Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pig: From East to West Coast

After spending the past 10 days on an adventure of gastronomic proportions, I have found thine holy grail of meats: PORK. Whether you shudder or scoff at the decision, I assure you that it’s founded on the grounds of intrinsic, delicious taste. Admittedly, pigs are content to eat trash and bask in their own filth, so one might assume incorrectly that the following flavor would be of the same sort. However, I will let you in on the dirty little secret about the flavor. Pork may be the world’s other white meat, although, it’s no “chicken” when it comes to packing a powerful punch to the taste buds. Regardless of the form it comes in, pork gives you depth of flavor to a dish while complimenting the other ingredients as well. Anyway you want it, pork’s the way you need it.
Today, the competition lies between two pork prodigies: Seattle’s Salumi, a local salami shop known to sell out by noon owned by the parents of Mario Batali, and Philadelphia’s Tommy DiNic’s, a fast-paced Italian-style pork roast sandwich stop.
Here are the categories:
Location, Location, Location: DiNic’s is tightly packed into the culinary candy land that is Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, while Salumi is an unassuming hole in the wall near the Seattle International District. In both, the line wrapped around the vicinity; you could see the lunch-rush hunger in their eyes.
The All-Too-Overlooked Atmosphere: Salumi was a shotgun operation, meaning the building was long and skinny. Within its crowded walls, they squeezed in some ladies working a sandwich production line, cashier station, some samples of hanging ham hocks and salami, and a few scattered tables in the back. An endearing grandmother-figure was placed behind the front paned glass window, cheerfully punching out gnocchi on a lightly flowered surface. I seemed to have been teleported into an Old World salami shop.
DiNic’s was set up like a walk-thru diner: the vibrant red waxed countertops covered in delicious greasy sandwich paper, customers perched on silver cushioned bar stools; behind the counters were the soda tap and large stainless cooking appliances. A brawny, hearty crew carved up the tender pork and stuffed the sandwiches. While watching them a bit I determined there was much jostling and joking to be had between them. Hungry lunchtime mongrels pushed in and around the line; I swayed with the crowds, intoxicated by the smell of roasted pig and garlic.
The Order: Salumi’s Salumi Salami Sandwich, with a pesto spread, pickled peppers and onions and homemade mozzarella cheese. DiNic’s Pork Roast Hoagie with a garlic broccoli rabe and crumbly sharp provolone cheese.

For Our Frugal Friends, the Fee: DiNic’s was around $8 for a sandwich. Salumi was about $10. Granted, both these colossal sandwiches counted as two meals.
First Impressions and Final Thoughts: After waiting in line 30 minutes before Salumi opened [as the interwebs suggested], I was ready to enjoy this much-anticipated sandwich. I shuffled towards a tiny table with a sweating galss pitcher of water. My stomach grumbled; I had skipped breakfast in order to arrive here in time. I unfolded my sandwich, sizing it up. The bread was the most substantial part of the sandwich. They gave me A LOT. The thick white slice of fresh mozzarella looked heavenly, and the green pesto oozing underneath pickled peppers and onions added vibrant coloring to the sandwich. Oh, you want to know about the salami? Well, short answer: it left me wanting more, much more. What I could taste of the salami was very good, but I needed more material to work with. It was almost as if they were hiding the salami underneath all the bread and condiments. More bread just means more meat, right? The salami’s poor showing was an unsavory disappointment to the sandwich. Fortunately the solution may be as simple as more slices of salami.
We made it into Philly around noon. Although we had made breakfast only a short time ago, we made a bee-line for DiNic’s the minute we entered the Market. I would describe myself as uncharacteristically not hungry. All the same, I found myself in the presence of a mouth-watering, meat-stuffed, garlic-tinged sandwich that would not only arrest my senses but create a genuine sensation of unabated hunger. Incredible. The sandwich itself was definitely over a pound, and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all bread and filler. The top layer was a blend of broccoli rabe greens with an impeccable garlic sauce. Not far beneath was a more-generous-than-Christmas amount of succulent roast pork literally dripping with its own juices. The sharp provolone made me a believer that most everything is better with a bite. This perfect combination was bundled in a happy little hoagie. After the first bite, my mind was blown. All I could think to say was “Oh my god…” as a smile crossed my face. A sandwich of this caliber blows even the native Philly Cheese Steak out of the water, no question. It’s just unfortunate that this was still categorically a sandwich because it was much, much more. You don’t even seem to care that you will be sweating garlic for the next few days, because this is a meal of the moment. It’s the kind of food epiphany that you won’t experience every day. I have suddenly become a strong proponent of déjà vu.
So, if you didn’t catch the winner as it raced by, it was DiNic’s Roast Pork Sandwich of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. If you are ever in Philly, do yourself [and your stomach] the favor. Oh and if you could, bring me back half? I feel like that’s a reasonable “recommendation service charge”.

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