On the occasions I have to drive somewhere in the local surrounding area for work, I try, if possible, to hit up lunch places that I’ve been meaning to try. One place, though, that I make as repeat visits as I can is John’s Roast Pork in South Philly.
If it’s possible to be both well-renowned and yet relatively unknown, John’s falls into this category. Considering the place has been serving up terrific food for over eighty years, it may be surprising that it’s stayed under the radar. Only in the past year have shows on Travel Channel and Food Network featured pieces on John’s. The main reason, of course, that John’s Roast Pork has received less notice, both nationally and regionally, is accessibility. It’s located on Snyder Avenue near Columbus Boulevard (right by Lowe’s, IKEA and other stores) and is only open on weekdays from breakfast to mid-afternoon. You can’t swing by there after work to get dinner or at any time on weekends. There’s no near notable tourist destinations for increased foot traffic, and it’s not in any residential neighborhood. And despite receiving increasing accolades for its sandwiches, John’s Roast Pork has no immediate plans to expand its hours from its initial roots of catering to shipyard and area workers.
So, needless to say, a lot of folks who work downtown have never had the opportunity to visit John’s as opposed to to Pat’s, Tony Luke’s and Jim’s Steaks. It’s too bad because they don’t know what they’re missing.
John’s is literally a shack with no indoor eating area and only a few outside tables. The small space inside is pretty much taken up by the snake-like line that forms out the door. You can either order from the grill (cheesesteaks, burgers, etc.) or from a separate line for roast porks, meatballs, chicken cutlets and other sandwiches. The cheesesteak, recognized by many experts as the best in the city, is amazing and deserves its own write-up. Let’s first discuss the signature sandwich: the roast pork sandwich.
In the Bizarre Foods episode about Eastern Pennsylvania, host Andrew Zimmern checks out both unusual eats as well as some recognized food stops in Philadelphia. At John’s, he tries the cheesesteak and then the roast pork. Zimmern says that while the cheesesteak there is among the two or three best steaks he has ever had, the roast pork might be among the two or three best sandwiches he has tasted. I would say that praise is right on the money.
A large order of the sandwich packs in the roast pork, which is high quality meat that has been cooked and boned on site. It’s been seasoned the same way through a secret family recipe for over eighty years and then roasted daily. What comes out is an amazingly-flavored roast pork. The meat is simply delicious. You can definitely taste the spices and seasoning.
Everything about the sandwich fits. The Carangi Bakery roll has a little more substantial texture than the traditional Amoroso roll and holds the juices quite well. Ordering sharp provolone is another bonus and adds another dimension to the taste, though it’s not overwhelming. You don’t get cheated on the cheese either. It’s an incredibly filling sandwich, and you’re not still hungry after finishing it. The pricing is also fair. A large roast pork with sharp provolone (which costs extra) is less than $8 after tax.
In some ways, I am kind of glad there’s not more notoriety about John’s. The lines are pretty long during lunchtime (though the roast pork line is less long than the grill), and more press would make it a longer wait. With that said, of all the great roast pork sandwiches in the city, including DiNic’s, Tony Luke’s, etc., I put the roast pork from John’s right at the top.