Editor's Note: Fearless sandwich eaters Hawk Krall and Caroline Russock decided to take on this hefty project (hopefully you two aren't regretting it now!). They'll be tackling Philadelphia's sandwich scene, from the best hoagies to cheesesteaks and everything in between.—The Mgmt.
Neglecting to mention the incredibly drippy roast pork sandwiches, crispy chicken cutlets, and only-in-Philly seafood offerings like the fluffy fish cake and fish hoagie would be a crying shame and an affront to a city of sandwich-loving Philadelphians (these authors included).
So for our final installment of the Philadelphia sandwich tour we present our roundup of the lesser known (but equally awesome) sandwiches that fall outside of the cheesesteak and hoagie realm. But first a little background info on these unique-to-Philly styles.
If cheesesteaks and hoagies are the king and queen of the Philadelphia sandwich court, roast pork is the crowned prince.
Roasted whole with salt, pepper, and a few Italian herbs (dried, nothing too fancy), the sandwich is made from a hulking piece of pork, sliced or occasionally chunked, pulled pork style, and piled hot into a long or kaiser roll with enough pan juice or gravy to make for a killer sandwich dripping with porky juices.
Sandwich add-ons come in the form of cheese, sharp provolone more often than not, slow-braised greens, either milder spinach or bright and bitter broccoli rabe, and long hots (spicy roasted or charred green peppers). Roast pork isn't the sort of sandwich that's found on tons of Philly menus like steaks and hoagies; it's more of a house special, oftentimes at places that do roast beef in a similar fashion.
Seasoned and breaded cutlets of chicken and veal found their way into the Philly sandwich scene by way of the city's many Italian butchers where they're sold alongside spiedini or skewers for quick dinners. Cutlets range from nearly paper thin to thick and juicy, the best ones seasoned with plenty of black pepper and oregano and pan or deep fried crispy.
Once fried, cutlets are the base for a multitude of toppings, think parm-style with marinara and mozz, a la roast pork with greens and provolone or in a hoagie with lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Philadelphia has plenty of high-end restaurant meatballs (the caciocavallo-stuffed pork shoulder and short rib meatballs at Barbuzzo will change your life) but finding a really outstanding red-gravy Italian meatball sandwich in Philly has been a goal of ours for a long time.
You'll find them "parm" style covered in sauce and mozzarella, or "fried" with greens, longhots and sharp provolone. Our favorites are the shops that take the time to make their own, often from recipes as old as the neighborhood, slow cooked in tomato sauce for hours.
Fish Cakes and Fish Hoagies
When you think of fish sandwiches the first things that come to mind are probably New Orleans po' boys, New England lobster or clam rolls and maybe Baltimore lake trout. But Philly has its own history of Fish Sandwiches, going way back to the potato and cod Fish Cake that resembles a low-rent bacala, served all over Philly on hot dog buns (or two to a hoagie roll) with mustard or cheese whiz, likely as a lenten alternative to (but sometimes served on top of) hot dogs.
And then there's the fish hoagie—breaded whiting, trout or flounder, deep fried and served on a hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, and whatever else you want on it. Equally popular at hoagie shops and 24 hour neighborhood fried-fish take out joints, if you find the right place they can be phenomenal.
All The Rest
Then there's the all the rest—slow-cooked tripe sandwiches, veal in red gravy, footlong hot fennel sausage with pepper and onions, eggplant parm, cajun blackened chicken hoagies, the Schmitter, breakfast potato—egg and sausage hoagies, cheeseburger hoagies, pretty much anything you can imagine stuffed into an italian loaf and Philadelphiafied with sharp provolone, fried onions, greens, hot pepper condiments and/or cheese wiz.
And then there are the various levels of modern, gourmet, and updated versions of all of the above—probably worthy of several more slideshows.
Rather than ending up with a definitive "best of list," what we really have is "our favorites so far" after eating multiple sandwiches at 40-plus different establishments in the last two months.
For a city that has every right to be call itself the sandwich capital of the world there's always a better, crazier, bigger, more unique, authentic or delicious sandwich waiting in some neighborhood bar or sandwich shop hidden under the highway that your plumber or grandmother told you about. By the time you tried them all half the shops would have changed owners, changed bread, or moved, which is half the fun.
The Sandwich Map
View Best Philadelphia Sandwiches in a larger map