The Italian, a super sandwich from Hops & Pie in Berkeley.EXPAND
The Italian, a super sandwich from Hops & Pie in Berkeley.
Linnea Covington

What's for Lunch: Hops & Pie's Italian Hero

Every now and then a dish comes around to surprise you, but it's not often that that meal comes in sandwich form. Such is the case with Hops & Pie's true hero, the Italian.

Chef/co-owner Drew Watson created this magnificent sandwich more than five years ago, and the fact that its praises have yet to be sung from the highest mountain makes us think it's listed on a secret, shake-hands-and-knock-three-times sort of menu. But you don't have to jump through hoops; you only have to head to this Berkeley hot spot during lunch or dinner and order one. It's a hard decision to make, given the roster of great pizzas, but we promise you won't be disappointed.

But how, we asked him, did he come up with such a spectacular construction? He answered it simply: "A good balance of sweet, salty and acidity, along with some crunch and daily fresh-made bread."

Oh, that bread! The dough is made using a starter base and ferments for three days before the hoagie rolls are formed and baked. "This allows the yeast to slowly do its job to leaven the bread as well as develop some nice, natural flavors," says Watson. "The dough's hydration is 50-percent IPA as well, which lends to the flavor as well as provides food for the yeast."

To say he nailed it is an understatement. Not only does the bread taste even better than it looks, it also holds a mound of ingredients neatly within the eight-inch roll. So there's none of that messy explosion that often happens when biting into other massive sandwiches. And Watson doesn't skip on filling, either. Nicely nestled inside are succulent slices of sopressata, layers of thinly sliced proscuitto, toothsome provolone, pleasing mortadella and crisp romaine lettuce. But wait, there's more — a red wine vinegar aioli, fresh tomatoes, housemade bread-and-butter pickles and pickled banana peppers. The latter really give this marvel that tart and slightly spicy bite that make you know you're eating a classic Italian hero. Overall, it tastes fresh and hearty; even if you promise yourself you won't finish the whole thing in one sitting, chances are you won't be able to stop after the first bite.

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