“It’s no Hobby’s,” said my dad.
Then, failing to get the response he wanted, he repeated himself.
“It’s no Hobby’s.”
My father had woken me from a nap on a Sunday afternoon, prime napping time if ever it existed, by asking if I was taking a nap. Groggily, I replied, “Wha?”
“I was just thinking, if you wanted to run to Hobby’s for sandwiches, I’d pay,” he said.
Now I love napping. Love it. When a nap grabs you by the collar and gently lays you down on the nearest soft surface, you don’t fight it. You accept the honor of the nap settling upon your drowsy brow and you sleep.
But Hobby’s Hoagies is probably the love of my life. I mean, women are great and my kids are, uh, they’re pretty good. But Hobby’s Hoagies has been an integral part of my life for more than two decades now.
“Nononono, m’wake,” I said. “Lemme put on pants.”
Non-fun fact: Hobby’s Hoagies is not open on Sundays. So. I was awake and my dad wanted a tuna salad sub and I went to a James Jonathan’s for a sandwich that was quirkily quick or something.
“It’s no Hobby’s,” he said. And I didn’t answer him, because I didn’t think he needed my help making the case. Of course a fast food sandwich joint isn’t going to match up against our beloved local sub shop.
And, disclaimer time, I’m not sure I can give Hobby’s a fair review. I have no personal ties to the owners or staff of Hobby’s Hoagies. Despite them having a few of my previous reviews on the wall, I’m pretty sure they couldn’t tell me from any other fat, bearded sandwich enthusiast. No, the problem is that this restaurant shaped my understanding of sandwiches in a very real way. This is where I fell in love with Philly cheese steaks. This is where I first had a magical condiment called “hot chopped peppers” that makes everything it touches better.
So, yes, I’m biased. But I still love Hobby’s and I think you will, too.
I probably ate at Hobby’s every other day for the entirety of my senior year. Hobby’s and Steve’s Rib were our go-to lunches and I never got tired of either of them. I’m pretty sure I worked my busboy job solely to pay for sandwiches, movies and comic books that year. Those were the days.
My usual orders were the Hobby's Special Italian ($9.39 for a 12-inch/$6.09 for a 7-inch) or the Philly Cheese Steak ($10.19/$6.89 7-inch) and, frankly, nothing much has changed. While my palate has expanded in exciting and unexpected ways over the years, I am once again a gawky 17-year-old kid with an insatiable appetite when I step through Hobby’s doors.
The Special Italian is like a regular Italian, just more special.
And “special” in this case means “with cappocola.” Before you freak out on me, that’s how Hobby’s spells it. I generally spell it “capicola,” but it’s all the same stuff. It’s a spicy salami made with the neck meat of the hog. On “The Sopranos,” Tony referred to it as gabagool.
Look, it’s good, OK? Capicola, ham, salami and provolone are stuffed into a fresh-baked hoagie roll with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle, oil and vinegar and those blessed hot chopped peppers.
It took a lot of restraint on my part to photograph this sandwich, much less to take each bite slowly to try to parse out flavors. This sandwich makes me go into auto-pilot mode. What you’re getting are Boar’s Head Italian cold cuts on a chewy roll. The hot pepper mash cuts right through the fattiness of the meats and gives way to the creamy, tangy provolone. I don’t know if anybody else cares for this sandwich as much as I do, but I love it and I will not apologize for loving it.
What I have for the Philly Cheese Steak is not love. It’s lust. There’s some animal quality in me that comes out when I get a Philly. I’d tell you to look away, but you’ll do that instinctively.
Hobby’s takes thinly sliced steak and basically stir fries it with onions and cheese before stuffing it into a roll. You can get a small sub, but you’re cheating yourself.
I don’t know that adding shredded lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and pepper mash is the way they do it in Philadelphia and I don’t care. The mix of hot and cold, savory and tart, is a joy. And about four or five bites throughout the 12-inch sub, you will hit a perfect blend of meat, cheese, onions and peppers that just sings.
The bread is well-suited to soaking up the beefy jus, but you won’t want to let it sit too long, or else it will get soggy. Goodness, I think I’m about to go eat one of these right now.
My dad was right about the tuna sub ($9.19/$5.89). It’s a simple mix of albacore tuna and Miracle Whip (in case you’re wondering where that tangy zip comes from) topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and, yes, the cherry pepper mash. And that, plus the fresh-baked bread, is really what makes all the difference. The cherry peppers add a pop of heat and the spice cuts through the fat of the mayo.
If you’re getting the California Club ($9.19/$6.89) hoping for a ton of turkey, you won’t be pleased. It’s not a meat-heavy sandwich, but the mix of turkey, cheese, perfectly cooked bacon, guacamole and sprouts is both light and satisfying.
Don’t sleep on it, though. The bread soaks up the moisture pretty quickly.
The same goes for the Meatball Sub ($10.19/$6.89). It’s not going to be a problem, though. The meatballs are tender and the marinara they’re covered in is sweet and a little spicy, with a nice acidic bite. I get mine with sauteed onions and bell peppers on top, but it’s fine without, too. I was mostly impressed with the texture of the meatballs, which can be difficult to get right.
Finally, I tried a favorite for kids and parents alike and probably some people who were never kids. Clones and such. Everybody loves a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.99), especially when it’s made like this.
Two big, thick pieces of bread are buttered and set to toasting on the griddle with a pile of white American cheese melting between them. Get a napkin, because your fingers will be glistening with butter after you pick this up.
“Ew, glistening with butter? Sounds gross,” is something only a Russian spy would say, comrade. Americans love butter and I love this sandwich. If you’re looking for something low on spice to appease your terrible children, or my terrible children, this is a sure-fire hit.
I hope you enjoy Hobby’s Hoagies as much as I do, but I can’t guarantee it. These are the sandwiches of my youth. They taste like home. But as best I can judge, through the haze of years, these are some of the best subs in Oklahoma.
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Philly cheese steak - $10.19
Special Italian sub - $9.39
Tuna sub - $9.19
Grilled cheese - $4.99