Philly's very name is synonymous with the cheesesteak, whose virtues are well-known and whose fans exhibit fervent loyalty; but the city's real sandwich of distinction is far less recognized.
"The Philadelphia roast pork is a much more complex and intriguing sandwich," says City Paper's food editor Caroline Russock. "Cheesesteaks are in-your-face obvious—meat and cheese and fat—but with the roast pork combo, there's a whole lot more going on, on a cerebral sandwich level."
The filling. Juicy roast pork, salted, simply seasoned and slow cooked. ("There's no shame in using dried ‘Italian' herbs," says Russock.) From there: cheese ("sharp provolone only, please"); charred long, hot peppers, and the most distinctive element: broccoli rabe, braised tender, appealingly bitter.
The bread. Italian rolls, consensus holds, that must come from the fifth-generation family bakery Sarcone's, in South Philly's Italian Market.
Where to get one:
DiNic's, the favorite of local chef Brad Spence, of Amis and Pizzeria Vetri. "It's a delicious textbook version." (Russock prefers the Navy Yard location.)
John's Roast Pork, endorsed by former Philly chef Ben Lee, now the executive chef at New York City's A Voce Madison: "The pork is juicy and tender," he says. That said, you'll find spinach here, rather than broccoli rabe—whether that's a step down is a matter of personal preference.
Nick's Old Original Roast Beef is Russock's choice: "bonus points for the windowless back bar dining room where you can grab a $2 lager."
Paesano's, the six-seat lunch counter at the original Girard Avenue location serves the Arista sandwich in the spirit of the Philly classic, but with meat from a roast whole suckling pig. Expect fall-apart pork, bits of crisp skin, provolone, broccoli rabe and long hots for a sandwich so lusciously rich it requires a stack of napkins to eat.
High Street on Market's Eli Kulp (formerly of Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York) modernizes the classic with broccoli rabe that's been lacto-fermented with garlic and chiles, similar to kimchi. The semolina rolls are baked on-site, and the heritage pork shoulder is cooked with onions, peppers and garlic over an eight-hour stint in a CVap oven, then quickly seared. Fermented chowchow and marinated cherry peppers are served on the table as garnish. The cheese? Regular sharp provolone. Sometimes you just can't improve on a classic.