A Philadelphia Sandwich Tour, Part Three

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Sarcone's Deli in Philadelphia, PAWith 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!).

The Junk Yard Special from Sarcone's Deli in Philadelphia, PA

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.

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A Philadelphia Sandwich Tour, Part Two

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The first day of the Philadelphia Sandwich Tour, scrumptious as it was, served merely as appetizer. Cue the music from Rocky, because day two is the main event, taking place in Philadelphia’s sandwich epicenter, the Italian Market.

Truth be told, the Italian Market is only nominally Italian these days. As we walked along South Ninth Street, we saw tons of Asian and Hispanic markets, including a live poultry shop, and had our gustatory purpose been less narrowly defined, we’d have eagerly stopped in a taqueria or a dim sum restaurant. But this is not a Philadelphia Burrito Tour, so on to the sandwiches!

We took SEPTA’s Broad Street Line to Ellsworth-Federal and walked a few blocks down Federal to one of Philadelphia’s most famous hoagie shops, Chickie’s Italian Deli. Rick Sebak’s Sandwiches That You Will Like, the Citizen Kane of sandwich documentaries, profiled Chickie’s, and I was afraid that it would be crowded from the get-go, but given the cold weather, we were the only customers when we arrived around 11 A.M. on a Saturday morning. I hadn’t counted on the shop being quite so small—really just a narrow aisle upon entry where you place your order, with the rest of the shop given over to the food preparation area. So, we sat outside, in the cold. We sacrifice for our art.

VIP Seating at Chickie's Italian Deli!

The owners and staff were busy making catered sandwich platters, but they gave our order priority when we walked in. Given the number of sandwiches that we would be eating throughout the day, I opted for small size, and person behind the counter gave me a look and pointed to the sample roll for the small size—not a seeded Sarcone’s roll cut from a larger loaf, like the medium and large sizes, but a plain, single-serve roll. I must not have had enough coffee, because I still picked the small size regardless. Don’t order the small at Chickie’s! The roll is so important to a proper hoagie, and I made a rookie mistake.

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A Philadelphia Sandwich Tour, Part One

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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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Planning a Philadelphia Sandwich Tour

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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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Hoagie, Not Sub: Taylor Gourmet Deli in DC

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A new deli opened recently on the resurgent H Street corridor in Northeast Washington, DC, promising a taste of Philadelphia. No, not cheesesteaks . . .

9th Street Italian hoagie on proper damn bread.

Taylor Gourmet Deli, run by two Philly ex-pats, offers hoagies and chicken cutlet sandwiches, all on bread from Sarcone’s Bakery in Philadelphia.

No roast pork sandwiches, alas, but they do a fine job indeed with the hoagies, as the meticulously crafted 9th Street Italian pictured above demonstrates. That’s a properly built hoagie—you get everything in every bite.

The ingredients are top notch and in good proportion, with no one ingredient overwhelming another. A sausage sandwich (the Church Street) had hand-made sausage and well-seasoned red peppers, just a little crisp, allowing the textures of the sausage and bread and pepper to stand out, each in their own moment.

In the 9th Street Italian, the oil and vinegar, that often overlooked component of a real hoagie, fulfilled its role nicely, greasing the butcher paper and giving good mouth-feel but not soaking the sub, even after sitting for a bit, because of the sandwich’s construction. These things do matter, and you’re getting them at a price comparable to a lowly “sub” from one of the far-from-distinguished national chains.

The Washington Post write-up of Taylor Gourmet Deli notes that the lines there can be long, but I had the hoagies delivered for a modest surcharge. The person who took the order over the phone was gruff in a pleasant, Philadelphia manner and the delivery driver was good about keeping me apprised of where my hoagies were.

Hopefully they’ll get their website upgraded from the current placeholder soon.

A fine culinary drive up 95 without, you know, driving anywhere.