N.J.'s best sub/hoagie shop finals: A sub so good 'you'll hear angels singing'

N.J.'s best sub/hoagie shop finals: A sub so good 'you'll hear angels singing'

“I was surprised by the number of people following you,” said Ron Giglio, manager of Carmen’s Deli in Belmawr, one of ten finalists in our N.J.’s best sub/hoagie shop showdown. “People came in, said, “I saw you in the top 10.’ ”

If there’s one thing you can say about our N.J.’s best missions, it’s that people take them seriously. No one does anything remotely like this on a statewide level. Our top 40 and top 10 contenders are not simply a matter of someone sitting down and coming up with a list based on reputation, Facebook likes or yelp rating. It’s not the same old same old.

We enlist reader participation right from the beginning, asking for nominations. More than 350 sub/hoagie shops were nominated in this project; every single one was placed on the ballot. The top five vote-getters in each region became 20 of our semifinalists: I picked the other 20. I visited all 40 over two weeks. A total of 40,000 people voted.

Of course, we get more than our share of “This is bogus; how could you leave such-and-such off the list,” but that’s part of the fun – and challenge – of doing these projects. 

Were big names left off the top 40 and top 10 lists? Yep, but this is a search for the best, not best-known. Will thousands of people disagree with the results? Certainly. But our N.J.’s best projects are more thorough and honest than anything else out there.

Don’t forget, you can vote for the Readers’ Choice winner until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6. I will pick the overall winner. On Wednesday, Dec. 7, we will walk, unannounced, through the door of the winner – N.J.’s best sub/hoagie shop. You can watch it live on nj.com.

Carmen’s Deli is the kind of place where specials are written on construction paper, and the smudged/tattered sandwich menu, taped to a wall, looks like it went through the sub wars. A sign says “Take a number for hoagie,” for the South Jersey word for sub, but Giglio calls them subs, because long sub rolls are used. Here we explain the difference between a sub, hoagie and hero.

Carmen’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary; Carmen Bartolone opened the store in 1966, selling it to his sister-in-law, Rose, seven months later.

The Rose’s Special sub, with capicola, prosciutto, regular and sharp provolone, sopresata and roasted red peppers, is named after her; it’s an absolute must for first-timers here.

The Giglio family recently sold the store to Tom Whitman, owner of Del Buono’s Bakery in Haddon Heights. Del Buono’s makes the bread for the subs; Deluxe Bakery in Runnemede makes the bread for the cheesesteaks.

“I’m a true entrepreneur,” says Whitman, a Domino’s Pizza franchisee for many years. “I love successful businesses. That’s what Del Buono’s is, that’s what Ronnie has here.”

He plans to open Carmen’s Deli locations in Haddon Heights, Marlton, Stratford and Turnersville in the next year or so. The vacant space next to the Bellmawr store is being converted into a restaurant/takeout foods spot.

Enough with the backstory; it’s time to eat. Naturally, we ordered a Rose’s Special.

“A very very good Italian sub,” said judge Kevin Monsell. “All the right ingredients hitting all the right notes. I don’t know how another Italian sub could beat this one.”

Actually, he found one that did – the Pappa John sub, with capicola, salami, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic and basil. “I’ve got a dilemna now because I don’t know how I’ll be able to eat another Italian sub without basil,” Monsell said

The roast pork sub? “The sub I’d run away with,” he said. “The ingredients all harmonized together so well I heard angels singing.”

John Cohl, another judge, admired the “meat-tastic flavor” of the Pappa John and said it would be South Jersey’s best hoagie if not for the Rose’s Special, “wrapped in some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted and everything a NJ sub/hoagie should and ought to be.”

My favorite sub here: The Rose’s Special. Simply, a great sub. 

Why this shop can win it all:  Old-school deli (take a number!) with friendly staff and some of South Jersey’s – and the state’s – best subs.


I heard from several people who said the locals don’t go to this Route 33 sandwich shop, they prefer several Italian delis nearby. Well, you could have fooled me, because the place was packed on our lunchtime visit. 

The shop is named after Otto Soglow’s Little King comic strip, with its madcap monarch and scant dialogue one of the crowning achievements of comic art history. 

Owner Robert Mustardo’s dad once delivered Thumann’s meat here; on every visit Mustardo would order a #27, with corned beef, turkey, Swiss and American cheese, and Russian dressing.

Mustardo worked at Little King as a teenager, and later attended culinary school and worked at  “some of the best restaurants” in Philadelphia. He would go on to buy his favorite childhood sandwich shop, and says his goal is to keep selling the subs that have been on the menu the past 50 years, while adding “my own twist.”

Meats are mostly Thumann’s, while the bread comes from Italian Peoples Bakery and Franca Bakery.

Looking for a tasty veggie sub? Try the marinated veggie sub, with eggplant, broccoli rabe, banana peppers, mushrooms, hot pepper mayo and choice of fresh mozzarella or sharp provolone. 

Monsell called it “totally out of my sub comfort level,” but “extremely flavorful.” He praised “the perfect proportions” of ingredients in the #27, and said the roast pork special was all the reason he needed “to come back to the Kingdom.”

John Cohl was another big fan of the #27, “a great non-Italian sub with almost perfectly balanced flavors,” and said the marinated veggie sub “delivers more flavor than (other shops’)  meat-filled subs.” 

He reserved his highest praise for the roast pork special, with sharp provolone, roasted peppers, broccoli rabe, banana peppers, rosemary mayo and crispy shallots.

“They’ve completely re-engineered the roast pork sandwich into something weirdly and wildly different, and totally deserving of a truckload of praise and food buzz,” Cohl said. “The fried shallots alone are worth the trip.”

My favorite sub here: The Italian roast beef special, with fried hot peppers.

Why this shop can win it all:  Cozy neighborhood shop with plenty of options, and an owner always coming up with creative, unique subs.

Peter Genovese may be reached at pgenovese@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PeteGenovese or via The Munchmobile @NJ_Munchmobile. Find the Munchmobile on Facebook and Instagram.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Published at Sun, 04 Dec 2016 16:30:00 +0000