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Why Is Philadelphia Famous For The Cheesesteak And Not It's Roast Pork Sandwiches? BONUS - Philly's Best Italian Restaurant Might Actually Be An Irish Dive Bar

So last weekend I was out in Philly, one of my low-key favorite food cities in the country, to interview one of my favorite bands for Barstool Backstage - The Cold War Kids.

They were playing at The Fillmore Theatre, (another one of my favorite venues), so when the opportunity presented itself (at around 4pm on Friday afternoon) to fly out and catch them on Sunday with my co-host Colin in his hometown, I couldn't pass it up.

The interview drops tomorrow, but that'll be a different blog tomorrow.

This blog is about something I've asked before, and can't seem to get an answer on.

"Why isn't Philadelphia more famous for its roast pork sandwiches, instead of it's cheesesteaks?"

I mean look at this beautiful work of art.

If you're from Philaldelphia, or have traveled there and had the privilege of having one before, then you already know. They are in a whole other league than cheesesteaks. They are light years better. Everywhere does cheesesteaks. All around the country. Sure Philly perfected them, specializes in them, and does versions that make your dick hard (like D'Allesandro's cheeseteak with red sauce, ay Madone!). But as far as I have seen traveling coast to coast, there is nobody that does porchetta like this in America.

I wrote about it back when I dubbed Chicago's famous Ricobene's "breaded steak" the best sandwich in the country, naming Philadelphia's John's Roast Pork the #2 sandwich in America. And I still stand by it today.

For the uninitiated, here we go. We're talking pork so tender and flavorful it's like it's been whispering secrets to garlic and herbs all night. We're not talking about your great aunt's pork chop that's dry as bone and something you need an entire jar of apple sauce to put down. This thing is slow cooked, and marinated with so much garlic and juice the thing is dripping harder than your wife on your wedding night. That goodness gets tucked into a crusty roll that's just begging for a bit of action.

Some argue that the real MVPs here are the sharp provolone and the broccoli rabe. The cheese? It's got attitude. We're talking provolone so sharp you feel it in your gums. High grade, quality stuff my friend. And the rabe? It's greens with a bit of a bite, not just there for show. Or, if you're leaning towards a milder ride, you can opt for spinach instead as a solid backup.

Then there are the long hots. They’re the unsung heroes that take a great Philly Roast Pork Sandwich and elevate it to legendary status. 

These are a Philly thing that the closest things I've found to them in the United States are "stinger peppers" that the crazies in Connecticut put on their pizzas and meatball subs. 

Long hots are a type of Italian green chili pepper that brings a unique, spicy kick to any dish they grace. Unlike their more famous cousins, the jalapeño or serrano, long hots have a more erratic heat level – some might just tickle your palate, while others pack a punch worthy of a title bout. Their flavor is deep, earthy, and slightly smoky, adding complexity and a bit of mystery to each bite.

In the context of our beloved Roast Pork Sandwich, long hots are like the secret ingredient in a family recipe – not always mentioned, but always missed when it's not there. They cut through the richness of the pork and the creaminess of the provolone with precision, adding layers of flavor that make the sandwich not just a meal, but an experience.

John's Roast Pork and DiNic's, those temples of sandwich worship, know the power of the long hot. Adding these peppers to their sandwiches isn't just an afterthought; it's a nod to tradition, a salute to the homeland. 

In this picture, they're the long slender green peppers placed at the top of the sandwich.

In case you haven't realized, this whole roast pork deal? I'm willing to die on this hill. It's a nod to Philly's Italian roots, where slow-roasting pork was the game. Fast forward, and it's not just a sandwich in Philly; it's a piece of the city's soul. And it is fucking exquisite. 

Last week was my first time back in Philadelphia in more than a year (sidebar - what the fuck happened to your guys' airport? Place is turning into a dump.), and my roast pork experience confirmed to me yet again we are dealing with an elite sandwich. One that needs to be recognized on the national stage.

My top three favorite places to try are the aforementioned John's Roast Pork, which I can't say enough about. It is a heavyweight champion of both roast pork and cheesesteaks. DiNic's, tucked inside Reading Terminal Market, serves up a version with broccoli rabe and provolone that's nothing short of legendary. And Tony Luke's? They've got a roast pork sandwich that earns its stripes.

BONUS - When I landed and asked Colin where to meet up, he told me he had the perfect spot. An old dive bar in Fishtown, aptly named, "Murph's". I love the Fishtown neighborhood. It reminds me a lot of the Logan Square area in Chicago- great bars, great restaurants, weird and eccentric people all over. No bullshit Subways franchise restaurant chains all over the place. It's got character. And man oh man did Murph's deliver. 

As I approached the bar, getting out of my uber, there was a picnic table out front on the sidewalk with a biker gang standing and sitting on top of it drinking their beers, cussing up a storm. It was beautiful outside, in the mid 70s, and still sunny, so people were out and about everywhere and the bars up and down the street had their windows wide open. Pretty good action for a Sunday afternoon. When I walked in the bar you immediately got hit with that feeling that you weren't just in "some bar". You were at home. The kind of feeling you only get at old haunts that have been around for a century. Where the bar top itself is worn down from people resting their elbows in the formed groove notches on it, where the bar stools are perfectly smoothed from a staggering amount of asses plopping down on them over time, and there are always a dozen or so regulars posted up in their spots. Where the walls are adorned with the artifacts of a thousand tales – neon signs, faded photographs, and memorabilia from a time when the world was a different place. Each item a relic, a piece of history, whispering secrets of the past to those who take a moment to listen.

As if I couldn't have loved the place anymore, I soon came to find out- thanks to my gigantic nose and the unmistable scents of garlic and tomato sauce wafting out of the kitchen downstairs in the basement- that this place served Italian food.

I was just as confused as you are reading this. 

I turned to Colin and said what the fuck do they serve here for food and he said, "oh, just wait. Why do you think I brought you here?"

I thought he was a lunatic taking a ginzo food snob like me to an Italian dive bar, but then I saw one of the runners emerge from the basement carrying an armful of plates spilling over with pastas that had to have weighed 15 lbs combined. 

They looked pretty, pretty, pretty good not going to lie. And they smelled even better.

Giphy Images.

As I looked around the back of the bar, every table was packed with guests seated, going to town on huge plates of their own. The bartender, as if reading my thoughts, laughed and said to me, "we're actually known for Italian food. It's a crazy story, but as he told it, a guy named Francesco Bellastelli came to Philadelphia from Puglia, Italy in 2013 and found his way to Murph's with his friends. They had nothing to eat as the bar didn't serve food then, so Francesco struck up a convo with the owner Greg. He asked Greg how he could have a bar with no food, and Greg informed him that when he took the bar over around the year 2000, they hadn't been using the kitchen. Growing up back in Puglia working in restaurants, Francesco struck up a deal to rent the kitchen from him in the basement, and the rest is history. 

I ordered some arancini (which were legit with nduja and peas like you get in Italy), some meatballs, and penna arrabbiata. And they were all lights out.

We got a good bottle of nebiolo for like $40 and the whole thing was under $150 bucks for three of us. (We brought our camera who filmed for us too). I was stunned. And reminded yet again to never judge a book by its cover.

Just in case you thought I was insane, or had dogshit taste like Portnoy, Philly native Max agreed and said it's his favorite spot in the city.

I highly, highly recommend.

p.s. - strongly considering doing more food-centric blogs like this and my "Chicken Vesuvio Week" blog (coming tomorrow), since I travel so much, and enjoy going to awesome places and eating good food pretty much more than anything else. Just intimidated by how psycho the "foodie" community is, how they gatekeep, and not sure I have what it takes to manage a social account like that. 

p.p.s. - does anywhere in America have more "cash only" places still in existence than Philly?