Some people have a problem with Philadelphia. How anyone could dislike the city that gave us Questlove and the Allen Iverson "practice" speech is beyond me, personally. Maybe it has to do with booing Santa Claus, or the Eagles' continued employment of Michael Vick. Or maybe it's the cheesesteak. While no one can deny the genius of slopping fistfuls of sliced beef, cheese and onions onto a bun and calling it a sandwich, a picture of Andy Reid (or Chip Kelly) with cheesesteak juice dribbling down his chin is a pretty good symbol of our country's obesity problem.
Consider the Italian Market a small attempt at rehabilitating the image of Philadelphia cuisine. Even if the name conceals its origins, the cart—conjoined to Belmont Station—doesn't hide its aggressive Philly-ness: the Phillie Phanatic is spray-painted right onto its doors. But instead of the city's chief culinary cliché, transplanted Philadelphians Erin Callahan and Andrew Vidulich serve up what they refer to as the true street food of South Philly. This includes the Federal ($8), an Italian sub Vidulich says is a staple of his hometown. Densely packed with shredded roast pork and provolone, the meat is offset by broccoli rabe, giving the sandwich a distinctly earthy flavor. My dining companion ordered the Passyunk ($8), a similarly weighty eggplant sub, and raved about the freshness of the housemade pesto and mozzarella. Both sandwiches are served on thick Italian bread from Southeast Portland's Alessio Baking Co., which, unlike other cheesesteaks, keeps them from being disintegrated by grease.
The side of meatballs was uninspiring, and on the day I visited, the pretzels were less than fresh (which Vidulich copped to, offering me one for free). Overall, though, the Italian Market should go a long way toward repairing Philadelphia's relationship with some of its local haters. Then again, some folks will never let their rivalries go. It's their loss. MATTHEW SINGER.
Order this: The Passyunk ($8), baked eggplant with roasted peppers and fennel, pesto and mozzarella.
EAT: The Italian Market, 4500 SE Stark St., italianmarketpdx.com. Noon-9 pm daily. $.