The Roast Pork Hoagie at Ramona’s on Washington Avenue in Portland. Photo by Tim Cebula

Philadelphia is practically synonymous with the cheesesteak. But when it comes to famous Philly sandwiches, I’ve always been partial to the roast pork.

“The cheesesteak is for tourists,” said Philly native Josh Sobel, chef-owner of Ramona’s on Washington Avenue in Portland, which specializes in Philadelphia-style hoagies. “The roast pork is like the working man’s sandwich in Philly.”

It’s an exceptionally simple sandwich, usually made with just pork, provolone and broccoli rabe (or sometimes spinach) on a sesame hoagie roll. That’s it, no condiments or other adornments. Because if it’s made well – and the Ramona’s version ($16) is as scrumptious as any I’ve had in Philadelphia, or anywhere else for that matter – anything more would detract from the tight harmony of textures and flavors.

Ramona’s starts by seasoning boneless pork shoulder with fennel seed, salt, pepper and a garlic-herb paste – a “lazy porchetta” technique, as Sobel puts it. The pork is then braised in liquid flavored with tomato paste and arbol chile for just a couple of hours, so it’s fully tender but still sliceable.

The braise method is key here, because while it’s not technically roasting, it keeps the pork super moist and also lets Ramona’s chefs bathe the pork slices in the strained, hot braising liquid before they layer them onto the sandwich, adding that much more flavor and juiciness.

While some Philly sandwich shops use spinach in their roast pork sandwiches (presumably to cater to people who might be turned off by the bitter notes of broccoli rabe), Ramona’s doesn’t shy away. It sautés the rabe until crisp-tender in olive oil, garlic and a little chile flake, another smart method because the oil and salt tame the bitterness while the garlic and mild chile heat echo the pork’s flavorings.

Tangy, sharp provolone adds just the right creamy accent for the succulent meat and further balances the rabe. The hoagie roll, from Little Spruce Baking Co. in Biddeford, has a crunchy, deeply browned, sesame-studded crust. The roll is substantial enough to contain the meat, rabe and their juices without falling to pieces, though the crumb is soft and airy enough to meld seamlessly into each bite.

Ramona’s is one of those restaurants with a smartly focused menu. It doesn’t offer lots of different things and doesn’t have to, because everything is done so well. I know some folks might balk at a $16 sandwich, but don’t skimp here: The roast pork sandwich is some of Ramona’s very best work and well worth the investment.

Roast pork sandwich, $16; Ramona’s, 98 Washington Ave., Portland. ramonas.me


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