Monday, June 2, 2014

The Soul of Philadelphia

Mosaic on South Street, Philadelphia

I am from Buffalo, but I grew up in Philadelphia. I lived just across the river in a suburb called Cherry Hill - the ‘Swamps of Jersey’ - but spent a lot of time in the city. And what a city it is. Philadelphia gets a shitty rap, but it is a good town. That city has soul. And tough, gritty neighborhoods - University City, The Northeast, Manayunk and South Philly. Hardscrabble, blue collar, and cocksure.

In 1978, Rocky Balboa might as well have been Jesus, and I became an Eagle fan and a Flyer fan and a Sixer fan and a Phillies fan. I saw Ron Jaworski, Bill Bergey, Wilbert Montgomery, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Bobby Clark, Bernie Parent, Dave Schultz, Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Mo Cheeks play in their prime. All bona fide legends. Tough not to root for 'em. Sure, a few fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus. But that’s because the Eagles were losing. You got a problem with that!?

Summer day trips to 'the shore' slowly faded into nights spent sleeping underneath the boardwalk in Ocean City, Stone Harbor or Avalon. The lonely end to another unsuccessful evening with the ladies over by the tilt-a-whirl. We drank warm beer in the soft summer rain*. My buddy Steve Hale had a ’74 Buick Skylark hatchback that doubled as our motel room. We called it the Skylark Motel. Nothing builds character more than sleeping with another dude in a hatchback with blood red interior. Our lives became a damn Springsteen song. I even got my heart broken by a girl named Sandy. (Hardcore Springsteen fans will get this. See lyrics below)

And the fuel that kept us alive were cheesesteaks. They were cheap, decadent and plentiful. For hungover 18 year olds, they could be life changing. Everyone had their favorite places. Voltaco’s in OC, Jim’s on South Street, and Big John’s (the inspiration for our pickle bar) in Cherry Hill. But there were many, many more. I miss that accessibility. Can't get em anywhere else. Disturbingly, I hear people outside of Philadelphia describing cheesesteaks (such as they are) as a ‘Philly Cheese.' Please discontinue this practice immediately. There is no such thing.

But the sandwich that nobody in Philadelphia wants to talk about - lest it also be so profoundly bastardized - is the roast pork sandwich. Now. This. Is. A. Sandwich. All due respect, cheesesteak, you big beautiful beast, but this thing beats you like you were late on some payments to the Merlino family. 

Mountains of slow roasted pork is shaved and doused in its own jus, piled on a beautifully firm and chewy Amoroso roll and topped with sautéed broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. It is intoxicating. You don’t feel full after you neck a whole one from Tony Luke’s - you feel drunk.

So, in tribute to this sandwich, and because we dig on swine, we pay loving homage with June's Sausage of the Month:

THE ITALIAN STALLION - Italian Style Pork Sausage with Roasted Fennel and Toasted Pistachios topped with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Grated Sharp Provolone. This is being served with a nice little tomato and cucumber salad with fresh basil and red wine vinegar.

Please enjoy!

~ JL

*Copped directly from ‘Jungleland’, by Bruce Springsteen.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe

3 bunches of broccoli rabe, washed and drained
2 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T olive oil


1. Blanch Broccoli Rabe in salted boiling water for 1 min. Immediately plunge into ice bath.
2. Drain well and reserve, squeezing out excess water
3. In a medium hot skillet, heat olive oil until shimmering
4. Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces and add to skillet with garlic and chili flakes
5. Sautee for 7-10 minutes until just wilted
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately

Makes about 2 quarts. 

Steve Hale in the Skylark Motel, Headed to the Jersey Shore, Summer of 1984

Hot Dog Cart at City Hall
Hot Dog Vendor at the steps of the Art Museum. 
Jim's on 4th and South.
A Stooge on South Street.
Who knows, this could be Sandy...

4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)
Bruce Springsteen

Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over Little Eden tonight
Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this warm July
Down in the town, the Circuit's full of switchblade lovers, so fast, so shiny, so sharp
As the wizards play down on Pinball Way on the boardwalk way past dark
And the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovers on the shore
Chasin' all them silly New York virgins by the score

And Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
This pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight, for I may never see you again
Hey, Sandy girl
My, my, baby

Now, the greasers, ah, they tramp the streets or get busted for sleeping on the beach all night
Them boys in their high heels, ah, Sandy, their skins are so white
And me, I just got tired of hangin' in them dusty arcades, bangin' them pleasure machines
Chasin' the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they all promise to unsnap their jeans
And you know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinning, babe, didn't think I'd ever get off

Oh, Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
This pier lights our carnival life on the water
Runnin', laughin' 'neath the boardwalk, ah, with the boss's daughter
I remember, Sandy, girl
Na, na, na, na, na, baby

Sandy, that waitress I was seeing lost her desire for me
I spoke with her last night, she said she won't set herself on fire for me anymore
She worked that joint under the boardwalk, she was always the girl you saw boppin' down the beach with the radio
The kids say last night she was dressed like a star in one of them cheap little seaside bars, and I saw her parked with lover boy out on the Kokomo
Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do
For me this boardwalk life is through, babe
You ought to quit this scene too

Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
This pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever
Oh, I mean it, Sandy, girl
My, my, my, my, my baby
Yeah, I promise, Sandy, girl
Sha, la, la, la, la, baby

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