Lou’s Sandwich Shop | In Norristown a Zep is Not a Hoagie

Review by: Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle

Norristown Slice of Life

Repeat after us: A zep is not a hoagie. Lou’s shows why.

We’re sitting at the counter of Lou’s Sandwich Shop enjoying our sandwiches when the cook addresses the old man eating soup and crackers to our left: “You doin’ OK? Are these people bothering you?” He motions toward us. The man smiles and continues spooning into his bowl of soup. “What kind of shake you got?” Now he’s talking to us. Our waitress fixed us a superlative chocolate shake. He scrunched up his face. “I only like banella shakes. You know banella? The little kids down the street, they come in here asking for banella, now they got me saying it.”

Lou’s Sandwich Shop is a slice of Norristown life par excellence. The place is filled with activity. Everyone seems to know everyone. They aren’t all eating, either. They should be, because Lou’s Sandwich Shop specializes in a sandwich unique to Norristown: the zep.

What is a Zep?

We will say it again: A zep is not a hoagie. The differences may appear subtle to a neophyte, but eating proves otherwise. To begin with, there’s no lettuce on a zep. And onions play a major role. The fresh, soft, chewy rolls come from the nearby Conshohocken Bakery. And while a hoagie (or hero or sub) may feature multiple meats and cheeses, a zep is built around one meat and one cheese.

Zep shops offer all sorts of zep variations, but the original, the cheapest, and the best is the one you get if you simply ask for a zep without modifiers: salami and provolone. The cheese is mild, the thickly sliced cooked salami seems to be the offspring of a mating with “luncheon meat,” and the sandwich is dressed with oil, vinegar, and oregano. Simple and perfect, far more than the sum of its parts … and proof positive that a zep is not a hoagie.

The tomatoes on our zep were juicy-ripe Jersey specimens. Because they had used up the day’s supply of traditional extra-wide zep bread, they made our sandwiches on double-lengths of narrower bread (with that same distinctive, toothsome quality) from the same bakery. We love to add spoonfuls of chopped hot pickled peppers from jars arrayed down the counter.

A Sweetheart Waitress

A large zep is a lot of food, so our waitress wrapped the last section to go. After lunch we snapped some photos and left. As we were getting into the car, our waitress came running out to us, bag in hand. Our leftover zep! She noticed we attacked the jars of hot peppers with gusto, so she wrapped up a portion and dropped it into our to-go bag for garnishing our leftover zep later. What a sweetheart!

Beyond the Zep

You can get all sorts of sandwiches, hot and cold, at Lou’s Sandwich Shop, even a cheese steak if you like. Man cannot, after all, live by zeps alone. Nonetheless, if you visit from out of town, you’d be silly to ask for anything but a zep. And, perhaps, a chocolate or banella shake.

What To Eat

Large Zep

Small Meat Ball Sandwich

Crushed Hot Peppers

Chocolate Extra Thick Shake


Lou’s Sandwich Shop | In Norristown a Zep is Not a Hoagie Recipes


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