Luigi’s is a tiny sandwich shack across the street from the Rogue Valley Mall in Medford, Oregon. It opened in 1969, when a Pennsylvania transplant missed East Coast sandwiches enough to build a business around the lunch he remembered so well.
Luigi’s is famous, but its broader influence has wavered over the years. Here and there, imitations have popped up around Southern Oregon. Inferior versions of garbage grinders using slightly different names like Luigi (instead of Luigi’s) came and went. These sorts of charlatans are to be expected in big cities. New York has Original Ray’s posing as Famous Rays Pizza, but Southern Oregon restaurants usually aren’t renown enough to be so flattered. Luigi’s is just that special.
The goodness of its sandwiches is due to both baking process and assemblage. The meats are adequate. The bread is appropriate — not a fancy artisan loaf, but a pale, par-baked, Italian sandwich roll that goes in the conveyer oven soft and pale, then comes out as a unified toasted sandwich. It’s bread that works smart, not hard.
The Luigi’s difference starts with a “secret sauce” for grinders. We’ve had many sandwiches here, and still can’t quite crack what’s in it. The best we can determine is that it’s a concentrated, spicy tomato-based sauce.
The real secret to Luigi’s is the baking. Hot sandwiches get slid through a creaky old conveyor belt oven that chars the edges of the meat and crisps the bread. Sub sandwich chains attempt this, but they never come out as crisp as they do here, and with the flavors so unified.
The signature Garbage Grinder includes ham, salami, pepperoni, a cheese blend (likely cheddar and jack), pickles, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, the secret sauce, “EZ salt” and two handfuls of warmed onions. It’s a tremendous sandwich.
For those who don’t think the garbage grinder has enough on it, there is “The Untouchable,” which replaces the semi-raw onions with half-charred ones and adds mushrooms, olives and marinara sauce to the mix. The Untouchable is a favorite of ours on a menu full of winners, but we liked it better back when they called it “The Gut-Buster.” Apparently, they decided that the name was a tad vulgar.
Aside from grinders, Luigi’s does good versions of many Mid-Atlantic inspired hot sandwiches. Our favorite is the Eastern Pastrami, which sees thinly sliced pastrami given the conveyor belt oven treatment. The salty meat, Swiss cheese, raw onions, tangy pickles, and toasty bread make a nice package, not too greasy.