In South Philly, where partisans yell insults across the street as they line up for cheesesteaks, hitting two sandwich shops in the same day wouldn't fly. And maybe it shouldn't, given how bloated four WW staffers felt after braving rival Southeast Portland sandwich shops Lardo and Shut Up and Eat on a recent Sunday.
These joints have a lot in common: Both began as carts in the autumn of 2010, winning ardent fans with big, meaty sandwiches before moving into walk-in establishments in the summer of 2012. But while Lardo owner Rick Gencarelli is a trained chef with an impressive résumé who spit-polishes everything down to his logo-stamped paper, Shut Up and Eat boss John Fimmano's place reflects the blue-collar background of a guy who moved here from Philadelphia to work construction before selling his mama's meatballs from a taxi-yellow cart.
Sleek Lardo sits across from the Cartopia pod on Hawthorne Boulevard at the edge of Ladd's Addition in inner Southeast. The tiny building is mostly kitchen and bar, forcing patrons onto a huge patio filled with wooden picnic tables that are now covered, but not yet heated. The crowd is generally youngish and fashionably attired. Shut Up and Eat sits on the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Gladstone Street in Southeast, an intersection where a furniture refurbisher was recently replaced by a record shop. It's laid out like a classic lunch counter, with lots of two-person tables and no patio. The crowd here is actively eating.
The best sandwich we tried from Lardo, the meatball banh mi ($8), sits on a ciabatta roll from Fleur de Lis Bakery. Sliced flat, the hearty meatballs are freshened up by a topping of Sriracha sauce, half a bushel of cilantro, and a slaw of pickled carrots and daikon. It's a very large meal. Shut Up and Eat's massive meatball sub ($8.50) has four balls—made of beef, veal and pork—as big as a grade-schooler's fist on a bun from Pearl Bakery. A thick layer of melted cheese blends creamy provolone with sharp Asiago and Parmesan. The meatballs are lightly sauced, with dipping marinara providing balancing zest. It's two meals.
The other meat
Lardo's griddled mortadella ($8) is a messy blend of fatty salumi topped with a translucent slice of provolone. We preferred Shut Up's mammoth cheesesteak ($8.50), topped with fried onions and hot peppers.
Lardo takes pride in its meatiness, so maybe it's not surprising that its chickpea sandwich ($8) is uninspired. Basically falafel on a bun slathered with an overly minty yogurt sauce, it did nothing for us—although we did enjoy the fried chickpea-topped raw kale salad ($5). Meanwhile, Shut Up has two nice vegetarian sandwiches, including smoky charred yams and cream cheese ($8.50) with sauteed spinach, kale and fried red onions.
Lardo gets plaudits for its herby fries cooked in
duck pork fat, but Shut Up's freshly fried potato chips are a better accompaniment to any of these showstopping sandwiches.
Lardo has a full bar with taps spouting local brews and Peroni (all $5) along with a cocktail menu that includes a drink made with Chartreuse and Limonata. Shut Up sells Olympia tall boys for $2.50 all day, every day.
The final verdict? Lardo's great, but most days I'd rather Shut Up and Eat.