When most people think of the food that defines Philadelphia, you can bet the cheese steak immediately comes to mind. The “Philly Cheese Steak” can be found on every street throughout the greater Philadelphia area, as well as in every food court from all points around the United States. But, if you ask a local, they’d tell you to get a roast pork sandwich instead. And they’d likely point you to Tommy DiNic’s.
Opened in 1918 as a butcher shop called Nicolisi’s in South Philadelphia, owner Gaetano Nicolisi focused on preparing high quality meats for neighborhood shoppers. Roasts were cooked in the garage behind the property, and were often the most popular offering on the menu on any given day. By 1954, Gaetano’s sons had taken over the business, and began selling roast pork and beef sandwiches out of that same garage, winning over the area.
In the late 70’s, 3rd generation Nicolisi, Tommy, merged the business with his good friend Franky DiClausio – combining their names, and creating DiNic’s. Tommy moved the shop into the busy Reading Terminal Market, located in the heart of Philadelphia in 1980, and history was made.
DiNic’s prides itself on all of its sandwiches, from the tender pulled pork, and the succulent slow cooked brisket. But it’s the roast pork that won the hearts of the diners, recently named the Best Sandwich in America by the Travel Channel. A sandwich on that kind of a pedestal was one I wasn’t going to miss; even if it meant wading through the 20,000 daily visitors at the Reading Terminal Market.
Armed with a plan, we began to go through the maze of shops. The near unbearably hot 37 degree weather outside had driven additional traffic into the market, and taking more than a step without having our paths obstructed was an impossibility. As tempting as it was to stop for fresh cajun seafood, slow roasted turkey, or even legendary Bassett’s Ice Cream, we finally located DiNic’s, smartly located near the centre of the market.
The store is brilliantly designed, working as a perfect square, with bar stools lining around the edges on three sides. The fourth is used for those who want to grab and go, with a line that extends as far as your imagination cares to wander. Not to worry however, these guys are professionals, dealing with hundreds of hungry customers every single day, and the line moves at an excellent rate.
I was served my sandwich in under 15 minutes, which then kicked off the journey to find a table to eat at. That took another 10 minutes, before we located an open pair of seats at a cafeteria style table towards the back of the market.
The sandwiches are wrapped in a thick butcher’s paper, which is great in keeping everything tight, and preventing leakage. The roast pork is such a simple sandwich, topped with sharp provolone and bitter broccoli rabe. The pork is first slow roasted in a blend of spices, shaved thin, and then served in its own juices. Broccoli rabe is also known as rapini, greens with buds that resemble tiny pieces of broccoli. It’s bitter, but when stewed down with spices and salt, adds a wonderful flavor, not unlike collard greens. The contrast between each of the three elements is so unique, but balances so well. Finishing it off is a white crusty Italian roll, which soaks up all the juice from the pork, while maintaining a great crunch on the outside.
I’ve eaten a lot of sandwiches in my lifetime, and without hyperbole, this is one of the three best I’ve ever had – even with the expectations going into the meal sky high. Even though I couldn’t eat the whole thing (but not to worry, I made sure absolutely no pork was wasted), I was still tempted to go back and order one of their other sandwiches just to see how they stack up. Yeah, it was *that* good. I’m sitting here hundreds of miles away, mouth watering, wishing I had one right now. That’s a hell of a sandwich. DiNic’s is a hell of a place.