We’re sitting at the counter 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. Most folks are eating, of course. That’s the business of the place, after all. But some are apparently here just to socialize. They aren’t eating anything. They should be, because Lou’s makes a mean zep, a Norristown, PA specialty. So, what’s a zep?
A zep is NOT a hoagie. Let’s make that clear right away. The differences may appear subtle to the zep neophyte, but eating proves otherwise. To begin with, there’s no lettuce on a zep. And the onions play a major role. The fresh, soft, and 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.
All 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.” The sandwich is dressed with oil, vinegar, and oregano. Simple and perfect, far more than the sum of its parts.
The tomatoes on our zep were juicy-ripe Jersey specimens and, because they had used up the day’s supply of traditional extra-wide zep bread, our sandwiches were made with 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 the jars arrayed down the counter.
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 our 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!
You can get all sorts of sandwiches, hot and cold, at Lou’s, even a cheesesteak 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.414 East Main Street Norristown PA 19401 610-279-5415 Lou’s Steak Shop on Facebook