The Lunch Break Summer Food Tour: Smokin’ Betty’s Pulled Pork Sandwich (Bringing BBQ to Philadelphia)
When one thinks about the myriad food options of Philadelphia, barbeque is rarely at the top of the list. Like most East Coast cities, Philadelphia is not well known for the classic food of the South, but with Philadelphia’s culinary rejuvenation, many restaurateurs throughout the region have decided to take advantage of this explosion of diverse foods, with many BBQ joints opening in the past few years. Smokin’ Betty’s is one of the establishments that’s adapted to Philadelphians’ desire for more dynamic menus in place of the standard bar fare, and fortunately for all of us, they’re doing it right.
The primary options on Smokin’ Betty’s menu are barbeque dishes. Roasted Chicken, St. Louis Ribs, Hickory Smoked Beef Brisket, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Pulled Caribbean Chicken… The list goes on with traditional Southern BBQ sides as well. However, Smokin’ Betty’s menu also offers an incredible selection of the conventional bar food- cheeseburger and fries, various chicken and turkey sandwiches and wraps, chicken wings, fish tacos, and a long list of salad options. But I had a hankering for some sloppy, homemade BBQ sauce drenched goodness, and I had heard and read that Smokin Betty’s Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich was the best around, so naturally, I decided to put it to the test.
Accompanied by my friend Nick again, we headed back down Chestnut through West Philadelphia, eventually heading to 11th and Samson, where Smokin Betty’s resides inconspicuously on the corner. We got in around 12:30, and the place was packed. We took this as a good sign for such a large place to be so crowded on a Wednesday afternoon, even with it being lunch time. The place is very open with a lot of room to move around. It has a fairly simple décor, nothing too cliché, which I also see as a good sign, usually indicating that the establishment will let the food speak for its quality instead of some tawdry decorations. We waited for about ten minutes, the hostess apologizing profusely the entire time. She gave us a menu to peruse as we waited and up in the top right hand corner, I found my sandwich.
When my Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich came out, the first thing I noticed was its gargantuan size. It was huge, with the perfectly toasted bun it was on barley able to contain all of the juicy, BBQ slathered, finely shredded pork. This wasn’t my first rodeo with the classic sandwich. Fortunately for me, my mother loves her crock pot, and she’s managed to stew up some fine pulled pork in the past, but this sandwich, on sight alone, was different than anything from my mother’s kitchen. After closing the bun and securing the meat, I delved into the sandwich, holding it with two hands to reduce the potential messiness. The flavors were amazing. Unlike many other cheap Southern BBQ imitations, this pulled pork sandwich did not rely on the sauce to give it flavor. The pork alone held enough of it, with the sauce merely providing a subtle tangy complement to the meat. Each bite made me question the need to ever travel down South again, in addition to making me yearn to try their St. Louis Ribs and Beef Brisket.
By the end of the sandwich, I was surprised to find that my hands were not drenched in sauce or covered in meat. The roll, which appeared to be too soft to handle the mammoth mound of meat and sauce, actually served as a sponge soaking up all the juices and still managing to stay firm enough to hold everything together, making the final few bites the most savory. And what would be a good BBQ lunch without a side of some Mac & Cheese. I ordered a small serving, which was more than enough, and also found it to be extremely good. Nick went with the Caribbean Pulled Chicken, of which he had only good things to say. We washed our meal down with a couple beers and managed to get out of there paying a little over twenty dollars each, including tip. Not bad for Center City Philadelphia.
As I said, Philadelphia isn’t known for its barbeque. And we probably won’t ever really parallel the quality and tradition so many Southern states and cities have maintained over the years. For the time being though, if you don’t feel like driving thirteen hours or flying two to three for authentic Southern cooking, then just swing by Smokin’ Betty’s for a taste that will take you there a lot quicker.
3 and 1/2 out of 4 Lunchboxes!
Patrick Edmonds is a co-founder, editor, and writer for/of The Lunch Break. His passions include Food, Arts & Entertainment, and Education. You can follow Patrick Edmonds on facebook and on Twitter @patrickedmonds1.