One of the best roast pork sandwiches in Philly this summer comes with waterfront breezes and a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge, a combo that exists thanks to barman Avram Hornik.
Six years ago, when the FCM Hospitality proprietor announced he was launching a backyard beer garden on the Delaware River, Philly was pumped. It wasn’t just the chance to party on the waterfront that got people excited — although having a river view spot to cop beers that aren’t Coors Light and sip cocktail that aren’t watered down or mostly made out of simple syrup and cheap vodka was a pretty big deal.
No, Hornik went further in his effort to differentiatehis floating tavern from Philly’s other waterside party bars. In addition to actually good beer and booze and great music, Hornik promised culinary creativity.
And he delivered, too. The rotating cast of chefs who’ve overseen the changing food offerings at the pier is impressive. Nick Elmi of Laurel spent a summer cooking for the deck crowd. Jim Burke put in his time, as did George Sabatino, David Katz and the team behind Helm, Kevin D’Egidio and Michael Griffiths.
This year’s eats come from the mind of chef Adam Lazarick, who trained at Lacroix and has been working for FCM’s other venues over the past year.
What’s on Lazarick’s menu, which he developed with sous chef Mark Hennessey? A handful of pier classics mixed in with new additions that are “straight forward good.”
If there is a theme, the chefs said, it’s “Wildwood in 1998 — what you remember from summer as a kid.”
Traditional Idaho potatoes are sliced thick and fried golden brown for this take on old-school onion dip — which is actually made with many different alliums (garlic, shallots, eventually ramps, etc.) for extra flavor nuance. Bonus: it’s vegetarian and gluten-free ($6).
Spinach-infused fusilli noodles from Jason Cichonski’s Little Noodle Pasta Co. make the basis of a really unusual pasta salad. Arugula pesto makes each bite bright, offset by the sour spiciness of pepperoncini strips and the salty creaminess of feta cheese crumbles ($9).
If you want to attempt healthy eating while you’re kicking back on the river, this is the dish for you. A changing assortment of veg from local farms is plated over a spicy yogurt dressing and garnished with refreshing mint ($10).
But really, sandwiches are the ideal food to accompany sunny day outings, and Lazarick’s options don’t disappoint. The chicken breast is juicy below a shatter-ready crust, served with spicy pimento cheese sauce and bread-and-butter pickles on a roll from Lost Bread Co. ($9).
Lazarick tested five different meat blends before settling on the mostly chuck composition of his four-ouncer, which is amazingly cooked medium (unless you request otherwise), despite its slim profile. Joining the juicy patty on the Martin’s potato roll are simple toppings: ice berg lettuce, crunchy red onion and American cheese ($9). There’s also a vegan Beyond Burger available for $11.
Add another to the list of Philly’s must-try roast pork sandwiches. This one comes boosted with a sweet and spicy long hot relish, which helps cut the richness of the pork. The meat starts as a whole shoulder, which is rubbed with fennel, garlic, onions and herbs before being roasted and then sliced to order ($10).
If you love whoopie pies, get ready to adore the passion fruit treats Lazarick worked on for months before getting just right. And if you’re one of those people who’s never seen the appeal of these relatively prosaic desserts — get ready to have your mind changed. The outside cake is light and airy and the inside is French buttercream. A pair for $4 is a steal.
Morgan’s Pier launches for the season April 19. It’s open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.