One of my all-time favorite foods is a good submarine sandwich from a genuine delicatessen. I think this fondness began back when I was a teenager and became a regular at Little John’s Deli on “The Corner” near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, the proliferation over the years of chain restaurants like Subway and Quiznos has resulted in good subs being even harder to come by. Not only are there fewer places that serve truly good submarine sandwiches because they have been driven out of business by the fast food alternatives, but many people’s opinion of what constitutes a good sub has been skewed simply by what has been available and what they have gotten used to.
In keeping with my tradition of treating myself to lunch at a local restaurant, and then posting my review of the restaurant on this blog at the end of each month, I am closing out April by reviewing “Mangialardo and Sons Italian Deli” located at 1317 Pennsylvania Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of southeast D.C. (MAP).
I recently discovered Mangialardo’s while I was out for a ride, and it now rates at the top of my all-time list of great joints for this type of sandwich. I’m certainly not the first to discover it, considering the fact that people were eating there since before I was born, but it was new to me. So regardless of whether you call them hoagies, heros, grinders, torpedos, bombers, or subs, you should try one at Mangialardo’s.
One of a dying breed in the D.C. area, Mangialardo’s is a true multi-generational mom-and-pop eatery that has been serving the same neighborhood for more than a half-century. Opened in 1953 by Antonio and Anna Mangialardo as a grocery store and delicatessen, it had begun to focus more on subs by the late ’60s. Today, the cash-only carryout is owned by Antonio and Anna’s grandson, Tony (who was there running things when I was there), and is still selling cold-cut and oven-toasted subs to a diverse crowd that, in addition to Capitol Hill residents and Federal office workers, includes a large number of police officers, firefighters, garbage workers, mail carriers and other flavors of D.C blue-collar workers.
Mangialardo’s is a no-table counter-service carryout that does one thing and does it well: subs. There are more than a dozen on the menu, but the one I had is the option that dominates most orders — the “G Man.” It’s their signature sandwich, and contains a heaping pile of ham, salami, mortadella and pepperoni with provolone and fontina cheese on either a soft or hard roll, which are made by a local area bakery. I chose the soft roll, and topped it off with some lettuce, tomato slices, sweet peppers, and oil and vinegar, for one of the best sandwiches I have had in years.
Like many great sandwiches, the “G Man” comes with a back story. In the early 1970s, a pair of FBI Agents on their way to a Redskins game (at old RFK Stadium just down the street) stopped by the deli for a couple of subs. Tired of the same thing, they asked Antonio to make them something special. “Two days later, a different group of Agents came in and said they wanted ‘that ‘G Man’ sub.” After that, as word had spread through the office, a signature sub was born. To this day, Mangialardo’s is a haven for law-enforcement and public safety types as attested to by the a pinboard near the pickup counter is covered with duty patches from area police and fire departments.
I’ll be going back soon, maybe for breakfast. Mangialardo’s has a selection of breakfast sandwiches available when the doors open at 7:30 am. And, yes: Its most popular sandwich is available then, too. “Hey, it’s never too early for a ‘G’ Man!” says Tony.