A Philadelphia Sandwich Tour, Part One

Broad Street Subway or Best Sandwich Subway?

Let’s call it what it was: a pilgrimage.

Along with my intrepid travelling companion, I recently ventured up to Philadelphia for a three day Sandwich Tour. From Fishtown to the Italian Market, we hunted down the whole range of Philadelphia sandwich archetypes: roast pork, cheesesteak, chicken cutlet, and cold cut hoagie, with a few meatball hoagies thrown in for (mostly) good measure.

Seven stops, eleven sandwiches, and one birch beer. Follow along, and apologies in advance if you get hungry.

Our first sandwich stop: By George! Pizza, Pasta, and Cheesesteaks in Reading Terminal Market.

Most of the destinations on the tour were pre-planned; By George! was an impromptu stop, because we were hungry after the drive to Philadelphia. Our hotel was close to the Reading Terminal Market, making it an easy first target. But I didn’t think to have a camera on hand to immortalize the sandwich, a Provolone Cheesesteak with Fried Onions. And that’s fine, because the cheesesteak wasn’t quite worthy of immortalization. I’m not a cheesesteak guru, yet this one was adequate, verging on fine, but no more.

The steak, though plentiful, was chopped nearly to shreds and lacked much in the way of taste. The provolone and onions didn’t add much to the sandwich either. The onions and provolone should almost melt into the steak, but they were practically non-existent in this cheesesteak. Still, By George! gets major points for using a fresh Sarcone’s seeded hoagie roll rather than the typical Amoroso’s-style soft roll in which most cheesesteaks are served. The crisp crust provided good textural contrast for the soft meat inside. That’s a trend I’d like to see more of.

Thus fortified, we moved on to the first planned sandwich tour stop, a sentimental favorite: Tommy’s Pizza on the corner of Girard and Palmer in Fishtown.

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Dutch Treats: Goudse kass Komijn

Travel blends the extraordinary with the simple, and on a recent trip to Amsterdam, that most mundane of meals, breakfast, became a moment of simple delight: strong coffee, fresh bread, and Dutch cheese. Gouda with cumin seeds, to be exact, a fancy meal served on napkins on a hotel room side table.


The translation of the cheese name (“Goudse kass komijn”) suggests cumin, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t primarily caraway instead, the two sister seeds being occasionally interchangeable. This firm, mature cheese lacked the stronger bite I associate with cumin, but regardless, the effect of the seeds in the cheese created a texture and taste very similar to that other firm cumin/caraway cheese, the Norwegian nøkkelost, with the semi-soft seeds leaving keyholes behind when they fall out. These tiny spaces provide an interesting and satisfying texture.

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Onderzeeboots by the Zee

The typical tourist sights in the Netherlands include tulips, windmills, canals, and various and sundry museums, all quite exceptional. The slightly less typical sights include two submarines which might well have played cat and mouse with each other during the Cold War: B-80, a Soviet Zulu-class submarine, and Tonijn, a Dutch Potvis-class submarine.

The Zulu submarine sits in Amsterdam’s harbor, in NDSM-werf, where it served as a stationary “party boat” that could be rented for events. To facilitate such soirĂ©es in a submarine’s exceedingly cramped conditions required the gutting of the hull, so now it’s just a shell. Given the copious graffiti on its sail and the general lack of upkeep, it seems deserted at this point.

GVB, Amsterdam’s public transit company, runs a free ferry (.pdf) to NDSM-werf from behind the main train station, and while you can’t access the submarine, there are several good vantage points to shoot pictures from.

Zulu Class Submarine in Amsterdam Harbor

Perhaps an ignominious reincarnation for such a machine, but it’s likely the other fate would have been the scrapper’s yard, and it’s quite an interesting conversation piece in an already picturesque city.

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Dutch Treats: Broodje Pom in Amsterdam

Travel engages all five senses, and my faithful traveling companion would probably suggest that I focus on taste more than any of the other four when we’re on the road. So, for our recent trip to Amsterdam, I was determined to find some unique dishes to complement the intense experience of a van Gogh seen in person and the delightful sound of the high plinks of bicycle bells in concert with the lower plonks of trams on their street tracks.

Indonesian places came highly recommended, and we did visit one (mentioned at the end of this post), but my main culinary goal for the trip was a broodje pom, a sandwich filled with a Surinamese chicken-and-tuber casserole called pom. And Tokoman, on Waterlooplein, holds grail status online as the place to visit for this sandwich. So we went!

Tokoman, Amsterdam

The first time we tried to eat there, this website-less shop was closed (no Sunday hours), but the second trip, on an incredibly breezy day (small glass vases went flying from vendors’ shelves when we roved around the nearby Waterlooplein Flea Market) proved more bountiful. For €3.30, we got a nice sized sandwich (say ten inches long) on a fresh baguette, filled with the orangish-red casserole and topped with a cabbage relish and peppers.

Broodje Pom from Tokoman, Amsterdam

Or, at least we asked for the peppers. Everything I had read suggested the peppers would impart some heat, but there was no heat at all in this sandwich. I wonder if the person behind the counter, detecting my foreignness, held back the good stuff for fear that I couldn’t handle it.

Still, the broodje pom had a nice sweet and sour balance, and the grated tubers blended well with the chunks of soft chicken. The tubers, while essentially the filler, played a nice textural role, a tender counterpoint to the chicken. Overall, the flavor was reminiscent of a barbecue sandwich that substituted any vinegar tang for a sweeter, more citric bite. A multi-napkin sandwich for sure.

The broodje pom wasn’t the knockout sandwich of my dreams, but I’m glad we tracked down Tokoman (Waterlooplein 327) to give it a try. It’s not every day you sample Surinamese cuisine, and the broodje pom we shared kept us going for another few hours of walking in one of Europe’s most walkable cities.

Oh, and we grabbed Indonesian take-out in Nieuwmarkt, near our hotel, at Toko Joyce. A small, take-out only operation, they offered a lunch box with 100 grams each of a meat dish and a vegetable dish over rice or noodles for about €6.00 or so. Perhaps it wasn’t a full-blown rijstaffel, but it hit the spot, gave us a sample of Indonesian fare, and got us on our way for more sightseeing and random canal crossings.

Vinegar Victorious! Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro, NC

There are certain life rules one should always follow: don’t get involved in a land war in Asia; don’t try to conquer Moscow in the winter; don’t argue with anyone with a bumper sticker on his or her car; don’t jaywalk in front of a cop; and don’t, under any circumstances, attempt to discuss North Carolina barbecue. So, consider this mini-review of Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro, North Carolina, a meditation rather than a definitive statement.

Because I’m not about to claim that Stamey’s Lexington-style barbecue is superior to Eastern Carolina-style barbecue (or the reverse), nor attempt to rank Stamey’s in the pantheon of North Carolina barbecue. Not going there. All I know is that on a recent trip to Greensboro, I had the opportunity to sample some of Stamey’s chopped pork barbecue from their original High Point Road location and came away impressed.

Chopped Pork Barbecue from Stamey's Barbecue

Vinegar stars here, suffused throughout the tender (oh, so tender) pork. There’s a touch of chili and a sweetish binding agent, but it’s a vinegar sauce without question. The vinegar flavor is strong but not overwhelming, allowing the pork to have its own flavor. No need to drench the meat in sauce such that you can’t tell what you’re eating. I ate it hot, I ate it warm, and I ate it cold the next morning, and I was happy each time.

The slaw was the true revelation for me, though. I’m very finicky about slaw, and Stamey’s vinegar-based slaw, hit with a touch of the barbecue sauce to cut the acidity, ranks amongst the finest I’ve had. The super finely chopped cabbage provides a nice texture, and as it’s just slightly more acidic than the barbecue, the slaw provides a nice counterbalance.

I’m probably not well equipped to discuss the hushpuppies, as the extent of my prior experience with these fried cornmeal delicacies comes from childhood trips to Long John Silver’s, but if an object can be both light and agreeably dense at the same time, Stamey’s puppies accomplish the task. The hushpuppies had a nice golden crust, holding a bit of oil that brought out the taste of the slightly moist cornmeal interior. I ate more than my share of them.

I also had a chance to sample Stamey’s Brunswick stew but came away underwhelmed. The ingredients were certainly fresh, but I failed to see the appeal of the thin, blandly seasoned dish, especially when more chopped pork awaited.

If only I had thought to buy a Cheerwine to go with my $6 meal. Next time…

Planning a Philadelphia Sandwich Tour

This humble sandwich acolyte has decided to make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia this year, to worship at the various shrines of Philly’s four signal contributions to world sandwich cuisine: hoagie, roast pork, chicken cutlet, and cheesesteak.

Photo of Chickie's Italian Deli by Benjamin Haas on flickr.com, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License.

My aim is to limit each sandwich type to one or two purveyors maximum, in the city proper, both for logistical and gustatory reasons. A guy can only eat so much!

So, where do I go?

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