If you had only one meal in Philadelphia, what would you eat?
A Philly cheesesteak, right?
Maybe, but only if you went for Capogiro gelato afterward. I’ve done the Geno’s and Pat’s comparison and a few other notable cheesesteak joints in town. They’re good, but nothing as transcendent as what I’m about to tell you about.
Might I suggest a roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s?
I know, the thought of roast pork sends many back to their mother’s dull, lifeless, and dry Sunday attempt at cooking. But this is different. DiNic’s achieves a flavorful roast and keeps the thin slices of meat moist and juicy.
The consensus among a few locals, whose opinions I’ve learned to trust, is to get it with “greens.”
The greens are essential.
It’s the garlic. DiNic’s sautees baby spinach with some oil (I wouldn’t be surprised if they used some drippings from the pork as well), salt, and enough garlic to make it spicy. The silky mass is layered on the pork with some sharp Provolone cheese – which is also essential – in a long, soft submarine roll nestled in a red plastic basket. It far surpassed any cheesesteak I’ve ever had, whether in Philly or elsewhere. Big enough for two as a full meal, four or five as a snack, this gargantuan tube of juicy goodness is a steal at $6.50.
DiNic’s, like everything else inside Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market, is a stall. Though, unlike many of the vendors, DiNic’s offers seating – a row of half a dozen or so high-stools at a counter. That’s were my friends and I perched, with our sleeves rolled high and napkins spread out before us.
But far be it from me to tell you to begin and end at the DiNic’s counter. I take that back: you *could* begin and end at DiNic’s, but there are many places you should try in-between.
There’s the Salumeria, just a couple of rows over. It’s Little Italy in 20’ x 20’ block. There are deli meats, canned goods, dried goods, and cheese.
The thing to get here is the Italian hoagie – slices of coppa, spicy capicola, and mortadella with “the works:” Provolone, onion, roasted red peppers, vinaigrette, and red chiles (6” $5.00; 12”, 18”, and 24” available). I tossed in artichoke hearts as an addition (additional $0.35).
All of this is layered on a split hoagie – more dense and chewy than (what I’m calling) the submarine roll at DiNic’s. Thwacking her knife down on one side of the roll to hold the filling in place, our deli butcher forced the other half over, folding the sturdy, but pliant, layers of cold cuts, cheese, vinaigrette (which was spread, not squeezed, on), and filling into a tight bundle rolled in foil.
Whereas the DiNic’s sandwich is pillowy, warm and comforting, the Salumeria’s Italian hoagie is stalwart and gruff. The flavors are hot and spicy – the “vinaigrette” helped carry the flavors of the sausages into the bread – and the texture is firm and dense. You won’t linger over it the way you would with the roast pork sandwich, it rewards with quick workman-like satisfaction.
You shouldn’t miss the pretzels at Fisher’s Dutch Treats, either. I have to admit, my heart wasn’t exactly racing at the thought of a buttered pretzel when it was commended to me. But, I’m now convinced that it should be on anyone’s tour of the market.
Fisher’s sells other things, like ice cream, nuts, and candy. I’m sure they’re all very good too. But the pretzel was fantastic.
Like everything else at the market, it’s big. At $1.75, it fed the three of us as a hearty after-sandwich snack. It’s served warm, and you can have it simply brushed with hot butter, or you can get it dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Don’t bother with the sweet, go for the butter. It’s fluffy, soft, and has just the right amount of bounce and resistance. It is – literally – finger-licking good.
I’m sure you could rot your teeth out on the sweets at Reading Terminal Market. But we stuck to two recommendations:
2. Get a scoop of ice cream from Bassett’s.
The folks at r+d chocolates were on vacation (literally), so there were no chocolates to be had.
Bassetts’ on the other hand, with their sleek, commercially-outfitted counter, loomed large and in charge, anchoring a significant portion of the east side of the market. If it weren’t for the fact that it was locally owned and operated business and highly praised, I would have skipped it in favor of gelato at Capogiro.
Pralines and Cream was all cream with too few pralines. The Rum Raisin was much better – generously spiked but without much raisin. At $2.10 (+ tax) a pop, I’d double back for another pretzel at Fisher’s instead or scoot on over to Capogiro, which we did, promptly after dumping the remains of the over-creamy, thick, and hard ice cream.
There’s one other place I should mention: Dutch Eating Place. The Pennsylvania Dutch charm is heightened by servers sporting bonnets and aprons, and a breakfast/brunch menu to die for. There are blueberry pancakes, apple dumplings, and even scrapple. Interestingly, I did not see “Dutch pancakes” on the menu. [Update: I’ve been informed that Pennsylvania Dutch stems not from Dutch, but from the mispronunciation of Deutsch.]
Together, my two friends and I spent less than $25 and were quite full and very satisfied with our four-course lunch. Between bites, we walked around the market and looked at many of the other stalls. I could spend a month eating my way through the market. I would likely be just as satisfied as, and it would cost me less than, some of the other meals I endeavored in Philadelphia.
Click here to see all of the photos from the Reading Terminal Market on my flickr account.
Reading Terminal Market
51 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, Pennyslvania 19107