Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rocco's: The Best $6 Sandwich in Philadelphia

Yeah, I'm just gonna go ahead and make that claim.  This is the best $6 sandwich ($5.90, actually) in Philadelphia.

2539 Castor Ave, Philadelphia PA 19134

With a name like Rocco's, you know what to expect here.  Goat cheese and roasted beet sandwiches with arugula and an herb vinaigrette on whole wheat sourdough ciabatta*, of course.

No, I kid.  You will find Italian sausage and cheesesteaks at Rocco's.

Attached to four Home Depots in Philadelphia, with a fifth location in Long Island City, NYC, I headed on over to the Castor stand in Port Richmond this morning on my way back home from the Chestnut Hill Growers' Market.  Upon arrival at the stand, I was immediately offered a fine toothpick with an even finer, quite large sample chunk of Sweet Italian (do I look like a sweet guy?) sausage, fresh off the grill.

The 'small' Hot Italian Sausage sandwich w/ fried peppers, onions and brown mustard.  10 inches of excellence for $5.90
Located in the 'heart' of the tragic mess that is the 'Aramingo Shopping District,' a ghastly, cultural wasteland of big boxes, strip malls, asphalt parking oceans and national chain eateries along a 50-feet-too-wide highway-like stretch of Aramingo Avenue with gaping curb cuts every fifteen to twenty feet for over a mile, someone like me would have to really be in the mood for a great sandwich to willingly venture into this void which combines all of the worst things about the latter half of last century's 'development' patterns in what is otherwise one of the most walkable cities on earth.

But yes, I was in the mood for a great sandwich.  Very much so, in fact.


We certainly all wish we could enjoy such a mustardy onion & pepper blanket from time to time.
Great char on the coils of sausage (hot or sweet) which are grilled on the flat-top right in the front window of the stand (couldn't get close enough to take a picture of the grill, but their Facebook page has good shots), and perfectly cooked onions and peppers.  The brown mustard ties together the classic Italian-American comfort food combination, and the long roll does its job adequately, holding up right until the very end.

I haven't had a sausage sandwich this good since drunken teenage summer nights down the Jersey Shore almost twenty years ago now.  And I'm sure those sandwiches weren't near as good as this.  A truly great sandwich I will definitely be back for again.  Rocco's also has cheesesteaks, chicken, breakfast sandwiches, and other such things.  I have heard good things about their cheesesteak, though I wish they wouldn't call them "Philly Cheese Steaks."  It's a cheesesteak.  One word.  And "Philly" is redundant and unnecessary.  The only places which call cheesesteaks "Philly Cheese Steaks" are national sandwich chains or pizzerias in Colorado.  But now I'm beginning to lose focus and ramble, so I'll wrap it up here.

Unwrap one of these beauties yourself soon if you get a chance.
*I am not making fun of roasted beet and goat cheese sandwiches; in fact, Soup Kitchen Cafe's version of same is another one of my favorite sandwiches in the city...


  1. I like your sensibility about food!

    Laurie and I have a little thing that we call "The Project." It sounds all serious and sinister, but really all it is is the ongoing campaign to find inexpensive, no-nonsense, unpretentious deliciousness.

    So, let me ask you this. Are you familiar with the Vietnamese Sandwich, the Bánh mì?

    It's the marriage of French influences and Vietnamese influences in a terrific and inexpensive sandwich.

    Do you see this product back east?, because I never did when I was there.

    1. Thanks, Mike. The only problem with undertaking such projects is that it can become a lifelong journey that never gets finished! It's a problem I'm going to bravely face, though. Heh.

      Yes, I actually became somewhat obsessed with banh mi (sorry I can't figure out how to do the proper accented 'a' thing) in the weeks immediately prior to leaving Portland and moving back here two years ago.

      I was broke, and I do not exaggerate when I say that banh mi made up probably close to half my meals in the last two weeks I was in Portland, after I had packed up most of my stuff and had stopped shopping and cooking.

      Portland has a pretty large Vietnamese community, especially for a city of its size, and it just so happened that I was living 12 blocks away from one of the best Vietnamese sandwich shops and bakeries in the city for the four years I lived in Creston-Kenilworth, in inner Southeast Portland, yet it (shamefully) took me about three years and ten months to ever try it out.

      An Xuyen on Foster Road. About twenty blocks (one mile in Portland) east of there, on Powell, were both Binh Minh at about 78th, and Best Baguette at 82nd. Three very highly thought of banh mi shops amongst the food community there. All three were very good, indeed.

      Some days those last couple months there I would do the three-ish mile round trip walk and come home with six sandwiches for just like $20!

      The most fascinating thing to me was to discover that there is something called Vietnamese pork roll. When I first saw pork roll on the menu, I was stunned. It turned out to not be the same thing as my beloved South Jersey / Philly breakfast meat (second-greatest breakfast meat in the world, after scrapple), of course, but it was good nonetheless.

      I've had just one banh mi since coming back here, down on Washington Ave in South Philly. A classic '#1 combination' style version, but that one was unfortunately nothing special. It was mainly the bread, whcih just seemed more like a generic hoagie roll than an actual banh mi-specific loaf. I'll definitely have to get back into trying more as we move into summer, though. They can be a fantastic warm weather food.

      Philadelphia has a large Vietnamese community, based mostly around Washington Avenue in South Philly, with another handful of shops and restaurants in Center City's Chinatown.

      My favorite thing about places that sell banh mi in Philly? Many call them "Vietnamese hoagies." I absolutely love that phrase.

      There also happens to be a cluster of Vietnamese businesses, including two pho shops (a third shut down last year), just a few blocks from me in Kensington, on the Avenue under the Huntingdon El. I would say that Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh, one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia of any kind, just might have the best chicken pho east of Houston, or possibly further.

      There were rumors of a new bakery / banh mi shop opening on that block over the past few months, as well, but I don't think it has. Or at least not yet. I'll have to head on over tomorrow to see if anything's happened there yet, now.

      I don't recall seeing banh mi much back here, either, when I first left for the West Coast years ago. They're definitely showing up more now, though.

    2. Actually, I should say that my mom was born in the Bronx, but my father was raised in Brooklyn.

      He was born in the Ukraine.

      And they brought their deliciousness with them.