind of a lot of meatballs, but you can do as I did and freeze a portion of them in a zip-top bag or another container, and use them whenever the urge strikes for a meatball grinder. Or sub. Or hoagie.

However, from what I have personally witnessed with my own eyes (and mouth), meatballs, or polpetti, are served alone in Italy. Basta. I’ve only seen boulettes, or French meatballs, in Middle Eastern and Lebanese restaurants. They are usually enormous meatballs that are served with a plate of different appetizers. I don’t know who came up with the brilliant idea of putting meatballs and tomato sauce on a sandwich, but I want to thank them. And they get no argument from me.

You Won’t Find A Better Meatball Sub Recipe! | Better At Home


What is another name for a meatball sandwich?

Depending on the region, this classic Italian-American sandwich goes by many names, from hoagie to hero to grinder to sub.

What is the name of the meatball sub at Subway?

Create your own Meatball Marinara Sub. With all the fresh veggies and sauces you like.

Is it a meatball sub or hoagie?

Meatball Sub Sandwiches feature homemade meatballs covered in tangy marinara sauce, topped with gooey fontina (or mozzarella cheese) AND provolone cheese, all loaded on a hoagie roll! Top with fresh basil, red pepper flakes, and grated parmesan cheese for extra flavor.

Do Italians eat meatball subs?

Meatball sandwiches are not as well-known in Italy as they are in the United States, but they are definitely a classic dish in Italy.

What is a meatball sandwich?

The meatball sandwich is a common sandwich that is a part of several cuisines, including Italian-American cuisine and American cuisine. The sandwich primarily consists of meatballs, a tomato sauce or marinara sauce, and bread, such as Italian bread, baguette and bread rolls.

What’s in an Italian meatball sandwich?

You don’t have to have Italian blood running through your veins to appreciate a good, old-fashioned Italian meatball sandwich. This recipe has it all — sub bread, juicy homemade meatballs, delicious red sauce, and a dusting of mozzarella cheese on top to complete the sandwich.

How do you make a sandwich with meatballs?

11 Add 4 meatballs to each of the bottom halves of the rolls; top with 2 pieces of provolone cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned, 1 to 2 minutes. 12 Add more sauce to each sandwich if desired. Sprinkle each sub with parmesan cheese and parsley. Top with the remaining hoagie roll halves. Serve immediately.

What are the components of a meatball sandwich?

There are basically four components to a meatball sandwich, which are the meatballs, the marinara sauce, the cheese, and the bread. Because I have my own homemade marinara sauce recipe that I absolutely adore and always prepare when a recipe calls for marinara, I begin by preparing that and keeping it warm.

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