The official official sandwich of Philadelphia isn't actually the cheesesteak. Sounds crazy, but while we natives love that glorious combination of shaved ribeye, optional sautéed onions, and melty cheese (Whiz for me, thanks) in a soft hoagie roll with just the right amount of crunch (take notes, fa-godsakes), it's not the one we really go to bat for. No, that honor belongs to the roast pork sandwich.
Oh, you haven't heard of the roast pork sandwich? That's right. That's the point. Anything that gets too big for Philly doesn't feel like Philly anymore, so Philadelphians (whether you've been there all your life or you left when you were 17 and yet still associate with the place like me) mock it and find a new thing to keep to themselves. That's the roast pork sandwich, the ultimate in salty, garlicky, porcine excess. It's mine.
Well, not always.
Last Friday, Brett Jackson of Brett's BBQ Shop in Katy made his own roast pork sandwich as part of his summer-long tour de sandwich. Each Friday through August, he'll offer one of America's great regional sandwiches, but smoked since he's a pitmaster. The first, on May 28, was a muffuletta. We know the muffuletta. I was interested in the roast pork. Remember that's my sandwich.
The classic roast pork sandwich goes like this: Ham is rubbed with salt, pepper, rosemary, and other herbs, then roasted for about five hours. It's sliced super thin and left warm in its juices. Torn pieces of sharp provolone are laid onto a soft hoagie roll with a little crunch (it can't fall apart). The meat comes next, then the sandwich is topped with a layer of chopped broccoli rabe that's been cooked in garlic and oil. A spoon of the pork jus across the top finishes it off. Roasted long hot peppers are optional, much like ketchup on a cheesesteak. Dinic's, a stand in the middle of Philadelphia's iconic Reading Terminal Market, makes the city's most popular one.
I love the Dinic's version, and maybe there's personal bias with that, as my mother and other members of my family have worked at one time or another at Reading Terminal Market. I connect with my heritage every time I walk through the crowded building, which's various scents (fresh fish, warm breads, tons of salt, ripe produce) comprise a kind of perfume I'd gladly bathe in for the rest of my life. So yeah, Dinic's is my preference.
Jackson used Dinic's as his reference for his roast pork sandwich, but he did a few things differently. For one, he smoked pork shoulder for about three hours, then pulled it. Provolone on the sides, pork to fill it out, then a generous helping of salty and garlicky broccoli rabe. A soft hoagie roll from Cake & Bacon held it together.
I devoured it. I got a second one for my wife. It burst with beautiful flavor, the gentle smoke from the pork balancing the salty punch of the cooking juices. The garlic never overpowered, either. This was a winner.
Now, do I want more Houstonians trying Philly-style roast pork sandwiches? Ehh ... this is one of those precious foods, you know? A cheesesteak, though ... go right ahead.
And guess what? Jackson is doing one of those on August 6. He's also doing a McBeef Rib (you know what that is) this Friday, and future tributes include a juicy Lucy (hi, Twin Cities), an Italian beef (yo, Chicago!), and a Cuban (they're saying it's Miami inspired, but be careful ... the Tampa-St. Pete area claims it as theirs first). Here's the full list. Now, go embrace our very intense love of regional sandwiches.
Editor's note: I was wrong! Dinic's uses ham for its sandwich. Changes have been made.