Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philly's star sandwich takes on a new roll

The juicy pork at DiNic's has not changed. The gravy is just as rich, the broccoli rabe is perfectly bitter, and the provolone could still nick your finger, it's so sharp.

The juicy pork at DiNic's has not changed. The gravy is just as rich, the broccoli rabe is perfectly bitter, and the provolone could still nick your finger, it's so sharp.

But today at the Reading Terminal Market stand, one thing is different:

The roll.

The sandwich that six weeks ago Travel Channel host Adam Richman crowned the best in America is no longer built on a roll from Carangi Baking Co.

It's on one from Sarcone's Bakery.

Before you get too excited, understand that this is not the first time DiNic's has switched roll suppliers. When DiNic's first made it onto Richman's radar - in July 2009 for the taping of a Man vs. Food episode - its bread came from DiGiampietro Bakery.

Danny DiGiampietro, who had served DiNic's for six years, sold his Eighth Street bakery in March. When Richman and crew returned to DiNic's that month to begin taping The Best Sandwich in America, DiNic's had recently started buying rolls from Lou Carangi, whose bakery is near 13th Street and Oregon Avenue.

The delivery guy: DiGiampietro, who had become a wholesaler - a "jobber" - who carries bread for a number of bakeries in his truck, including Sarcone's.

Come summertime, Carangi recalled hearing from DiNic's Joe Nicolosi during a heat wave. "It was 95 degrees out," Carangi said. "He said the rolls weren't crispy. I said it was impossible."

Nicolosi was quick to downplay that incident. "Carangi does do a good job," he said. Other sandwich shops would agree, as Carangi supplies rolls to John's Roast Pork, a semifinalist on Richman's show, as well as to Mezze, By George, and Basic 4 in the market and Pal Joey's, the Sewell hoagie destination.

For nearly two months, DiNic's used rolls from both bakeries every day for its signature roast pork and other sandwiches. Customers did not seem to notice, said Nicolosi, who declined to divulge how many rolls he orders - though the stand is known to go through 100 dozen on a moderately busy day.

Sunday brought the first all-Sarcone delivery.

Any Carangi and Sarcone rivalry is the Philly sandwich equivalent of Coke and Pepsi - two rock-solid businesses with their bands of loyalists. Both start with a simple, honest formula - flour, water, yeast, salt, a fat, and a sweetener; but no preservative. After eight hours of mixing, resting, kneading, more resting, and finally baking, the bread emerges from the ovens. A Carangi roll typically comes out soft and dense - the better to sop up gravy - and features an artisan knot at one end. At the 94-year-old Sarcone's on Ninth Street near Fitzwater Street, where the rolls are baked in a brick oven, they are airy and have a crust that's crunchy yet delicate.

"Sarcone's reminded us what [the rolls] used to be," said Nicolosi, who is fourth-generation at DiNic's. "They're more old-school."

Those at the center of this changeover seem almost blasé about it. Many of the region's roll bakers - at least the family-owned shops scattered through South Philly - tend to be friendly competitors, perhaps because there's enough business for everyone. Or perhaps it's simply because they share a bond forged from waking at 1 a.m. only to keep their heads in an oven all night. "We like to stick together," said Louis Sarcone Jr., also a fourth-generation baker, who added that he never solicited DiNic's business.

In a business where sales are measured in dimes and quarters, bakers build client lists not on price but on loyalties. And that could be the root of the DiNic's switch - more than a simple humidity issue.

Bread jobber DiGiampietro is married to the daughter of Sarcone's sister and grew up with Nicolosi's sister.

"Blood is thicker than water," Carangi said without bitterness.

"We don't like hurting each other," Sarcone said.

"If you're afraid of losing an account, you will never be successful in business," Carangi said. "You never want to lose a customer, but it's not the end of the world."

Still, Carangi mused, "How do you go from winning the best sandwich in America to wanting to make a change?"