John’s Roast Pork (Philadelphia, PA)

John’s Roast Pork (14 Snyder Ave., 215.463.1951) carries a heavy burden: a few years ago, it was labeled the producer of the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia. It’s an appellation I won’t argue with, though the steak is different than the other prime contender (Tony Luke’s): a soft sesame seed roll, a different meat/bread ratio (in favor of the meat), and much less grease. The quality of the beef, however, can’t be denied; in its raw state, it looks like they’re throwing thinly-sliced prime strip on the grill, and the steaks from here remain the only ones I’ve ever eaten that leave not even the tiniest morsel of unchewable gristle. In any case, thumbs way up for the cheesesteaks, but one can legitimately disagree on whether or not they’re actually “the best.”

That said, no cow-derived hoagie can compete with what John’s really does well, which is the classic South Philly pork sandwich. It’s the most flavorful meat you can possibly imagine, and with sharp provolone (and other toppings as one desires) is a true work of the sandwich art. It’s an absolutely breathtaking way to take a few months off one’s life. Only a difficult location, between a dubious strip mall and a chemical plant, keeps this joint from being packed to the gills on a daily basis (and yet, it’s quite busy), but everyone should make the pilgrimage. This is heaven on a roll.


  • Anonymous

    May 21, 2006

    The problem in general is that these people are just part of the incredible industrial meat/food chain that we have here in America, the complete antithesis of an individuated artisanal culture.

  • Thor Iverson

    May 21, 2006

    Not to be combative, but do you actually know that for a fact? Do you actually know where John’s sources their meat and other ingredients? I know where their sesame rolls come from, and they’re both local and as non-industrial as such things can be, but I’m not aware that their other ingredient sources are public knowledge. Do you have better information?

    As for “an individuated artisanal culture,” I don’t entirely agree. Yes, the philosophically idealized situation is one where a local (and, hopefully, non-environmentally-deformative) producer links with a dedicated local and artisan purveyor — whether market or restaurant — to complete a link in the alternative (to mass production) food chain. However, the economics and practicalities of that are dubious at best, especially given that the inevitable reward for either entity is expansion towards the industrial model (think Roquefort Papillon, or Niman Ranch, or for that matter Ben & Jerry’s on one end of that relationship, and any number of celebrated and nationalized chefs on the other). I just don’t think it works outside of theory, except in an extremely limited way; the weekly farmers’ market can’t supply all our food needs, and even if we Bové-d the supermarkets tomorrow can’t even consider scaling to meet those needs. Nor do I really see how Whole Foods (or, more relevantly, Safeway) selling Cowgirl Creamery cheese is any different than family-owned single-site and tradition-preserving John’s Roast Pork selling some industrial meat (assuming they do so) in their pork sandwich; in both cases, you have one non-local and scaled-for-profit entity using the local artisan to good effect. Given that the norm is a synthesis of industrial production with industrial retail, to the detriment of everything and everyone, I can’t find much energy to complain about a case that’s 50% of the idealized case.


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