Noah's Beat Box
A close-up on a mortadella pizza with pistachios and basil.

Fine Philly Dining

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #169. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Now this.


In October, I was fortunate enough to attend the release party for Stu’s new book in New Jersey, a happy accident that was made possible by pure coincidence. I happened to be attending a conference in nearby Philadelphia literally the same week, so a stop through New Jersey seemed only responsible. While Stu’s party was a highlight of the weekend, it was not the last highlight because I got to achieve one of my longtime goals in Philadelphia.

Of course, Philly is known for all sorts of things – a bell, a boxer, a sitcom – but I know it by reputation as one of the better food cities out there, specifically for sandwiches. Before we get to the sammys though, I will be honest and confess that I ate more than hoagies while in the City of Brotherly Love.

I had an amazing Mediterranean meal at Barbuzzo that included a mortadella pizza that was overloaded with amazing pistachios and one of the best salted caramel desserts I’ve ever tasted. I also had a unique short rib grilled cheese at Huda, which while a bit bready, was truly delicious. They grilled some of the cheese on the outside of the bun. It seems that a trick I invented when I was twelve has become haute cuisine.

A bowl of mussels piled high accompanied by heels of crusty bread to soak up the broth.

I also got a chance to stop at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest pub in Philly. Having lived in Boston, I have eaten in older establishments (brag) but McGillin’s was cool. I ate some of the saltiest mussels I’ve ever eaten. I mean, they were delicious, and I ate all of them and drank the broth, but I also Googled salt overdose afterwards. The Wisconsin in me dictated that I get an open-faced roast beef sandwich with gravy, and while not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not a Philly specialty, it did hit the goddamn spot.

I also found a great, relaxed vibe at a bar I walked into because the sign – whomst amongst us can resist a neon sign saying “Graffiti Bar” pointing down a dark alley. After coming from the amped up, sports bro, “Go Phillies” vibe at McGillin’s, it was nice to be able to hear myself think. Lest you worry, the giant TV on the wall still played the Phillies game, but there was much less chanting here. I will say though, it could have used more graffiti.

But the real reason I was excited about heading to Philadelphia wasn’t for Mediterranean food, or mussels or cool bars. No, I was excited for a single, legendary sandwich – one that has been on my mind for a decade: Tommy DiNic’s roast pork with broccoli rabe.

Noah's "Stanky's" logo, featuring the name of the restaurant inside of a giant bulb of garlic.

To set some context, I consider myself somewhat of a sandwich connoisseur. For a while, in an earlier life, I contemplated opening my own sandwich shop called Stanky’s that would have been devoted to the best sandwiches with the smelliest ingredients: blue cheese steaks with arugula and garlic butter; anchovy pizza subs; onion and chicken liver on rye. You get the picture. Nobody would have left the place without reeking of garlic. I even made a logo.

When these dreams were percolating, back in 2012, I was still living in Boulder, CO, and Adam Richman, still the #1 binge eater of all time, proclaimed this roast pork sandwich the best in America. I have never forgotten. It’s been there, sitting in the back of my mind, waiting, calling me.

Now, as I write this sitting on the steps of the Philadelphia city hall, I can say my dream has been fulfilled. I had to walk ten minutes just to find a seat, but when I finally did get a chance to dig in, it was 100% worth it. The pork was juicy and the bitterness of the broccoli rabe complimented its rich flavor with some creamy provolone to top it off. It all rested on the Platonic ideal of a hoagie roll, one that was soft but still held up to the meat and cheese. Now my wife might slap me for not getting the hot peppers, but to me, this blending of ingredients is ideal, and I am in bliss. Is this the best sandwich I have ever had? Maybe. Can I think of a better one off the top of my head? No.

My food experience in Philadelphia was truly exceptional. It is definitely now one of my top food cities in the US. I also settled a tiny debate that I had in my head: despite living in Boston for the better part of a decade, Philly is clearly the superior city. As Twitter told me:

Screenshot of a tweet by @clhubes: "The thing people don’t get about Boston is that yes: it’s wildly expensive. Yes: it’s freezing. And yes: it’s difficult to navigate and the people are unfriendly. BUT the food? Also not good."


Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.


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