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Why DiNic’s is DiBest

August 14, 2018

Admittedly there is some tribalism involved in food preferences. I remember hearing about people who grew up in Watervliet. One family would go to Spiaks, but wouldn’t set foot in The Purple Pub. Another family would only go to The Purple Pub, and Spiaks was considered off limits.

As crazy as this sounds, it makes total sense to me, because my Connecticut family goes to Pepe’s but won’t even consider Sally’s. My thoughts on New Haven style pizza are ultimately incomplete because I still have this blind spot when it comes to one of the three most important producers in the city.

Before last weekend, I had a blind spot when it came to Philly Italian Pork sandwiches. I had been to DiNic’s and Tony Luke’s. But I had never tried one from John’s Roast Pork. This is why I made sure the very first thing I ate upon arriving in the 215 was a sandwich from John’s.

While John’s was great, I was pretty sure that DiNic’s was still the best. So yesterday, I went back to DiNic’s just to confirm. And it’s true. Of the big three, DiNic’s is the Italian Pork sandwich to beat. But let me lay down the case for why DiNic’s is king. Because it’s a surprisingly simple formula.

Let’s start with the basics. What makes a Philly Italian Pork sandwich special?

It’s sliced roast pork, with aged sharp provolone, and sauteed greens stuffed into a hoagie roll. Like the cheesesteak that came before it, this sandwich is deceptively simple.

In my view, the pork is really the canvas for a battle of flavor between the garlicky greens and the pungent provolone. Where these items are placed in the build of the sandwich is critical. And I argue there is one way which is clearly better than the rest.

Greens should go on the top and crown the sandwich.

All the aromatic power of that chopped garlic and those hot pepper flakes should not be buried underneath a mound of pork. Get that goodness up in your grill. Force it into your nostrils when you pick up that sandwich and try to shove it in your mouth.

Might some of those precious verdant morsels fall off the sandwich while you eat it? Maybe. But the enhanced flavor and pleasure that come from the sight and smell of the grens more than makes up for the loss.

Cheese should go on the bottom.

This helps those hard dry shards of aged provolone soften with the heat and juices of the meat. In theory, at the bottom of the roll’s crevice, the cheese can also provide a barrier to protect the structural integrity of the sandwich.

Tony Luke’s tragically and mysteriously puts its greens on the bottom. DiNic’s is the only shop of the three that builds their sandwich according to the above precepts. But that’s not all.

Just like when you order a cheesesteak, some places will give you the options of whiz or provolone. When it comes to Italian Pork sandwiches the greens can come in multiple forms too: spinach or rabe. I can understand why children, the elderly, or infirm might prefer spinach. It’s soft and mild in flavor and texture.

But this sandwich is truly remarkable when served with an aggressively seasoned chopped rabe. John’s is all about spinach. DiNic’s brings the heat with its rabe.

DiNic does everything right. Is the pork itself maybe a little more tender and flavorful at John’s? Maybe. But a sandwich is defined by how it all comes together.

And having tried the big three, I can say with confidence, none is finer than the rabe crowned pork sandwich at DiNic’s. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try them all. I hear the cheesesteak at John’s is also notable. I know the one at Tony Luke’s certainly is.

Now I’ve got some eating to do. More on Philly food from the road tomorrow.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2018 10:49 am

    I have never had a Philly pork sandwich, but I question your praise for the cheese on the bottom. That keeps the pork juices from soaking into the bread as they certainly should. And it reduces the ability of the cheese to melt into the other ingredients by 50% since it is in contact with just one hot surface, not two.

    As I recall, you like a double cheeseburger with cheese between the two meat patties. Why would not want the same for your pork sandwich?

  2. David Nardolillo permalink
    August 14, 2018 6:28 pm

    The cheesesteaks at Tony Luke’s and John’s each wound up in the top three in bon appetit’s recent video survey. They are back to back in this video beginning at the 4:35 mark:

  3. Geoff Baker permalink
    August 17, 2018 11:21 am

    Crazy there is no mention of the bread! Every one of the flavors in those sandwiches is easy to replicate in distant kitchens except for the flavors bound up in those Philly rolls. John’s uses Sarcone’s, the ne plus ultra. What does DiNic’s use? Try a cheesesteak from John’s, or my aforementioned scrapple, egg, and cheese next time, with a squirt of hot sauce.

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