John’s Roast Pork began as a working person’s eatery. The shipyards personnel who were its original clientele in 1930 came here for breakfast and lunch, but went home for dinner. Heavy industry no longer dominates the neighborhood, which has become a Monopoly board of big box stores, strip malls, and discount warehouses that dwarf the little sandwich shop and its patio picnic tables.
The roast pork served here is one of Philadelphia’s culinary treasures, made from “Pop Pop’s original recipe,” cooked and boned on premises. The slices of pale, sweet meat are shockingly tender, forked from a drippy trough and piled into a superb Carangi Bakery seeded roll, then preferably supplemented by clumps of spinach sautéed in olive oil with plenty of garlic. While the tonic shot of spinach is a welcome addition, I would recommend forgoing optional cheese toppings which, in my opinion, only detract from the essential piggy richness of the pork itself.
John’s cheese steak, which is ordered from a separate station at the walk-up counter, also is one of the city’s best. John Bucci, whose family started the place, explained why the steaks are so good. “When you order one, there is nothing on the grill. We start clean,” he said. “Onions are not pre-cooked; every steak is made for the person who orders it. I am a cheese fanatic. We put five slices on every sandwich, eight if you order extra.” There is so much meat in a John’s sandwich that the server tears out some of the roll’s soft insides to make room for it. The onions are sweet, the beef juicy, the cheese abundant, the roll fresh: is there a better formula for cheese steak perfection?