A Guide To The Philadelphia Region’s Legendary Foods
PHILADELPHIA, March 15, 2017 – Philadelphia’s signature flavor is a dynamic mix of traditional recipes, new culinary inventions, well-known treats and obscure dishes, and these specialties can be found everywhere—from corner stores to the fanciest haute restaurants. Among the region’s best-known foods are national favorites like Italian water ice, Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels and the ever-popular cheesesteak. More localized favorites include pork roll and scrapple, which are available here in the region and through services such as Taste of Philadelphia, one of many companies that ship Philly goodies across the United States.
Here are some of the sandwiches, snacks, meats and more that have left a lasting mark on the Pennsylvania palate:
- Cheesesteaks: Everyone agrees that the cheesesteak, invented by Pat Olivieri in 1930, requires thinly sliced beef and a crusty roll, but the always-tough choice between provolone, American and Cheez Whiz is a matter of great debate. Same goes for the best place to eat the famed sandwich. The age-old feud between Pat’s King of Steaks and its across-the-street rival Geno’s Steaks draws thousands of visitors to 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue for taste-offs. Local shops like Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies, John’s Roast Pork, Pudge’s Steak and Hoagie, Tony Luke’s and Jim’s Steaks have equal numbers of devoted fans—and Jim’s even ships steaks out of town. High-end interpretations of the city’s humble sandwich await at restaurants such as The Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar and its sibling The Continental Mid-town, which whip up a clever cheesesteak eggroll with a spicy sriracha ketchup dip. Rittenhouse Square’s Barclay Prime offers a $120 wagyu ribeye, truffled cheese and foie gras concoction that comes with a half-bottle of champagne.
- Hoagies: The hoagie, Philly’s answer to the sub or hero, can be traced back to South Philadelphia’s European immigrant population. The sizeable sandwich comes stuffed with fresh meats, cheeses and veggies—or some variation of these ingredients. The quintessential Italian hoagie, for example, is layered with cured ham and salami, cheese, oil, oregano, lettuce, tomato and more. The bread is critical too: Amoroso’s and Sarcone’s bakeries are the among most popular purveyors of rolls in the city. Sarcone’s Deli sells its own sandwiches out of a Bella Vista storefront. One of the biggest local sandwich chains, Lee’s Hoagie House has built a small empire with its special house-spiced oil and expansive selection. Still more creative combinations await at Campo’s Deli and Tony Luke’s. New school purveyor Matt and Marie’s delivers a fresh take with choices such as the Italian Stallion, topped with coppa and salami, locally made Claudio’s provolone, house-pickled peppers and pepperoncini aioli.
- Roast Pork Sandwiches: While it’s not quite as well-known as the cheesesteak or hoagie, the roast pork sandwich is nevertheless a regional delicacy born from Italian-American cookery. Tender, oven-roasted pork, usually shaved or chopped, gets layered with melted sharp provolone cheese and garlicky sautéed broccoli rabe. John’s Roast Pork, Tony Luke’s, George’s Sandwich Shop and DiNic’s Roast Pork all deliver classic renditions as well. For a high-end version, High Street on Market adds fermented rabe and a homemade semolina roll, while Paesano’s Arista innovates with fiery longhots and pulled suckling pig meat.
- Scrapple: A mixture of pork, spices and cornmeal, scrapple is a crispy fried breakfast meat native to the Pennsylvania Dutch. Today, scrapple can be found in all manner of venues—luxury hotels, greasy-spoon diners and every local breakfast joint in between. Some of the most famous purveyors of authentic scrapple are Godshall’s Quality Meats, Habbersett and Hatfield, though plenty of restaurants make their own versions in-house.
- Pork Roll: Popularized in the region during the 19th century, pork roll, also known as Taylor ham (after a well-loved brand name), is a bologna-like breakfast meat often served on a Kaiser roll with eggs and cheese. Originally from New Jersey but extremely popular in Philly, this Mid-Atlantic favorite rivals scrapple as the breakfast meat of choice for locals. It can be found in pretty much any area diner, but neighborhood hangs such as Grubhouse offer it on sandwiches (the decadent “Three Little Pigs,” with pork roll, pulled pork and bacon). Elsewhere, BRU Craft & Wurst whips up a mean pork roll-based Reuben, while The Blue Duck grinds the meat into its award-winning Pork Roll Burger.
- Soft Pretzels: Introduced to the region by Pennsylvania Dutch settlers centuries ago, pretzels have long been a favorite local snack. Philly’s signature variety is the soft pretzel, an everyday treat purchased from a street vendor, corner store or from a bakery such as the Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Factory. No matter what form the pretzel takes—braided, sticks, nuggets or even sandwich rolls—they always taste better accompanied by mustard.
- Tastykakes: Visitors would be hard-pressed to find a Philadelphian who doesn’t have nice things to say about Butterscotch Krimpets or chocolate cupcakes with rich striped icing: Tastykakes have been Philadelphia’s sweet snack of choice for nearly a century. Founded by a baker and an egg salesman in 1914, the Tasty Baking Company later revolutionized the snack-cake industry with its individually wrapped fruit pies. The company’s headquarters at The Navy Yard span 25 acres and feature a LEED-certified bakery. Tastykakes can be ordered directly from the bakery or found in any local convenience store, such as the popular chain Wawa.
- Water Ice: While its name is somewhat confusing, water ice is a perfectly logical solution for those in need of relief on a hot Philadelphia summer day. Otherwise known as Italian ice, the combination of fruit or syrup with finely shaved ice is a refreshing treat. John’s Water Ice, Mancuso & Son and Rose’s Real Italian Water Ice are just a few age-old favorites, while charming suburban options such as the Yardley Ice House amaze with an astounding variety of flavors. Sit-down restaurants even get in on the chilly fun: At Little Nonna’s, there might be blood orange basil, concord grape or tomato on the dessert menu, depending on the time of year.
- Goldenberg Peanut Chews: The quintessential Philly confection, peanut chews are dense bars of nuts and sweet syrup enrobed in chocolate. Created in 1890 by a Romanian immigrant named David Goldenberg, this chocolate treat has become a mainstay of regional trick-or-treat bags, as well as a sweet pick-me-up any day of the week.
Sending Philly Food Love:
- Those who can’t get to Philadelphia to experience the delicacies for themselves can have the city’s specialties shipped right to their door. Campo’s Deli sends cheesesteaks, hoagies, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, Herr’s Potato Chips and other Philly foods throughout the U.S. and to select international destinations. The Pennsylvania General Store in the Reading Terminal Market packages Asher’s chocolate-covered pretzels, Anastasio Italian Market Reserve Coffee, Melrose Diner butter cookies, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and lots of other regionally made goodies into specialty gift baskets. The national gourmet delivery service Goldbely can deliver Jim’s Steaks right to the doors of homesick Philly friends and family—with free shipping. Since 1978, Taste of Philadelphia has been delivering hoagies, cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, Amoroso rolls, Taylor Pork Roll and Habbersett scrapple to Philly-philes across the U.S. and Canada.