Shake, Rattle, and Pork Roll

The origins of the intimidating mystery meat called pork roll can be traced back to John Taylor, a late 1800’s state Senator and well-known businessman who originally called the product “Taylor’s Prepared Ham.” But thanks to those tricky folks at the FDA, Taylor was forced to cut out the bit where it said “ham,” as it didn’t meet the new definition of “ham” established by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. As such, it became a “pork roll.” Not long after that, Taylor tried to protect his invention from competition by trademarking “pork roll,” but failed. Like Cheez Whiz, if you need to tell me something is a food product, I’m a little skittish of it.


Like with Whiz, if you have to tell me it’s edible, I’m a little disinclined to believe you.

For whatever reason, this pork roll — otherwise known as Taylor Ham the further up north in New Jersey you unwisely choose to go — has become something of a breakfast/lunch staple among the ‘do-everything’ food carts of the world. A pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich is one of the things I hear ordered most often at my personal favorite (owing a great deal to convenience) food truck at Drexel University, Pete’s Little Lunch Box. While Sue, the operator of the truck, knows that I want a cheesesteak with fried onions with embarrassing regularity, it was when I ordered the pork roll, egg, and cheese that she nodded solemnly and I leaned back on the fence opposite to ponder my fate.


John Taylor, who I imagine never tasted his product without a serving of mustache to go with it.

Not without a wistful glance to those who had been fortunate enough to get cheesesteaks, I unwrapped the aluminum foil and murmured a brief prayer to the father of modern animal husbandry, Jay L. Lush. I’m not too big on pork. This has been established. It might be an Animal Farm thing, I don’t know. I’m not too big on egg either — I like it fried and on a burger or bibimbap, but not as the main player in a dish. This is, from the start, doomed to fail. I should not even attempt it.

I took about two bites. It is bad. It is very very bad. The flavor is comparable to biting the sole of one’s shoe. For those who haven’t dined on shoe leather recently, I can only compare it unfavorably to Spam. Scrapple was a delight, comparatively. That said, I was determined to understand why people enjoyed pork roll, and as such, I interviewed former attorney and public servant, John Roberts. (John Roberts is still Rich Roberts’ father. –Ed.)

Whizzard: Mr. Roberts, why is it that you enjoy pork roll?
Mrs. Roberts (interjecting): Reminds you off your youth?
Mr. Roberts: That’s it. It’s a tradition. Nostalgic. Grew up eating pork roll, continue enjoying it. Like it with eggs.

Suggested wine pairing: Franzia Sunset Blush.

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Roast Pork Sandwiches

Pork is simple, I think. Never having been much for bacon, and as the previous special on scrapple might be interpreted as sort of a terrified screed against the pig, you could be forgiven for thinking I’m not too big on the other white meat. Not the case. I am a simple man! (A simple man with complicated tastes.) I am not too good for pork. A nice grilled tenderloin with green beans or broccoli was among one of the good family Whizzard’s dinner staples as I was growing up.

While my palate skewed toward the grilled, that’s not the point of today’s post. No, we’re talking about another way to prepare pork before putting it in between bread: roasting. Roast pork sandwiches are the other signature sandwich of Philadelphia, standing proud, if unassuming, next to their grandiose cheesesteak cousins.

Almost any dive bar worth its salt will have a roast pork offering. Whether on a Kaiser roll or traditional hoagie/sub/grinder roll, there’s usually some provolone going on, too. It isn’t always going to be beautiful — there might be a little juice left on the plate when you pick it up and the roll might be a little dry in your hands — but if all I ate was beautiful food, I would starve.

SIDEBAR: Grinding Subs

   There’s a reason I had to do that little slash/slash/slash thing, there. While most normal people are content to live and let live, there are those (as with those who contend that a hot dog is, somehow, a sandwich) that take offense to the improper terms utilized.   ‘Sub’ — a submarine sandwich, named for its resemblance to the long submersible boat. Traditionally, served cold. ‘Grinder’ — Either named for Italian-American slang for dockworkers, who were known to favor the sandwich form, or for the difficulty with which one could bite down on the girthy sandwich. And, lastly, ‘hoagie’ — a corruption of ‘hoggie,’ which is what one would have to be to eat one, according to a store proprietor’s opine.

Of course, there are other terms: hero, po’boys, bombers…but those are exceedingly unPhiladelphian.

(Gyros are excepted, and definitely not the same thing.)

There are those who like their sandwiches so dunked in au jus that it’s more of a platter than a one-handed mediated mission from plate to mouth. I have no qualm with them — they’re monsters, but live and let live. The 50/50 from Jake’s Sandwich Board is not that. It is a firm sandwich, with a strong enough hoagie roll to stand up to the amount of meat packed in.

I picked Jake’s, not only because they won the Best of Philly award in 2012 for their Best Pork Sandwich, the 50/50, but because I like their food.


The 50/50, minutes away from being hastily consumed.

Jake’s, it must be noted, is a two-location operation. Not big enough to be considered a chain or franchise, so I can still feel good about supporting local businesses, and its location in Center City is on the usual route I take home from campus, so it couldn’t be more convenient. A casual, easygoing place painted in bold reds and blacks, the 13th Street Jake’s has a decent seating arrangement for those who want to eat there. Old timey pictures of Center City border the walls shoulder to shoulder with pictures of those who’ve tried (and sometimes failed) to take their silly ‘way too much food’ challenge. I usually do take out.

While my preference at Jake’s remains their Mensch (brisket, provolone, and caramelized onions with some good, properly nose-evacuating horseradish), I began my long relationship with the store with their offering, the 50/50, and so it will always retain a special place in my heart.

The store describes the 50/50 as “1/2 pulled and chopped slow-roasted pork, 1/2 bacon, Sriracha spread, and sharp provolone. The 50/50 won a Best of Philly award in 2012!” I already mentioned that last part, but I can forgive them for wanting to toot their own horn. It is a very good sandwich.

I know what you’re saying to yourself, cursor precipitously poised on the ‘close tab’ button. I began this one by professing my distaste for the crunchy pigskin (is bacon pig skin? I don’t actually know) but in the 50/50, it complements the savory roast pork, instead of overwhelming it. (Mini-sidebar: enough with the bacon obsession, internet. We ain’t in 2012 anymore.)


[Citation needed.]

Pros: If you take the exact same route that I do from Philadelphia to a New Jersey suburb, Jake’s is just on the way home! Additionally, the sandwich is very good.

Cons: 1) If you do not take that route, I cannot guarantee your safety, but on the other hand, if you follow that route, you may see me and that is a fate I do not wish on anyone.

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Scrapple; Or, the Pork Problem, Part 1

Aside from their rugged independence and long beards, another Pennsylvania Dutch contribution to Philly is scrapple, otherwise known as pan rabbit or Pannhaas. Broadly, one might consider it a meatloaf. Described kindly by Wikipedia as “…a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving.”

Fried meatloaf. It’s a terrifying premise and a terrifying foodstuff. If you were to google scrapple, and I don’t recommend it, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally let your mind wander and had googled ‘brick,’ instead. One could generously call it unappetizing. But it’s somehow become a staple breakfast food across unknowing Philadelphian diners far and wide, thanks to the hardworking spectre of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

I think I’ve made it abundantly clear — scrapple scares me. But don’t let it be said that I don’t try new things for the sake of this blog. I am the Bizarre Foods of the internet, except not bald and with an extremely limited budget. After steeling myself, saying farewell to my loved ones, and asking for extensions on all of my papers, I took to the Dutch Eating Place in the venerable Reading Terminal Market to face my destiny.

Sidebar: I love the unofficial Pennsylvania Dutch / Amish corner to the Market. Their prices are always reasonable, and the employees, while perhaps occasionally a bit stiff, are always kindly and quick to refill. Nothing but love for those folks. Leftover pancakes from the Dutch Eating Place has gotten me through many a study session.


A lucky star.

It came with a side of toast, perhaps to mop up my tears for being such a baby. I had depleted my orange juice. There was nothing else to be done.

Breaking off a corner of the loaf with my fork, I put it in my mouth and chewed it. I didn’t really swallow it, so much as it sort of just disappeared. It was like eating a ghost. Longing for the blueberry pancakes just delivered to my neighbor on the right, I continued on in my dark task. This second bite did not disappear so easily, and I was able to gauge a  measurably more pork-ish taste. Not necessarily a good thing — I was forced to compare it to the Jake’s pork sandwich I had had just a few days previous — but again, I am an internet professional, and continued on.

A crispy exterior, an almost creamy interior, and well-seasoned with spices that I couldn’t really place. They weren’t particularly in-your-face, more spicy, umami, to round out the tastes of sweet bread and savory pork. I ate it, finished it, wolfed down my toast, paid, and left. It was a Phyrric victory — though I had eaten the scrapple, it was at the cost of eating the scrapple.

I would not have scrapple again. Not because I hated it, but because of the competition — toast, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches, quiche, and omelettes, just to scratch the surface. There’s a wide world of breakfast foods that one might put in their mouth and I prefer most of them over scrapple.

Pros: It was about five bucks for the scrapple platter. I was full afterwards.

Cons: All those lil’ pigs had families. And I’d eaten them! I was empty on the inside.  

(The Whizzard is always empty on the inside. —Ed.)

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