Near the end of the post I wrote about my last visit to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, the possibility of my next stop there including a roast pork or meatball sandwich from DiNic’s was raised. I returned to the Terminal for lunch Thursday and it turned out to be the latter.
I’ve enjoyed meatball sandwiches – a.k.a. meatball subs in most of the U.S. – for as long as I can remember. I would get them from the various lunch carts and trucks at Temple University fairly often when I was a student there during the 80s. And DiNic’s version, which I consider to be up there with the best I’ve ever had, was a semi-regular in my lunch rotation when I worked a few blocks from the Terminal before Covid put an end to that arrangement.
Yet I seem to be one of relatively few that make a habit of waxing poetic about this particular sandwich. DiNic’s is possibly the Terminal’s most famous stand, but they are overwhelmingly known for their roast pork sandwiches. And those who don’t get the pork usually go for roast beef or brisket. There are almost 1,400 photos of food on DiNic’s Yelp page, but I had to scroll through hundreds of them before finding one of a meatball sandwich.
I’ve also mentioned it a few times on Facebook pages devoted to Philly food and nobody ever seems to chime in acknowledging that they’ve also had one.
And so, I’ve thought of it as the most unjustly overlooked sandwich in the Reading Terminal Market for a while now.
After a bit of a traffic ordeal, missing an exit, and spending what seemed like and eternity finding a parking space, I finally managed to make my way into the Terminal and to DiNic’s stand, which is close to the center of what is a large combination farmer’s market and food court with a long and storied history.
Although I arrived later than planned, I still managed to get to DiNic’s before any line had formed for lunch.
The Terminal wasn’t as packed as it used to be in the pre-Covid days, but there was still a pretty good crowd there. I grabbed an open table in the back that afforded me relative quiet and a good view while I unwrapped and photographed my sandwich.
It was as hefty as I remembered. I ordered it with sharp Provolone, which was placed on the roll under the meatballs, enabling it to be fully melted by the time I started eating. That was a no-no for cheesesteaks, but it works well for meatball sandwiches.
Perhaps the first rule when determining whether a meatball sandwich is top-notch is that the meatballs must be homemade. DiNic’s passes that test. Their meatballs are large, heavy, moist, and well-seasoned. The roll was probably a foot long and there was only room for four of them on there.
The roll was different than what I am used to for cheesesteaks, but not substantially so. It had a sturdy crust and was a little more doughy underneath it than a lot of steak rolls are. I assume that’s because DiNic’s sandwiches all include sauce or au jus, which is nicely absorbed by the thicker roll.
The sharp Provolone added a welcome layer of flavor to the whole, but wasn’t overpowering. The sauce – or gravy, depending on how you roll on that issue – was also delicious and proportioned well.
I ate about two-thirds of the sandwich and wrapped the rest to take home before making my way to another old favorite among the stands at the Terminal – the Famous 4th Street Cookie Co.
While the cookie stand has been a fixture for many years, the cookies themselves originated at the Famous 4th Street Deli, which is still in business and one of Philly’s two best Jewish delis. They also continue to sell the cookies, but I don’t believe there is still any business connection between them and the stand at the Terminal; although there probably was at some point. They merely share the same recipes.
As usual, I went with chocolate-chip-walnut. They have been among my favorite sweets for decades. It’s always a temptation to grab one or two when I’m walking by.
I’m sure this won’t be the last post I write on the food at the Reading Terminal Market. In fact, there are at least a couple more sandwiches at DiNic’s that I would like to get to. And there is the pastrami-on-rye at Hershel’s East Side Deli; not to mention the cheesesteak strombolis at By George …
7 thoughts on “The Reading Terminal’s Most Overlooked Sandwich”
That’s a good-looking sandwich! I can’t remember the last time I had a meatball sub.
Any idea of the meats that’re used?
No. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if there was ground pork and/or veal mixed in with the beef.
The forth street cookie company is by far one of my favorite stops when I’m visiting Reading Terminal. I live in the DMV (DC, MD, Northern VA area) and stumbled across Reading Terminal last year in 2021. I’ll go for the meatball sandwich during my next visit. Thanks for the review! It’s the middle of the night and now I’m suddenly hungry, thanks! LOL
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