Outside of Philadelphia, the Philly cheesesteak is pretty much universally considered to be that city’s iconic sandwich. But sandwich aficionados and in-the-know locals will tell you that the Italian roast pork sandwich is more deserving of the honor.
One of those aficionados is Travel Channel food host Adam Richman, who famously named the roast pork at Philadelphia institution DiNic’s the best sandwich in America in a bracket-style competition that included such regional icons as the New Orleans po’ boy and New England lobster roll.
Another apostle of the roast pork gospel is Zeke Firestein, a New York native who got hooked on the sandwich during a 10-year tenure working in restaurants in Philadelphia (including the legendary, and now sadly closed, Le Bec-Fin). Firestein has been spreading that gospel across the Triangle since late last year, when he and fiancée, Kat Dougan, put the Zeke’s Meats food truck on the road.
Philly cheesesteak fan that I am, Firestein made a believer out of me. We’re talking bone-in Boston butts, marinated in Italian seasonings and roasted low and slow over rosemary to a succulent turn. Sliced thin and piled onto a crusty Italian hoagie roll, the porky goodness gets topped with sharp provolone and sautéed broccoli rabe. Roasted Italian long hots (a pepper with a modest kick in the same Scoville territory as pepperoncini) are the crowning touch. Can I get an amen?
The roast pork sandwich is by no means the only reason to catch up with Zeke’s Meats at a local brewery, food truck rodeo or other venue. (You’ll find the schedule posted on the website’s home page.)
The truck lives up to the second half of its name – and the whimsical cartoon barnyard critters painted along the side of the colorful trailer – with several tempting alternatives.
In fact, the “Low-n-Slow” beef brisket could give the roast pork a run for its money. Firestein turns to his home state for the spiedie seasoning that he combines with olive oil and vinegar for a rub. The result, after 12 hours at 225 degrees, is falling-apart tender and rich in beefy flavor. You can get the brisket on a sandwich or on loaded fries – either way, topped with homemade pimento cheese and house-pickled onion.
Firestein’s changing variations on the Buffalo wings theme – tossed in a Calabrian chile glaze when I tried them, and more recently habanero-lime – are another temptation. They’re reliably juicy, based on my experience, though not always as crisp as you might like. Yardbird fans might consider another option: chicken tinga tacos with cilantro-lime slaw.
It should come as no surprise, given its name, that Zeke’s Meats isn’t a vegetarian mecca. That said, those who prefer a diet of flora over fauna won’t go away hungry with choices including very good charred Brussels sprouts (à la carte or on a taco with cheddar and cilantro-lime slaw) and skin-on fries with garlic-rosemary aioli.
Diet permitting, though, you really ought to give the roast pork sandwich a try. You won’t have to renounce your Philly cheesesteak allegiance entirely, but be forewarned: You might just find yourself being converted.
Prices: sandwiches $8-9, most snacks and tacos $4-$7