With three sandwich stops already in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, one might think we had sampled the full range of tastes on Ninth Street, but the epic Philadelphia Sandwich Tour had one more stop on this street.
Having just consumed a sublime meatball sandwich, washed down with a birch beer, at George’s Sandwich Shop, we headed north on Ninth for a few blocks until we came to the home of all that lovely, crusty, seeded hoagie bread, Sarcone’s Bakery. We didn’t stop in for fresh rolls, though, because a bit further down the block sits Sarcone’s Deli. A simple fact about all fresh foods is that their essential taste is best closest to the source, true for Tastypies and Guinness alike. Forty feet is pretty close to the source, and these rolls were fresh, befitting the best hoagies (but not necessarily the best sandwiches) on the tour.
Of all our stops, Sarcone’s was the busiest. The phone orders came in steadily, even as the line to place carry out orders grew and grew. A crew of four worked steadily, slicing long loaves of that delectable bread down to hoagie size and layering it with meats, cheeses, and sundry toppings. And if I’m not mistaken, there was a signed Brian Propp Flyers jersey overseeing the proceedings. Classic Philly right there.
We ordered two hoagies, though had my constitution been up to the task, I think I would have ordered the entire menu. Our first hoagie was the acclaimed Junk Yard Special (turkey, proscuitto, sauteed spinach, roasted red peppers, sharp provolone, mozzarella, red wine vinegar, oil, and herbs), a hoagie featured on the Food Network (auto-play video, beware!).
Of course, I managed to take the picture of the Junk Yard Special with the non-seeded side of the roll facing the camera (I was hungry, if you can believe it, and eager to dig in), but the essential quality of the hoagie’s construction can be seen. There’s so much going on at once in this hoagie. The herbs and red wine vinegar help to tie everything together, and the variety of textures at play—the soft, oily red pepper, the salty smoothness of the cheeses, the crack of the crust—made for an incredible gustatory experience. This is high food art right here.
And yet, our second Sarcone’s hoagie, The C.C. (roast beef, sauteed spinach, roasted garlic, sharp provolone, Balsamic vinegar, oil), proved a point I’ve come to realize about truly, truly great sandwiches.
Simple makes for better. Fewer ingredients, of the absolutely highest quality, trumps motley assortments of equally fine quality ingredients. Or maybe I’m just not a huge fan of roasted red peppers on my sandwiches. Either way, for us, The C.C. came out the winner over the Junk Yard Special.
Cut from a loaf end, no less! While quite a few tastes are competing in this hoagie, the effect is all focused on the sharp, salty, bitter end of the spectrum. Chunks of provolone provide a much different effect than sliced provolone, and the spinach and garlic, that eternal combination, accent rather than overwhelm the copious roast beef. Second best sandwich of the tour.
And the best?
After a well-needed night’s sleep, our fearless eaters packed up to go home, but not before making one last stop, a return to the Reading Terminal Market to dine at DiNic’s. We arrived around 11 A.M. on a Sunday morning to a thankfully not crowded market. I’ve heard the horror stories about being unable to move at Reading Terminal Market, but for whatever reason, we were able to wander the stalls unhindered.
We got, of course, the Roast Pork with Provolone and Broccoli Rabe. And this, then, is the essential sandwich, pared down to simplicity of preparation and ingredients.
Tender pork layered over torn pieces of provolone that line the inside of the roll as a moisture barrier, piled high with soft, bitter broccoli rabe. I had eaten at DiNic’s before, making this stop the only repeat on the tour, but there’s a reason I came back. This sandwich is the finest sandwich I have ever eaten, in a long history of eaten sandwiches.
If I’m being honest, I organized the Philadelphia Sandwich Tour to eat a DiNic’s Roast Pork again. It’s just that good. Every bite was salty, bitter, moist, and hearty.
And with that eleventh sandwich from seven shops, the tour comes to a close. My thanks go to my indefatigable travelling companion for her willingness to trek Philadelphia’s cold streets in search of the best that the City of Breaderly Love had to offer.
The Philadelphia Sandwich Tour was part homecoming, part nostalgia, and part discovery, all contained in a hoagie roll. Seeded, of course.