Cracking the mystery of ‘pork roll’

1237 28th St. (Golden Hill)
Prices: Salads, $2.20 to $7.80; sandwiches, cheese steaks and pastas, $6.57 to $8.54; burgers and dogs, $2.68 to $8.29

By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review

The owner of Giorgino’s makes no phony claims of being from back East, but his cheese steaks bear a striking resemblance to those you’d find in Philadelphia while a sandwich known throughout New Jersey for more than a century adds a curious element to the menu.

“The works” cheese steak (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

“The works” cheese steak (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Situated in a quaint pocket of Golden Hill, half of the eatery used to house Gotham City Pizza, where Mario Rosales worked under its Jersey-native owner before buying him out and expanding into the adjoining storefront.

“He taught me about ingredients,” said Rosales, referring to the products he purchases from back-East purveyors, such as Dietz & Watson cold cuts for sandwiches and Trenton Meats top round for the cheese steaks. As for the perfectly elastic hearth-baked vessels that hold everything in, they’re from the legendary Amoroso’s Baking Company in Philadelphia.

Buried within Giorgino’s lengthy list of Northeast-style grub is something called “pork roll” from Taylor Ham. The term describes both the meat and the sandwich, which is as celebrated in New Jersey as Spamburgers are throughout Hawaii. Coincidentally, it tastes and feels a little like Spam, kind of salty with a sour finish and sporting a compressed texture.

Developed in the mid-1800s by New Jersey Senator-turned-businessman John Taylor, the product contains minced pork parts, salt, sugar and undisclosed spices. Basically, it’s one of those meats that you don’t ask what’s in it, but rather fry up and layer it onto a Kaiser roll with melted white American cheese. The fried bologna sandwiches I ate as a kid came to mind, especially after applying a daub of mustard.

The name “pork roll” changes to “egg roll” when a fried, yolky you-know-what is added. Rosales offers both versions, pointing out their rarity outside of The Garden State; although I’ve since heard pork roll is available also at Pop’s Jersey Style Cheese Steaks in Pacific Beach and Iowa Meat Farms in Mission Gorge.

With four in our troupe, we ordered a mishmash of other items as well, including “the works” cheese steak loaded down with grilled onions, mushrooms and bell peppers. The top round was lean and tender, perhaps missing a touch of the fatty jus that normally soaks into the rolls. White American and Provolone are currently in the offing, although Rosales says he’ll soon carry Cheez Whiz as the third classic option. Even so, the key ingredients are in place and the overall execution was no less alluring than cheese steaks I’ve consumed in Philly.

A dozen Buffalo wings that we ordered could have withstood another five minutes in the fryer. The peppery, deep-red sauce was spot on, albeit over-applied, but the skins weren’t as crispy as how they’re served in their original birthplace, at The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. Actually, they rarely are outside that city’s limits, where I grew up eating them by the droves.

Buffalo chicken wings (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Buffalo chicken wings (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The “Gaby dog” was outlandishly delicious and juicy, like a cross between a Tijuana-style dog and one you’d find at a Yankee Stadium concessionaire. Served on a 10-inch Amoroso bun, it was garnished with bacon, tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, mayo, jalapenos and grilled onions. A good bang for the buck ($7.31), considering the hot dogs are double-decked inside each half of the sandwich.

Accompaniments we chose included a warm pretzel sourced from San Diego Pretzel Company, which offered a nice chew and steady bursts of salt. A basket of onion rings were crisp and fresh and served with kicky house-made “ragin’ Ranch.”

The menu rounds out with meatball subs, Reuben sandwiches, half-pound burgers and various pasta dishes. And with several beers on tap and Philadelphia’s revered Tastykakes winking at you, there’s no denying that this culinary trip back East warrants a little extra gym time in the morning. But the meals are worth it.

One Comments

  1. Mario says:

    Hello Frank,

    Thanks for the write up, we have already had a few new faces stop in because of it. You have a way with words. Would you please email a digital copy of the printed article to us when you get the chance. Thank you in advance.


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