As just about everyone in the country is aware of, Philly is home to one of the nation’s most iconic sandwiches: the cheesesteak. A proper cheesesteak requires the right ingredients and preparation: the right roll (Amoroso’s), the right meat (real meat, not meat product) grilled and chopped, cheese (whiz or provolone), and toppings (onions and peppers), properly assembled on the roll. I love a good cheesesteak… done right, it’s a great sandwich, and the one that Philly’s most famous for.
It’s also the second best sandwich to be had in Philly. Which leads to the obvious question: what’s the best sandwich in Philly? That would be the roast pork. A close cousin to the cheesesteak, the roast pork sandwich starts with the same bread (the well-loved Amoroso roll), but replaces the grilled cheese with copious slices of fresh-roasted pork loin. On top of that, a few slices of sharp provolone cheese (while the arguments rage back and forth about Whiz vs Provolone on a cheesesteak, on a roast pork most people I know are firmly in the provolone camp with their pork). And then the secret ingredient: simmered broccoli rabe (or spinach in a few places). Pour on a little bit of the juice from the roasting pan for the pork, and you’ve just created one of the absolute best sandwiches in the world. It’s got the meat. It’s got the sharp tang of the provolone cheese. The greens add a most wonderful leafy and savory note to the dish, and the roll holds in (most) of the juices to keep it moist. It’s a great sandwich, with a subtlety that a nice counterpoint to the in-your-face greasy-oniony greatness of its cousin the cheesesteak.
And luckily, it’s actually a pretty easy item to find around Philly, since most of the places that will sell you a cheesesteak will also sell you a roast pork. However, there’s a slight complication: most of the places best known for their cheesesteaks generally don’t have the best roast pork (and, conversely, most of the places that have wonderful roast pork only have serviceable cheesesteaks). So you’ve got to do a little bit of extra searching. But there are several places that are well-known and well-regarded as purveyors of roast pork sandwiches, including John’s Roast Pork (a James Beard award winner), DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal, and Tony Luke’s (nestled under the highway by the Walt Whitman Bridge). The last of these has the advantage of being extremely accessible from the airport, especially if you’re crossing the river to/from New Jersey. So when our trip to Delaware started with our arrival in Philly, we decided to duck over to Tony Luke’s for an early lunch.
Tony Luke’s is actually two places, a classic walkup joint with an ordering window and outside tables, and a sports bar across the street. I’ve only ever eaten at the walkup joint, but Carol (who used to come here all the time on work trips to NJ) tells me that sometime I need to do the sports bar, with the shorter lines and getting to watch them actually make your sandwich. But in any case, I’m happy enough with the ordering window: you wait in line, you order up your roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe (as an aside, I’ve never noticed a consistent shorthand for ordering roast pork; if I’m ordering a cheesesteak with provolone and peppers or onions, that’s a “provolone wit”, but is there an equivalent for a roast pork?). A few minutes later, they call my name, we pick up the bag of sandwiches, grab some condiments (I love the little cherry peppers at these places) and we sit down at one of the outside table.
Despite being a few years since my last Tony Luke’s (those that know me socially are probably sick of hearing my story about my coworker Jay’s refusal to stop here on the way to/from PHL), this roast pork was everything a good roast pork should be. The pork was tender and flavorful without being salty. The sharp provolone was just sharp enough to give it an edge, and the tender broccoli rabe was soft, flavorful, and even a little spicy. Held together nicely by the roll, this was again another example of one of the best sandwiches on the planet.
(As an aside, I’ve now reviewed places in 25 different states. 25 more to go!)