Living next to Philly.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Food Review: John's Roast Pork (4 out of 5)

Food: Sandwiches
Location: 14 Snyder Ave., South Philly
Phone: (215) 463-1951
Date Visited: 05-30-2008, 10:15 a.m.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Man, this hurts.
I'd hoped, nay, expected that I'd be able to hand out my first 5 out of 5 rating with a long-awaited visit to the big one - John's Roast Pork on Snyder Ave. This place is widely regarded as the best of the best, by everyone from Glen Macnow on WIP to Craig LaBan at the Inquirer. And their ridiculous hours, Monday through Friday from 6:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., had kept me from sampling their legendary wares for so long, I thought I'd drop dead when I finally got there during operating hours.
I did so this past Friday, during a rare afternoon off from work (to be followed, naturally, by an evening at work). I'd just bought a new bicycle the day before, and by new I mean used, but only $60 and barely used at all. Friday morning found me awake by 7:30 or so, another in a growing string of sleepless mornings. My roommate Dave and I had discussed the possibility of visiting this spot together that morning, but he'd gone and made lunch plans without me, that bastard. So at about 8:15, before I could convince myself otherwise, I hopped onto the bike and began a long, long trip into the city.
The Schuylkill River Trail runs right near my house in Conshohocken, apparently extending as far as Reading in one direction, and ending up at the Art Museum on the other end. It's an absolutely beautiful paved trail, usually alive with people on foot and on wheels, but quiet today due to the hour. The sunny weather made it a perfect day for an excursion like this, and I'd managed to muster some music onto my Ipod from this pitiful excuse of a computer - a Dead show that I hadn't heard yet, from August in 1972, an excellent soundtrack for this little adventure. I had a few things in a bookbag, like water, my wallet and phone...but goddammit, no camera. A major oversight on my part, for which I apologize sincerely.
Anyway, the ride down took just under two hours, and I pulled up at about 10:10. I caught my breath, drank some water and rested my bike against one of the tables outside. The smell of fried onions pervaded through the street outside.
There were a few people in line, with one guy fielding orders for roast beef and roast pork, and another guy working the grill. I waited about five minutes before placing my order with the grill guy: two cheesesteaks, fried onions, American cheese. I grabbed two bottles of Fiji water for the ride home, and paid $18 and change for the whole deal. The cheesesteaks were $7 apiece. And while I waited, I was party to an entire wall covered in accolades, awards and newspaper articles about the best cheesesteak in Philly, made in that very place.
Well, it was a good thing I had reading material. While I hung back to make room for other customers, my order somehow...vanished. It was never written down, only placed into the memory of the grill guy. I was that unfortunate sap who stood and watched while everybody else got their food, and mine never came up.
After about 20 minutes of this nonsense, I approached the counter and politely notified the cook of his error. He was quick to apologize, and said they'd be ready in two minutes. I told him to take his time, as I'd rather have them done right than fast. Five minutes later, I got my sandwiches and another apology. Fitting, I thought, that after I'd waited weeks to be able to make it to John's during business hours, I had to wait that extra 20 minutes to boot.
I sat down outside next to my bicycle (which, luckily, had not yet been stolen), a table over from an older woman sitting by herself with a spread of papers in front of her and a portable telephone. I opened up the wrapping to find something I've never before encountered: sesame seeds on a cheesesteak roll. The roll was tough but not too thick, the meat thick and plentiful, and the cheese was divine. This was a very good sandwich.
But the flaws were there. The onions lent a modestly satisfying tinge of flavor, but nothing robust, which left me slightly unsatisfied. The meat, which was sliced, chopped slightly but not dices, had a little gristle left which held the sandwich together during a few bites. And most disappointingly, I encountered no fewer than two tiny bits of bone while I chewed on the cheesesteak. Maybe this makes some people feel like they're eating fresher meat, but as for me, I'd rather not be biting down on bits of bone for any reason.
These mitigating factors, combined with the extraneous wait, made it impossible for me to give John's the 5 out of 5 that so many other people say they deserve. Maybe I was just that unlucky customer on this particular day, but if you're going to get my expectations that high, you better fucking put out and stick around for more in the morning, goddammit.
It was, however, big enough to fill me up, which I chose not to do on this particular occasion, given the long ride hope that lay before me. I finished half and wrapped the other half up and put it in my bookbag, next to the one I bought to bring home for Dave.
The ride home was less pleasant than the ride down, as the bike seat had become progressively uncomfortable. I stopped off in Manayunk on the way and got the seat replaced entirely, at a cost of $40, bringing the total cost of this bicycle to around $100.
I pulled up to my house around 1:00, a nearly five hour bike ride that spanned probably about 35 miles or something. My biggest regret was that my camera sat in my car at home the whole time. It'll be out in full force for my next review - which, now that I've been somewhat disillusioned by this particular venture, will probably be closer to home.
Still, 4 out of 5 ain't bad.

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