This is the Place
Best Pastrami On the Planet — The Philadelphian — Not Just a Signature Sandwich, But a WORTHY Signature
Anyone who's been to the Philadelphian knows that you don't go there for the ambiance. Unless, of course, you are a fan of the Soup Nazi. (Trust me … don't make the owner mad. Nice enough guy … but he can put the Soup Nazi to shame when angry.)
I have been a customer there for about 20 years (including in their previous location) and feel like I have watched the owner's children grow up working there. (In fact, I have.) But I hadn't been there for a while, and was dying for one of their pastrami sandwiches. So I did.
When I first arrived, I was shocked to see that they had remodeled. Well, sort of. They had repainted the entire place, repaired the holes in the walls, even put up some wood paneling topped with chair railing to prevent some of those holes from returning. It really made the place seem more open and pleasant. There were even wall decorations, in the form of puzzles that were assembled, glued together, framed and mounted. No Philadelphia themes (which would make sense), but much nicer. And the place still suffers for ventilation. Face it, if you go to the Philadelphian and eat in, you're going to leave smelling like you've been working the fryer.
You order at the counter off a laminated menu on the top, and they jot it down in scraps of paper, ring it up, and you fill your own drink. One thing the Philadelphian has is not featured enough in restaurants, in my opinion: Cherry Coke. I get it every time.
I sat in the back, because it's furthest from the fryer. And the tables were all wiped down, although still a tad sticky, probably from fryer grease. The chairs are old and some of the vinyl is torn on some of them, showing the stuffing underneath (think of the Scarecrow, needing a little bit of love). But that's all part of the deal in getting the best pastrami sandwich on the planet.
My sandwich was brought out rather quickly, despite the crowd (the place is never empty) and the ever-present call-in orders. It was brought over by a very large young man with gaping ear holes (there are hoops inside — not ear rings — but hoops — like hubcaps for his earlobes). Disturbing, but part of the whole experience.
I ordered the eight-inch pastrami sandwich, which is served hot off the grill, provolone cheese melted through it, with some shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and pepper mash made from jalapenos and cherry peppers. You can also get a four-incher (which is pretty girly), a six-incher or a footlong. If not ordering fries, I get the twelver. But I needed those fries, too.
First words out of my mouth when the smell of all that pastrami hit me: "Gimme some of that!"
The sandwich is stuffed so full that you're fighting to keep it from falling out with every bite. This is no sandwich for sissies. And the flavor is amazing. I have no idea how they make it so good. I have tried a dozen different methods at home and I simply can't duplicate it. It's one of those things that you don't stop to talk during a meal, because you are in pastrami heaven.
The same guy brought over my fries a few minutes later and I think I growled and threw out my elbows to keep him away from my sandwich. I believe Guy Fieri calls that "the Stance" on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. I could barely pause long enough to salt the fries while they were hot and vulnerable. (As Emeril puts it. OK, OK, enough with the Food Network references.)
When I had finally eaten enough sandwich to come up for air (halfway through is a good place to pause), I hit the fries. I take one of their plastic soufflé cups and fill it two-thirds up with their fry sauce (Thousand Island Dressing), then I top it off with ketchup. It sweetens up the sauce, darkens its color, and just makes it that much better.
The fries are square cut, almost a half-inch in diameter, and fried skin on. They are awesome. And a small order is plenty for four people, let alone just little old me. It's a little disconcerting to see drops of the dark oil on the wax paper, but you have to look beyond that to the beauty underneath.
When finished with my meal, I was careful to scrape up all the stuff that fell out of my sandwich, despite my best efforts. And that just made it that much better. I was once told that a sandwich that is not messy shouldn't even be served. And, in the case of the Philadelphian, I couldn't agree more.
I hadn't made much of a dent in those fries, though. And that's about enough to make you cry. If I had been heading straight home, I would have taken them with me, but I had a full day ahead, and hummed a funeral dirge as I tossed them in the trash before leaving.
I love that sandwich. It's pretty much a religious experience for me. The thing that haunted me, though, was that, to finish my review, I would have to order something else next time …. Oh, the horror …!
As a long-time customer of the Philadelphian, it feels almost shameful that I have never had their signature sandwich, the Philadelphian. But it's nothing against the restaurant. First, their Pastrami Sandwich is to die for. Second, I have never had a philly cheesesteak sandwich. Ever. This was because I had some preconceived notions. One was that it would be like the processed, pressed beef at Arby's, which I find to be really repulsive. (If not for their Classic Italian sandwich, I would never walk through Arby's door.) The other preconceived notion was that it would taste like reheated beef roast, which always seems to have a little bit of almost refrigerator flavor due to reheating the beef fat. But, for the sake of this review, I decided that I would just have to suck it up and take on their flagship sandwich. My preconceived notions were absolutely wrong, and I must say that I now have another go-to if I ever feel like something other than their pastrami.
When I entered, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the place was not filled to overflowing. Granted, they were busy, like always, but there was actually an available table, and it had been wiped down already. I was able to walk right up to the counter to order, so I felt confident that I would be able to nab that table once I was done. The woman who took my order was an older woman who I had been told several years ago was the owner's sister. She had taken my order dozens of times before over the years, and she has always been very pleasant. This case was no different. She answered my questions about the Philadelphian sandwich, never seemed to lose her grandmotherly smile or tone of voice.
Since I didn’t have an accomplice to help me tackle a monstrous order of French fries, I didn't order fries with my Philadelphian. (It takes at least three grown men to eat a small order and your sandwich.) So, for the first time in more than 20 years, I got chips. I was really coming out of my comfort zone! No pastrami and no fries? Unheard of!
After paying at the counter, I got my Cherry Coke (not available often enough at other food joints) and sat at that last table. And none too soon, as five or six more people came in to order. As I waited, I noticed that there was a new employee behind the counter (at least, I didn't recognize him). And I think that the owner has a soft spot for hard cases, often hiring kids that may not be considered hirable at other places. My sandwich was finished pretty quickly, the new guy yelling out my name. And at least he didn’t have the earlobe-hubcap experience going on.
First words out of my mouth when the smell of all that thinly sliced steak hit me: "Wow. That smells good!"
I could smell a hint of garlic, as well as the translucent grilled onions, and was surprised to see that there were also mushrooms in the mix. Again, I went with the eight incher, which was dressed with tomatoes and their great pepper mash. There is provolone cheese melted through the meat, and it's stuffed to overflowing. So I picked up a plastic fork to stuff the guts further into the bread before taking my first bite.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "Oh man, that's awesome!"
The flavor of the meat is excellent, nothing like my preconceived notions. In that single instant, I realized how much I had been missing out on by not having tried this any other time over the past two decades. The steak had a dark edge, and it tender, with all the beefy goodness that you would expect from a good steak. The garlic and onions give it layers of flavor that is heady and wonderful. The mushrooms add a bit of earthiness to the party, the tomatoes give a bit of sweetness, and the pepper mash gives it a vinegary tang, not to mention that wonderful heat.
As I continued to eat, interspersing by bites here and there with a Nacho Cheese Dorito, I found that I was scooping back up all the bits that fell out with my plastic fork, just like I do when I order the pastrami. That's really saying something. I didn't want to lose anything, didn't want to leave anything behind on that piece of wax paper in a plastic basket.
When I finished, I sat back in my chair, pretty much in awe, that any sandwich place could have not just one sandwich that is so amazing, but two. What a wonderful way to have my preconceived notions blown right out of the water.
Comment on this review!
Suggest a Restaurant for Review!
noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.