Are you ready for some football? This call to action has never mattered less, because the Super Bowl is coming on February 4 whether you like it or not. The New England Patriots will face off against the Philadelphia Eagles, two teams with fanatical followings from parts of the country that are relatively close together geographically, but with very different cultures and customs. And that includes food and drink, of course.
Philadelphia may be best known for cheesesteaks, but there are many other signature dishes and defining bars and restaurants to be found in the City of Brotherly Love. And though the Patriots are New England’s team, Boston is the biggest city in the area and the spiritual home of Pats fandom. The humbly nicknamed "Hub of the Universe" has its own defining flavors, from chowder to Sam Adams to lobster rolls.
So as we count down to Super Bowl LII on Sunday, let’s forget about Bud Light and wings for a moment. Instead, consider this lip-smacking showdown pitting the signature food and drink of Boston and Philadelphia against each other to see how they stack up before the big game.
Hoagie vs. Grinder
Clearly, Philadelphia is a city of sandwiches. But if you are looking for a classic Italian gut-buster, ask a local where to find the best hoagie. That’s what they call them here, perhaps because Italian immigrants used to work the Navy Yard, which was once known as Hog Island. Whatever the origin, a great place to find a classic hoagie is Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks, yet another Reading Terminal Market culinary gem. Cured meats, cheese, pickles, hot peppers, maybe a little oil and vinegar… it’s hard to go wrong here.
In Boston, on the other hand, if you’re looking for an Italian sub, make sure to specify that it’s a grinder you want. There is some speculation that the name came from the tough Italian bread that was once used. Monica’s Mercato, located in the North End, is a favorite among those seeking salty meat and cheese stuffed between white bread slathered with an array of toppings. And the bread reportedly will not make your jaw grind, which is a welcome update to this classic sandwich.
Winner: Draw – different names, but basically the same sandwich
Roast Pork Italian vs. Lobster Roll
The cheesesteak may get all the glory, but the real iconic Philadelphia sandwich has got to be the roast pork Italian sandwich. It’s simple yet flavorful, consisting of thin-sliced roast pork, provolone cheese, and bitter broccoli rabe. And the absolute best place to get one is DiNic’s sandwich counter in Reading Terminal Market. The Nicolosi family has been slinging roast pork since the 1950s, and the menu now includes options like pulled pork and brisket. But definitely try the classic if you stop by.
The lobster roll is ubiquitous throughout New England as well as in Boston. You can usually find them made in one of two ways in the region – hot and buttered (Connecticut style), or cold lobster salad (Maine style) – served in a toasted, flat-sided hot dog bun. You can find both styles in Boston, but the cold roll is arguably more popular. Neptune Oyster in the North End has one that locals will vouch for.
Winner: Roast Pork Italian (Philadelphia)
Cheesesteak vs. Clam Chowder
The Pat’s vs. Geno’s battle rages on in the Philly cheesesteak wars, with neither side seeming to gain the edge. While these tourist attractions are good, there are better options around the city. Jim’s Steaks has been serving up heart attacks on a hero roll since 1939, and locals often stop in at one of its three locations in the city. Jim’s cheesesteaks are made with top-of-the-round angus beef and ooey-gooey gobs of Cheese Whiz, and they can be shipped anywhere in the U.S.
Union Oyster House is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in America, and is well regarded for its raw bar. But the chowder here is also very good, according to certain presidents - Obama stopped by for a bowl back in 2015, putting his seal of approval on this thick, creamy soup. It’s full of clams (duh), potatoes, and half and half, with a dose of salt pork for an extra umami kick.
Winner: Cheesesteak (Philadelphia)
Scrapple vs. Fish and Chips
If you’re not from Philadelphia, or Pennsylvania for that matter, you might be wondering exactly what scrapple is. It also goes by the Pennsylvania Dutch name Pennhass, or “pan rabbit,” which does absolutely nothing to clear up the mystery. Basically, it’s pork meat and bones that have been boiled, minced, and combined with corn meal and spices. This mushy mixture is then shaped into a loaf, and pieces are cut off, fried, and served with everything from eggs to banh mi. Dutch Eating Place in Reading Terminal Market is a good spot to sit down and try some of this mystery meat, a favorite of Philly locals.
There are a million places to get fish and chips in Boston, and some options are much better than others. Fish and chips in Boston is usually made from haddock, often beer-battered, fried to a crisp golden brown, and served with a dollop of tartar sauce, a little lemon, and a sprinkling of malt vinegar. This city probably has the closest experience to eating in an actual Irish chipper that you can find anywhere in America. Check out Yankee Lobster Co. located in the Seaport District and you won’t be disappointed.
Winner: Scrapple (Philadelphia)
Cannoli vs. Boston Cream Pie
Cannoli is the sweet dessert lifeblood of Philadelphia, a city with deep Italian roots. There are many bakeries that make a good cannoli here, but Termini Brothers Bakery is one of the best, according to many locals. Termini has been making all kinds of baked goods for about a century, so they’ve had some practice. Handmade cannoli pastry shells are stuffed with a variety of cream, including vanilla, chocolate, and sweet ricotta.
Why not head to the source for this delicious Boston dessert that’s not quite a cake, not really a pie, but is comprised of various layers of vanilla custard, chocolate icing, and sponge cake. Boston cream pie was created at the Omni Parker House when it opened in the 1850s. Massachusetts’ official state dessert is still made here, and is often sought out by locals and tourists alike looking for a little taste of history.
Winner: Cannoli (Philadelphia)
Yuengling vs. Sam Adams
Yuengling calls itself America’s oldest brewery, having gotten its start in 1829 when German immigrant David Yuengling set up shop in Pottsville, PA about 100 miles from Philly. It wasn’t until 1873 that the beer became known as Yuengling, and it has remained a cheap but dependable beer ever since. Naturally, the beer is popular in Philadelphia – although liberal denizens of the city weren’t very happy when CEO Dick Yuengling gave Eric Trump a tour of the brewery and reportedly voiced his support for the Donald.
Sam Adams is the definitive beer of Boston, and was one of the forefathers of the American craft beer scene. These days it’s more like a mega-brewery, releasing a slew of seasonal varieties every year, including the super expensive and limited Utopias. The latest addition to the Sam Adams family is the new Sam ’76, a light and hoppy lager and ale combo. If a Boston bar doesn’t serve Sam Adams, something is seriously awry.
Winner: Sam Adams (Boston)
McGillin’s Old Ale House vs. Warren Tavern
McGillin’s arrived about 80 years after the Warren Tavern opened, in 1860 to be exact. That makes it the oldest continuously operating bar in Philly, originally operated by a married couple that immigrated from Ireland, Ma and Pa McGillin. The beer menu now includes three beers brewed exclusively for the pub (and yes, there is Yuengling here), along with a full food menu and televisions screening all the Eagles games.
Both Boston and Philly have their share of historic bars, pubs, and taverns dating back centuries. After all, both cities have been around since the dawn of America, and the Founding Fathers liked to drink. The Warren Tavern in Charlestown was built in 1780, and both George Washington and Paul Revere are said to have had a drink here, among other historical luminaries. Nowadays there’s a full pub food menu and more kinds of beer than Thomas Jefferson would know what to do with.
Winner: Warren Tavern (Boston)
Ralph’s Italian Restaurant vs. Cantina Italiana
Both Boston and Philly have been home to Italian communities for many years – Boston in its North End, and Philadelphia on its South Side. This means there are still plenty of classic red sauce joints in both cities dating back decades. Ralph’s opened in South Philadelphia in 1900, and is still a family-run business. Come for the parmagiana or spaghetti with “red gravy,” and stay to fill out a franchise questionnaire – Ralph’s is currently looking to expand.
Italians are the second largest ethnic group in Boston after the Irish, and the North End has many Italian restaurants to choose from. Cantina Italiana is one of the oldest, dating back to 1931. The signage out front looks like it hasn’t changed over the years, but the décor and food have certainly been updated. Still, if it’s chicken parm that you want, they’ve got it here, in addition to many other classic Italian dishes.
Winner: Ralph’s (Philadelphia)
Final results – Philly all the way. So basically this Super Bowl snackdown is going the same way as 90 percent of NFL fans want the actual Super Bowl to end. But whoever you're rooting for, make sure you eat something awesome on Game Day.