Roast Pork Round-Up – Philadelphia
Faithful readers of The Feisty Foodie may recall last year’s Cheesesteak Chowdown, where I earned my stripes as both a cheesesteak expert and a total glutton – within a 6 hour period, I consumed 6 half-cheesesteaks (which comes to about 3 cheesesteaks, but given my size, it’s quite a feat; also, I like to differentiate that I didn’t eat 3 cheesesteaks, I ate 6 halves from 6 different places). Of course, while Beer Boor and I undertook that task, on our return to NYC, we noted that there were places we wished we’d gone and other sandwiches we wished we’d eaten. We talked occasionally about revisiting Philly to remedy that, but never set into motion a specific plan until late September, when Beer Boor took a Monday off and I “played hooky” from my own job.
That day’s focus: eat roast pork sandwiches, Philly’s other sandwich – those in the know will mention them, but they’re definitely not yet as famous as cheesesteaks – though they’re not exactly difficult to come by in this city either.
Our first stop, then, was Reading Terminal Market (which Beer Boor “politely” corrected my pronunciation – darling fans, it’s pronounced “REDDING” and not “READING” like a normal person might say because of the way it’s spelled – sorry!), for DiNic’s. I first heard of DiNic’s long, long ago in a Serious Eats post about the market, and have wanted to go for ages, but never went to the market for whatever reason. Well, now I have an idea why: parking over there sucks. After circling around for a while, we finally found a parking spot and headed inside to explore.
When the stall inside the market appeared like a mirage before my hungry eyes, I eagerly grabbed two seats at the counter. The woman manning it was on the phone with someone, and rolling her eyes to us about her friend – at least that’s how it seemed, as she tried to bid her friend on the phone goodbye. She took our order without comment, and wandered off. A root beer and a roast pork with provolone to share, please – we had a lot of places on our list to hit for the day, and I am a big believer in sharing the pain. I mean, sharing your sandwiches (instead of getting one each) to help get them down.
The woman kindly put the halves in two separate baskets, so I foolishly did not take a picture of the whole sandwich. It wasn’t small (nor huge) by any means, but here all you see is half the sandwich in its glory. Hmmm. Perhaps our first misstep of the day? we forgot to ask for greens to be added. In our defense, in all the mentions I’ve seen of the sandwich at DiNic’s (and I imagine Beer Boor as well), it was always referred to as a roast pork & provolone sandwich. I’ve never heard the word greens or rabe mentioned with regard to the DiNic’s sandwich, so it didn’t occur to me – even as I saw a few people around us getting sandwiches with greens on them – that I should get greens. Or that I might need them.
As I began eating, I noted the pork slices were a little dry, though there was ‘gravy’/jus on the bread. The cheese hadn’t melted or really warmed at all, and while the pork was tasty enough, a quick addition of a bit of fresh? horseradish brought it more to life (and at times, made it a little too spicy for me). But I was just… not impressed. The meat remained a little dry, and the flavor just wasn’t there. Even with the addition of greens, it would have just masked the lack of pork flavor, and just been… mmm… meh. Sure, it would have added some much-needed moisture, but at the end of the day, if I need to eat this a certain way for it to be good… well, then, at its base, it isn’t very good, is it?
Even more telling was when I gave up eating, handed the rest of my half to Beer Boor, he took a bite, and his first remark was “Oh, this is juicier than my half was.” If I thought my half was dry, then what the hell was he eating?! Eesh.
At $8.75, this was one of the most expensive sandwiches of the day.
Beer Boor says: I was a little irritated that our order wasn’t taken when we sat down, which I guess threw me off and I failed to order “greens”. I don’t think they would have helped very much. I did avail myself of the banana peppers on the counter, which helped spice things up and provided some liquid, but really, this was fairly dry pork and did very little to make me feel as if we made the right choice in coming here. Still, hunger is hunger, and I polished off all I was given.
Then we wandered around the market, me trying to make room in my stomach to eat the ice cream I promised TC I’d eat on his behalf, and just looking at all the cool stalls. Lots of cool stalls, but Beer Boor rightly pointed out that if I moved to Philly, I’d soon grow tired of this market, too. And then I saw this sign, which just made me giggle hysterically so I had to take a picture.
JOHN YI FISH MARKET
EAT FISH LIVE LONGER
I don’t know why it made me giggle so hard, but it did.
Our next stop was clear on the other side of town – or maybe not, but it wasn’t very close by. We were trying to create a loop on our map but since I stupidly forgot to print out the map before we left, we had to look on my BlackBerry which wasn’t the most comfortable thing to do. In any case, as we walked up, I started to panic slightly as the sign said it was open Tuesday-Sunday, and it was Monday. Well, luckily, despite this sign, the place was definitely open, with people sitting at the counter inside happily eating their sandwiches.
The place was pretty small – a countertop with a handful of stools that were all occupied – but one look at the menu and we knew what we wanted. The Arista, described as “whole roasted suckling pig broccoli rabe Italian long hots sharp provolone”. There was a moment debate about adding a side of potatoes roasted with pork fat, but I quickly dismissed this as I knew my eating capacity has greatly diminished from last year, and I wouldn’t be able to eat too much. Beer Boor gamely agreed, though I know he could and would have gladly eaten whatever I couldn’t/didn’t (which happened anyway).
Funny enough, the reason Paesano’s made the list was super random. When Beer Boor and I first discussed going to Philly, I’d put together a list of places to eat and things to do. I have a habit of checking Twitter or Facebook – just opening the page for either/both – when I’m just sitting at my desk, taking a mini-break from whatever I’m doing. While I was making that list, I happened to open Twitter to see a Tweet about Paesano’s. I don’t even remember what it said or who said it, but what I got from it was “Paesano’s is in Philly and has a good sandwich” – I never Google’d to verify this or even look at the menu. I just slapped it on as a dark horse contender, much like Zio’s from the Cheesesteak Chowdown. So we both walked into Paesano’s fairly blindly.
While Beer Boor ordered, I wandered outside to sit at one of the 2-3 small tables that were on the sidewalk. I’m not that fond of eating curbside on a busy thoroughfare (as these tables were), but it was that or sit in the car and eat, and sometimes… you just have to put side your prissiness for the greater good. This was one of those times. A minute later, Beer Boor exited with the above in his hand; knowing my affinity for root beer – especially local ones that I can’t necessarily get in my town (though I’d swear I’ve had Hank’s before, it may have been in Philly) – he picked this up for us to share. It was a solid root beer, but I dislike the inclusion of yucca in the root base for root beer – props for using real roots and not artificial flavors, of course – but yucca adds a little something whose taste I don’t like. This just means I’ll enjoy it when I see it, but I won’t go out of my way to get Hank’s.
But all thoughts of root beer were quickly swept from our minds as this landed in front of us. Oh my stars, look at that beauty.
Here’s a shot of Beer Boor gently pulling the two halves apart. Please note that this is not a small sandwich; he just has freakishly large hands. (Well, they’re sized to suit a tall person, which he is.)
LOOK AT THAT BEAUTY. Pork, gently cradled by the bread; a bit of cheese, the greens, a slick of something along the outer edge. Oh my gosh.
No… really look. Don’t get lost by staring too hard or long, but look. at. that. beauty.
The glory that is the Arista at Paesano’s is hard to describe. From juicy, succulent pork that melted in my mouth, to the sharp tang of the rabe and provolone, and the heat from the peppers – oh no, I didn’t back down and try to alter the sandwich makeup or ask for it to be less spicy – everything just magically worked to form one big, happy party in my mouth. The heat built up slowly in my mouth to make its presence known, but never was it overwhelming. Instead, it was just deliciousness, all cooperating for happiness. My happiness. And I was not happier than I was when I was eating this sandwich. Holy happiness.
Don’t believe me? Let me show you.
“Hmmm… I think I will eat you now”
Beer Boor says: My hands aren’t much bigger than yours, you know.
This turned out to be a winner. The pork in this sandwich reminded me of very good porchetta (minus all the spices, but plus the hot peppers). I could have eaten two of these. The guy behind the counter was quite nice, too, and the people eating at the counter seemed to be mostly regulars. You can’t go wrong at Paesano’s for pork, that’s for certain.
I noted that there’s a very good beer bar just down the road (Kraftwork), and since then, Barcade Philadelphia has opened nearby. So couple that to Paesano’s and I see no reason to stray into the rest of Philadelphia.
After our back-to-back sandwiches, we decided to go for a quick drink at Mac’s Tavern. Do you know who Mac is? You should. Currently known as “Fat Mac” amongst my in-the-know friends, Mac – or Rob McElhenney – stars on this TV show called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or just Always Sunny. Hilarious, I love it in all its debased glory, and two of the stars (Mac & Sweet Dee) are married in real life and opened a tavern – not to mimic the show, just for fun, I think. So we drove over, found parking, and discovered… like many things in Philly apparently, it’s closed on Mondays. BAH.
So we wandered around the corner to a pub that looked interesting, and discovered an extensive beer list inside. Khyber Pass Pub had a beer list to make Beer Boor happy, and a jukebox that confused me, so I wandered off to put music on while he picked a beer for me. My beer on the left – North Coast Red Seal Ale – a cask beer, actually was quite easy to drink and I enjoyed it greatly. My notes say “bitter, drying.” Beer Boor had the Dock Street Rye IPA, which I think he liked. We chatted a bit with the friendly bartender before we went on our way.
Beer Boor says: He liked his Dock Street IPA well enough. Local beer is always a plus. I’d never been to Khyber Pass before, but I’ve heard of it from the usual sources and once I was inside, I recalled its bona fides. It’s an oasis of good beer in a rather touristy area.
Our last roast pork stop was the famed Tony Luke’s. I’ve heard enough about their roast pork, broccoli rabe and provolone sandwiches to last me a lifetime. Whenever I mention about the cheesesteak chowdown, about one in three times, someone will tell me that I should have skipped the cheesesteak here (though they tied for first for best cheesesteak) and just gotten the roast pork, broccoli rabe and provolone. So obviously there’s something here, right?
The prices weren’t on the menu so I don’t know how much this was (BB: $8.25+tax, I think).
This sandwich was way more in line with DiNic’s though – sliced pork, a bit of cheese, a bit of green… but sadly, I felt it fell flat. Don’t get me wrong – it was better than DiNic’s by leaps and bounds, the pork being juicier and slightly more flavorful, and the bread was good as usual, but… I just didn’t care for the overall taste.
This was the point where I realized: maybe I just don’t like that sandwich, the roast pork, broccoli rabe and provolone. Maybe there’s a reason it’s not as famous or as popular as the cheesesteak. Maybe I just don’t like thinly sliced pork, because it tends towards the dry side in that instance.
Let’s face it; while the Arista at Paesano’s was the best roast pork sandwich of the day by far, could you really fairly compare that to the other two? The pork was markedly different, and it blew the other two out of the water without even blinking. Hmm.
Beer Boor says: Again, our thinking matches. Dipping the sliced pork in jus certainly elevates this sandwich over blander places like DiNic’s, but when you start with a suckling pig, it’s really not fair to start comparing. But Tony Luke’s gets lots of attention for the Roast Pork Italian, and it’s a very tasty sandwich. I’m sure I liked it more than Yvo, but then I still had a bit of room left for eating.
While I pondered this, our next stop came up quickly. Well, first we went to check out the Italian Market near those two awful cheesesteak places people talk about all the time; but guess what?
Closed on Mondays.
So we walked to POPE, or Pub On Passyunk East, sat ourselves at the bar, and began drinking. On the right is my Russian River Damnation, and on the left is Beer Boor’s Rammstein Oktoberfest. I enjoyed mine just fine, though Beer Boor, who is much larger than I am and drinks much more quickly, enjoyed another few beers before I got to my next. A Russian River Damnation for him, a Philadelphia Brewing Company Kenzinger, and a bottle of Yards Brawler Mild (seen in the below pictures). The beer selection here is boss.
Beer Boor says: I’ve been to POPE before, and the beer list changes quite a lot. The happy hour prices are ridiculous, though, and even non-discounted bottles are cheap. It’s a no-brainer if you’re anywhere nearby, and if you feel a pressing need to visit Pat’s and/or Geno’s, it’s right around the corner. Yet, it doesn’t get packed with tourists, at least on Mondays, so that’s a plus. The beer is well-kept and the bartender knew her tap list. All big pluses.
After a fair number of beers each, I was in a munchy-mood and decided to order salsa and chips. The salsa was fresh, with no spice kick of which to speak, and the chips were much like Beer Boor’s, though he said “I think these are baked, I’m not a fan of baked tortillas” and then proceeded to eat just as much as I did – or more, ha.
Looks fried to me.
I finished off our stay at POPE with a Lost Abbey Ten Commandments, which surprised both Beer Boor and I by being chewy and malty. I was surprised that I finally understood what it meant for a beverage to be chewy, and he was surprised because when he ordered it for me, he was expecting a different type of beer.
Beer Boor says: Chips are chips, man. I didn’t bring any of mine from home. I completely misremembered the style of the Ten Commandments, and figured it would be a saison. Yeah, not even close. But pretty good, which pleased me greatly, even if it is really strong.
And as we wandered out into the night – me stumbling a bit more than he – I saw this and had to take a photograph. What a cute tap! Sort of.
We drove off into the night to hit one more place, but when we got there, we discovered… no, it wasn’t closed on Mondays, but it closed 15 minutes before we arrived! Damn me for ordering salsa and chips! Booooooooo. So I quickly punched in the other tie winner from the Cheesesteak Chowdown: Jim’s. But this time, I picked one closer to where we were, a relatively new location that’s behind a mall and a bit obscured as you drive up. I couldn’t see it until we turned into the lot, practically… and it was completely empty, which both pleased me (no lines!) and worried me.
Tired from a long day, we decided to order two cheesesteaks to split. I wanted mushrooms but conceded that Beer Boor doesn’t like mushrooms, so we ordered one with Cheez Whiz (the only TRUE cheesesteak!), and one with provolone (not my choice).
I’ve actually never had a cheesesteak with provolone before that moment.
And when the moment of truth came, I could honestly say that I don’t like provolone on this style of sandwich. MEH.
Cheez Whiz, on the other hand, just belongs on this sandwich.
Happily, I would even go so far as to say that this location makes a better cheesesteak than the one on South Street. I’m sad that it doesn’t get that much notice due to its location, but I highly recommend this cheesesteak. The bread is just the right type – soft roll for easy biting – the meat is seasoned perfectly, salt making its presence known without being overwhelming – the amount of Cheez Whiz perfect – the onions caramelized… everything just makes this a fantastic sandwich. I love Jim’s. And this is definitely the better of the two Jim’s I’ve visited now.
Beer Boor says: I hope this Jim’s can stick around, because they definitely would have given Tony Luke’s a run for its cheesesteak money in the Chowdown. Tony’s is still my favorite, but this Whiz Wit was the real deal as well. I like the sharp bite of a good provolone, even on a cheesesteak, but it’s just not the same as the one true use for liquid cheese.
Then we piled back into the car and headed back home towards NYC, full of roast pork sandwiches, beer, cheesesteak, good times, laughs and happiness. Another Philly challenge completed.