May 13, 2013

Shank's Chicken Cutlet Italiano: The Halladay of Sandwiches?

In 2010, WIP host Glen Macnow named the Chicken Cutlet Italiano at Shank's Pier 40 the best hot sandwich in Philly.

Three years later is today's version still like Roy Halladay in his prime or more like the aging 36-year-old pitcher losing his reign? That's what we wanted to answer on a recent visit to Shank's.

Some background in case you're not familiar with Macnow's famous food hunts. Each year, the radio host picks a category, like hot sandwiches, and embarks on an exhaustive search across the Greater Philadelphia region, trying as many as 50 different places to find the best. The contest makes for great radio as Macnow reports on where he's been and callers debate their favorites.

Past winners have included Rossi's Bar & Grill (burgers), Fat Jack's (ribs), Tacconelli's (pizza), John's Roast Pork (cheesesteaks) and Paesano's (hoagies).

Macnow is a good beacon for what the average person looks for in sandwiches. He's not a self-professed culinary connoisseur or food snob. Like me, he just wants to good sandwich.

Chicken Cutlet Italiano
All this made me think Shank's Chicken Cutlet Italiano would be perfect-game Halladay. Instead, what we got was Doc giving up nine runs to the hapless Marlins, on the verge of career-threatening shoulder surgery. Frankly, it's a sandwich that is past its prime or in need of some fixing.

Bite after bite I kept waiting for sandwich perfection, but the Italiano couldn't find the strike zone. The broccoli rabe was bland and looked old, not fresh. Even more disheartening was nonexistent flavor from the sharp provolone.

An awesome disappointment.

The potential for a great sandwich is found in the seeded roll from Sarcone's (which costs an extra 50 cents) and the crispy fried cutlet. Maybe some red sauce would do the trick?

Shank's cheesesteak, on the other hand, was like this season's Kyle Kendrick, a pleasant surprise that helped allay the disappointment of the cutlet. We don't write about cheesesteaks on the blog often, so you can check out a guest post on the best cheesesteaks in Philly or my quick post on Ray's (my hometown favorite) for more on cheesesteak options.

Cheesesteak wiz wit on seeded roll
Straight up bag of french fries

The hearty bag of thin cut french fries also hit the spot. We recommend the cheesesteak with fries if you're looking for a bite to eat, especially on the way home from any of the mega stores on Columbus Blvd.

Housed in a little shack next to the Pier 40 storage units, Shank's has parking, picnic benches, a view of the water (the Delaware but hey, it's still water) AND a bathroom.

Side note: We're not completely up to speed on the history of Shank's, but as far as we can tell the current owners bought the naming rights from Shank's & Evelyn's who actually created the famous Chicken Cutlet Italiano. It's possible the original owners were more involved in the Pier 40 location in 2010. Either way, Shank's still markets Macnow's award and the current rendition does not live up to the hype. Feel free to shed some light on this in the comments and we can update the post accordingly. 

Shank's at Pier 40 on Columbus Blvd


Steve said...

Thanks for your review. I had the hot roast beef at Shanks Pier 40 shortly after they opened a few years ago - and it was as good as it used to be when they were in S. Philly.

The following is my knowledge of Shanks history:
They were located in a small row home which was converted into a neighborhood breakfast and lunch spot on S. 10th St. between Christian St. and Washington Ave. I believe they were there at least since the 60's, but it could even be longer. It was very unique because all the other buildings around them were typical row homes - it wasn't a retail block. There was an old plastic RC Cola sign out front - that I believe said "Frank & Evelyn's", but it was always known as Shanks.

The place had an old school counter with about 8 to 10 stools, and there were also tables that seated a total of 20 or so. There was lots of character to this place and lot's of character's who would go there to eat - and the waitresses (that's what they were called back then) were longtime employees that could dish out some good old S. Philly attitude. By the time I started going here I believe Frank/Shank was deceased - so I only knew Evelyn, and she was a very talkative, slightly gruff yet sweet older woman. The neat thing about the place is it was patronized by local south philly character's as well as lawyers and other suits who would make the trip down from center city. It was a real melting pot of customers. It was always tough to get seated because the tables were so close together - everyone sitting at a table would have to adjust when you would take the table next to it. Service was slow and methodical there, It could take 15 minutes to get your sandwich

They were known for two things:
1) Their freshly hand-carved hot roast beef with sharp provolone and spinach - served with just the right amount of drippings.

2) Their chicken cutlet sandwich with marinara sauce.
The cooked cutlets would sit out on the back counter piled high as a display for too long and my wife got very ill from eating one once.

I never had breakfast there, but they had all kinds of breakfast sandwiches - egg, sausage & peppers, etc. It was probably the Sabrina's of South Philly back in the day.

I believe their daughter took over the operation sometime in the late 90's or so - but Evelyn was still there running things as well.

At some point about 4 or 5 years ago, they decided to close up shop and open in center city at 15th and Ionic Streets (between Chest. and Sansom) - it was called Shank's Uptown. Unfortunately, it never seemed to do enough business to be successful and they eventually closed. During this time, I believe the family sold the naming rights and Shanks's Pier 40 was opened by the new person. The new owners had planned to open other locations (or franchisee's), but I don't think that ever happened.

Unknown said...

I always thought the eggplant marinara, with garlic spinach, was much better.

Bradd & Kristy said...

Steve - thanks so much for all this history. We didn't know most of it. Sounds like an awesome neighborhood spot back in the day and that roast beef must have been killer. Sorry those cutlets didn't work out. Probably shouldn't have been sitting out so long!

Bryan - that eggplant sounds great! Will consider that instead next time, too.