The JAWN at Spot Gourmet Burgers

Is ‘jawn’ too played out to put that jawn on Philly menus?

Over the past year, the word has been womainsplained in a Hollywood blockbuster, featured in multiple TV news reports and explored in-depth via a 2,500-word essay on a travel site that’s been called “National Geographic for millennials.”

So, existential question, Philadelphia: Is “jawn” still cool or is it overdone?

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

Josh Kim of Spot Gourmet Burgers serves something called The JAWN at his colorful Brewerytown joint. (What is it? A Frankensteinian — and delicious — combination of sloppy joe, sliced rib-eye, fries, raw and grilled onions, Whiz and SpOt sauce stuffed into a bun.) Not only does Kim stand by the sandwich name, he considers it a signature menu item.

“It’s how people of Philly speak,” he says. “Real people of Philly. You can hear the word ‘jawn’ used every day — whether people are talking about last night’s party, gossiping about others, or referring to something they forgot.”

Says Jon Medlinsky, co-owner at Martha in Kensington, which serves a pair of hoagies called the Vegan Jawn and the Bologna Jawn: “Jawn is timeless. Jawn is as old as the universe and will live forever. Jawn is the jawn and will always be the jawn.”

Chef Adan Trinidad runs a repeat special called Cheesesteak Jawn Tacos at Fishtown’s Sancho Pistola’s — cheesesteak meat topped with roasted poblanos, caramelized onions, chihuahua cheese, cilantro and radish on a corn tortilla. With regard to the name, his partners in the Mexican-inspired beer bar concur with Medlinsky, and even use the same phrase to express their amaranthine embrace.

“Jawn is timeless,” says Casey Parker. “And time is jawnless,” adds Joe Gunn.

Pizzeria Vetri — which can’t be blamed for bolstering its Philly roots at local outposts as the brand expands to DC, Texas and beyond — has started running a changing monthly special called the Pizza Jawn. Each creation is designed by a member of the Vetri Family staff; even COO Jeff Benjamin is doing one.

“[It works because] we can’t take ourselves too seriously when we write menu descriptions,” Benjamin says.

When people aren’t familiar with the word, using it on a menu can sometimes backfire. When chef-owner Kris Serviss launched his Northeast Philly BYOB The Blue Duck, he had something on the menu called the Blue Jawn Burger. Made with a part beef, part duck patty topped with duck cracklins, blue cheese and red onion jam, it won the “People’s Choice” nod at Burger Brawl 2015. Despite its popularity, though, it’s no longer available.

“I eliminated it to reduce confusion,” Serviss explains. “Some of our older clientele was so lost on ‘what is a jawn.’”

The burger might not be gone for good. When he launches his second restaurant closer to Center City, “Jawn will probably make a comeback.”

Other places that used to serve “jawns” have also taken them off the menu. When Strangelove’s first opened on 11th and Locust, the vegan-friendly beer bar served something called Roasted Eggplant Jawn, but it’s “long gone,” according to co-owner Leigh Maida.

“I have always hated that word,” she admits. “It’s the same to me as when my mom says ‘NOT’ after saying something facetious. It was dated and played out in my mind right after the second person said it.”

Whether or not it’s played out, it can be useful in marketing. When Ippolito’s chef Gregg Mirigliani and GM Ron Ippolito were looking for a way to sell the new fried dish they’d developed to use up the little-appreciated (but flavorful) bellies of a catfish-like fish called swai, they turned to the word. The tactic worked — for at least a few months, their Crispy Fish Jawns were the talk of the town.

Crispy Fish Jawns at Ippolito's
Crispy Fish Jawns at Ippolito’s Credit: Danya Henninger

Since the South Philly seafood market has been around for 85 years, it’s not really fair to say they’re jumping on a bandwagon. But using “jawn” just for the sake of saying “jawn” is part of what has tarnished its reputation.

“That’s when it becomes artificial, corny, fake,” says Spot Burgers’ Kim. “It’s not something you hear at during a chat over al fresco brunch. Rather, it’s used by those buying ‘loosies’ from the corner ‘papi’ store, or people asking their clerk at the neighborhood hardware store where they can find ‘the jawn that holds the pipe to the sink drain…’”

And as proof the word belongs firmly to Philadelphia (despite linguists’ claims it “originated” in New York), check what happened when Northeast Philly-raised chef Josh Sobel put a sandwich called Jawn on the menu at Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn:

Don’t care about the debate, just want to eat something good? Here’s a list of edible and drinkable jawns found on regular menus around Philly right now. (Have another to add? Let us know.)

  • Apple Jawns at Day by Day in Rittenhouse, a “cross between a donut and a danish” baked by proprietor Robin Barg’s daughter.
  • J.A.W.N. by Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co., an IPA whose name is an acronym for “Juicy Ale With Nugget” (aka hops).
  • Spicy Pizza Jawn at Wm. Mulherin’s & Sons in Fishtown, a wood-fired pie with pepperoni, hot coppa, caciocavallo, sharp provolone, long hots and tomato.
  • Don Jawn cocktail at Oyster House on Sansom Street, a mix of white rum, ginger, lime, cassis and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
  • Bologna Jawn (Lancaster beef bologna, kimchi, sesame aioli, pineapple preserves, pickled peppers, greens) and Vegan Jawn (carrot terrine, pickled radish, dried eggplant, arugula, lemon tofu mayo) at Martha in Kensington.
  • The JAWN at Spot Gourmet Burgers in Brewerytown, a sandwich containing sloppy joe meat, sliced rib-eye, raw red onions, grilled onions, fries, Whiz and SpOt sauce.
  • Sazerac Jawn at Prohibition Taproom on Spring Garden, a twist on the classic cocktail with Bulleit rye, green chartreuse, absinthe, sugar and lemon.
  • Crispy Fish Jawns at Ippolito’s in South Philly, a pile of fried fish bits served with a side of buffalo hot sauce.
  • UPDATE: Abruzze Jawn, a jack-style cheese with six different smoked peppers and green peppercorns, made by Cherry Grove Farm and available at Di Bruno Bros.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...