The 'Zep' is a sandwich with rules

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. - November 8, 2011

In Philly, it's usually a hoagie and lots of places call it a sub...short for submarine. But Norristown historically looks to the skies, not the water, and their signature long Italian sandwich is called a Zep.

It's short for zeppelin, the lighter-than-air craft that plied the skies about 80 years ago. But "zep" isn't just another name. It defines a sandwich made according to precise rules.

We visited Lou's, a sandwich shop that's almost as old as the zep. They've been in business for 70 years now. Third-generation owner Lou Alba told us his zeps are made on custom rolls produced just for his shop at a bakery in neighboring Conshohocken.

The fresh bread is layered with not-too-sharp provolone cheese, cooked salami, tomatoes, onions, and olive oil. Hot peppers are optional. zeps never contain lettuce.

Historically, there was a tuna version or a cheese-only variety served on Fridays back in the days when the Roman Catholic Church banned eating meat. And that was about it. Today, Lou's offers the traditional zep, plus turkey, beef, ham, tuna, steak, hamburger, and chicken salad versions. But most customers...many of whom have been coming for more than 50 years...still choose the original.

Most zeps are made on a whole or half long Italian roll, but Lou's also has a version on a round roll to accommodate smaller appetites. They also make hoagies with multiple meats, lettuce, tomato and the like.

You can get a cheese steak, many other sandwiches including clubs, plus chili, soups, salads and breakfast.

Most zeps are eaten on the premises or bagged up to go. But occasionally, Alba has been asked to do the unusual.

A few years back, a former Norristown resident asked him to ship a hundred zeps to his Super Bowl party in Tampa.

They've shipped enough that the staff knows how to pack the sandwiches to ensure freshness with overnight delivery.

Shipping costs more than the sandwich, but when you just have to have one...or a hundred...the service is available.

They're also in talks with the Phillies about adding zeps to the menu at Citizens Bank Park in time for the 2012 season. Lou's is located at 414 East Main Street in Norristown, open Monday through Saturday at 5:30am and Sundays at 7:00am.

They serve breakfast and lunch every day. There is no website but you may phone the shop at 610-279-5415
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