A Beer Week foray
to John's Roast Pork
Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: Since there clearly aren't enough Beer Week events on the schedule, I decided to hold my own. With master brewer Larry Sidor of Oregon's Deschutes Brewery coming for lunch, I decided to take him to the farthest reaches - and the luncheonette soul – of deep South Philly at John's Roast Pork.
It was the third anniversary of good health for John Bucci Jr., after undergoing a life-threatening bone-marrow transplant for pre-leukemia. John's finally back at the luncheonette every day. There he was, plump and jolly again, serving up zesty steaks with garlicky spinach and sharp provolone, fresh tomato bruschetta topping, tender roast pork.
John's mom, Vonda, was holding court at the picnic tables - a perfect blank slate for a craft-beer apostle like Larry Sidor, the hop god behind some of Deschutes' famously bold beers. Vonda, in all her salty South Philly genuine-ness, doesn't mince words.
"You like this?" says Vonda, wrinkling her nose at a sip of hoppy Mirror Pond Pale Ale. "It's bitter . . . I usually drink Coors Light."
A little awkward, considering the guy across the picnic table made that Mirror Pond. But Sidor doesn't miss a beat: "That's what I'm here for - to change that. By the way, I love these steaks, and I love digging for spinach and the provolone - so full of flavor. You see - you cook like I brew beer. I love it when people have to dig for complex flavors."
Vonda sips again, then reconsiders. Suddenly, they're clinking plastic cups in cheers: "Salute!" "Cent'anni!"
Then Sidor breaks out the Black Butte Porter: "You like chocolate don't you, this one tastes like chocolate."
John and Vonda: "We like chocolate! Hey, we like this beer."
Then came Hop in the Dark, a dark ale that rings with citrusy Cascadian brightness. Then a bottle of wax-sealed The Abyss 2010 - Deschutes' limited edition bourbon-barrel-aged stout brewed with cherry bark and vanilla - entered the line-up. This beer, like all of Deschutes' brews, is usually unavailable in Pennsylvania.
Suddenly, a crowd was gathered around us: "What are you guys doing with an Abyss on your table!? This is crazy!"
It was Jason from Bella Vista Beer Distributor, surrounded by a host of their visiting brewers - Voodoo; Ballast Point, among a half dozen others - that had just been shuttled down to John's for a taste of the real Philly deal. Before long, everyone was passing the bottles around.
By the end, Larry, John, and Vonda had bonded for their inevitable photo before the pig sign. Then John led Larry and me into the back room for a little treat. He reached for a pan of freshly roasted pork shoulders, gave one a crack with the edge of his knife, and then lifted off a piece of mahogany brown skin - cracker-crisp and still warm from the oven - and handed us each a piece.
This is not the part that ends up in John's superb pork sandwiches. This is better, with a creamy layer of downy fat separating the crackly skin from flesh so soft, it just melted in my mouth. As Larry said: "Wow."
Reader: Chef Vola's in AC just won a James Beard. Have you been? If so, does it really measure up to all the hype and mystique?
C.L.: Vola's is the real deal - I wrote about it a few summers ago, and really enjoyed our meal. Great veal, awesome white clam pasta, perfect fluke francaise.
Reader: Craig, I was worried you might slur your words as a result of Beer Week, but you held your own!
C.L.: I'm heading outta town for more work, work, work. Good thing I love to eat-and-tell. Will chat again June 28. Until then, be well - and eat something worth bragging about!