Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a city with two cheesesteaks. The first meaty, cheesy sandwich is the Philly cheesesteak you’ve definitely heard of and likely eaten (and I wrote about). The second sandwich is a roast pork-focused affair that is probably less well known but still highly sought after by sandwich enthusiasts.
There are many restaurants serving a roast pork sandwich in Philly these days, but two of the most well-known are Tommy DiNic’s Roast Pork and John’s Roast pork (now you see why this post is titled Jon’s roast pork! – get it!?). If you can’t easily get to Philadelphia, you can get ingredients for these sandwiches shipped across the country to your front door if you want. They’re both proudly promoting their affiliation with a regional food delivery service called Goldbelly on their websites linked above.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the Philadelphia version of this sandwich before we get into making our own.
The Philly roast pork sandwich
John’s roast pork and Tommy DiNic’s roast pork aren’t prepared the same, but the sandwich component list is really similar. They both have sliced, roast pork (go figure), some au jus or broth that results from that pork roasting, sharp provolone cheese, and greens on a seeded roll. The greens are where they differ slightly. John’s uses spinach greens and DiNic’s places broccoli rabe in their sandwich.
I’ve only ever driven through Philadelphia – never stopped – and I’ve certainly never had roast pork sandwiches from John’s or DiNic’s. But luckily there’s a lot of online coverage of these restaurants and their sandwiches for us to study. One particularly informative video from Eater, features Lucas Peterson, trying John’s Roast Pork a few years ago. It’s a good video if you’d like to learn more about the roast pork-style sandwich that you can find in Philadelphia.
Hopefully one day I’ll visit Philadelphia and try a roast pork sandwich from the source, but for now, I’ll settle for exploring a local (to me) version and I’ll make my own at home.
The Chicago roast pork and greens
There’s a great sandwich spot called JT’s Genuine Sandwich Shop in the Irving Park neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago. JT’s Genuine has a fairly large number of sandwich options on their menu and one is called the Pork & Greens.
The Philly pork sandwich inspires the Pork & Greens with roasted pork, rapini (also known as broccoli rabe), and provolone cheese with Calabrian chili aioli. From just looking at the menu, the only obvious difference from the original is the slightly spicy aioli.
I recently visited JT’s Genuine and ordered the Pork & Greens and found it to be a great sandwich experience. The pork was tender, the sandwich was juicy from the au jus and cheesy from the provolone. The rapini contributed some bitterness that helped balance out the richness of the cheese and pork. Overall, JT’s Genuine’s Pork & Greens is a great combination of flavors and textures.
As usual, when I’m planning one of these sandwich blog posts I start thinking about the bread first. This is a new recipe that I’ve been working on for an Italian sandwich roll.
The Pork & Greens sandwich at JT’s Genuine is served on a roll that is seeded with sesame seeds and baked to a dark color. I attempted to bake a bread roll that was similar to theirs.
The rolls that DiNic’s and John’s Roast Pork in Philly also are served on sesame seeded rolls, but they’re not as darkly baked. So, this isn’t traditional to the Philadelphia version, but more of an attempt by me to make my sandwich more like JT’s Genuine version.
Either way, this is a roll with a crust that isn’t crunchy, but it will hold up to a dunk in au jus. The interior of the roll is soft, but since it is baked with higher protein bread flour, it will still provide a decent chew to accompany juicy pork and greens.
Here’s my Italian sandwich roll recipe that I have been using for this sandwich. I’ve made it for three different types of sandwiches at this point and one of the main selling points for this sandwich is that it holds up well to a slightly soggy sandwich due to the au jus from the pork.
Italian sandwich rolls
A firm but still soft sandwich roll, perfect for cold cuts or even au jus dipped sandwiches. There's extra flavor from an overnight starter which leads to tasty sandwich bread.Get Recipe
During the process of making this sandwich, I learned a few things about these greens. Firstly, broccoli rabe and rapini are the same things. There’s no normal person who needs to know things like this, but now I do, and you do too. Apparently, rapini is the Italian name for the vegetable and most people in the US will call it broccoli rabe. The name also seems a bit interchangeable on menus for this sandwich.
Secondly, I learned that broccoli rabe can get pretty bitter. I already knew this about greens, but I learned it again this week. It seems that you can lessen the bitterness with a pre-boil of the broccoli rabe and by keeping the stems and florets mostly intact. Then after the boil, you sauté the broccoli rabe with salt, black pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
The sandwich sauce
This Calabrian aioli is an addition to a roast pork sandwich that JT’s Genuine added. I really enjoyed it and felt it was well worth adding to my at-home version, so I made my own.
I’m not really sharing a stand-alone recipe for the Calabrian aioli, although it is explained in the sandwich recipe below. Mostly I used 3 parts of mayonnaise to 1 part of crushed Calabrian chili peppers. Stir everything up well and you’re set.
You can use regular, typical, sliced provolone cheese, but the sharp version really makes a huge difference in the overall sandwich. Regular provolone melts better but it’s blander in flavor. The sharp version of provolone adds a lot to the final sandwich.
I bought a block of sharp provolone and used my meat slicer to shave it thin. But check at the deli counter of your grocery store and see if they have some that they will slice for you.
The roast pork and au jus
For this recipe, I bought a pork loin roast (NOTE: this is not a pork tenderloin). If you’re able, try to get a pork loin roast that is boneless. Otherwise, you will have to debone the meat before or after the cooking process. Mine had a bone in it and I just used a sharp knife to remove the bone and then went on with the roasting process.
Pork.org or the National Pork Board has an online info sheet about the pork loin roast. In this instance, the goal is to roast the pork fully and also leave behind flavorful pork drippings that will lend to a tasty au jus to accompany the pork in this sandwich.
The outside of the pork is covered with a little olive oil and a whole lot of seasoning and then it is briefly seared in a pan prior to putting it into the oven.
Roast that pork to just below 145 F to ensure the doneness, but not overcook it. Then you cool off the pork loin roast and slice it as thin as you can.
Now that we have all the components, we can finally make this sandwich.
Jon’s roast pork and greens recipe
Here’s Jon’s roast pork recipe (aka mine!).
Jon's roast pork and greens
Inspired by Philadelphia's roast pork sandwiches and the Roast Pork & Greens sandwich from JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop in Chicago, this is a savory, juicy pork sandwich with a touch of spice to balance out the flavors.
- 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (a good handful)
- 1⁄4 cup fresh sage, finely chopped (a good handful)
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1.5 tablespoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 pounds boneless roast pork loin
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 2 carrots, cut into large pieces
- 1 onion, cut into large pieces
- 2 or 3 celery ribs, cut into large pieces
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 to 2 cups chicken broth or stock
- 1 to 2 bunches broccoli rabe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- 1 Italian sandwich roll
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon crushed Calabrian chili peppers
- 1 or 2 slices of sharp provolone
- roast pork (from above)
- au jus (from above)
- broccoli rabe (from above)
Roast pork: Chop up your parsley and sage and mince the garlic. Combine all three of these ingredients in a medium bowl.
Add dried oregano, fennel seeds, salt, and ground black pepper to the bowl and mix everything up together. This is your herb rub for your pork.
If your pork has a bone in it, remove it with a sharp knife by cutting very close to the bone so that you don't lose a lot of meat. Once the bone has been removed add olive oil to the outside of the pork and sprinkle with the herb rub. The olive oil should help the rub stay in place but use your hands to make sure the herbs are sprinkled evenly over the outside of the pork. If your pork is flat, you can use butcher's twine to tie it up into more of a ball shape which should help it cook more evenly.
Once the pork is fully coated with the herb rub and tied up (if needed) add it to a sealed container or wrap it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight to allow the garlic and herbs to penetrate the meat.
When you are ready to cook the pork, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (176 C).
In a large pan over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and when the oil starts to simmer, sear pork in the pan. Cook each side for 2 or 3 minutes or until that side starts taking on some brown color. Once most of the sides of pork have been seared, remove the pan from the heat and get ready for roasting.
Add chopped carrots, onion, and celery to a roasting pan with 1 cup of white wine. Place pork in the roasting pan on top of the veggies.
Roast until the internal pork temperature is 140. For a four-pound roast, this was about an hour and a half for me. The carry-over effect will cover the last 5 degrees.
Allow pork to cool for at least an hour before slicing. Slice very thin.
Au jus: strain the vegetables and reserve any liquid left in the pan.
While the pork is cooling, add leftover pan drippings to the broth and bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Add au jus to a container.
Broccoli rabe: Add a large pot half filled with water to medium-high heat. Once the water is boiling, add a big pinch of salt and a bunch of broccoli rabe. Boil for 2 minutes, and then move the broccoli rabe to a large bowl full of cold water. This is blanching the greens which will par-cook them and allow them to keep their green color.
Then sauté in olive oil and add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes - salt and pepper as needed
Sandwich assembly: Warming everything up is easiest with the microwave. But you can use a pan as well. When you're ready to make your sandwich heat up your sliced, roast pork in a pan, and then heat up the greens and au jus in the same pan (one ingredient at a time). OR you can use small bowls in the microwave for 45 seconds or so.
Make the sandwich sauce by combining mayonnaise and Calabrian chili peppers. Stir to combine.
Slice your roll two-thirds of the way through and open it up like a book. Add Calabrian aioli liberally to the inside of the roll.
Place several slices of warmed-up pork and a little au jus on the inside of your roll. Top the pork with slices of sharp provolone cheese. Add your warmed broccoli rabe on top of everything.
Close the pork and greens sandwich and serve.
Make Jon’s roast pork and greens at home!
Seriously, this is a really good sandwich.
Check back next week when we’re making more sandwiches! I have about three different sandwich blog posts I’m currently working on, so the decision for what is still in the future. Exciting times in sandwich world over here.