I walked into the Comcast Center’s Market & Shops entrance on JFK, headed down the empty stairs and immediately felt like a fish swimming upstream. The crush of humanity was literally breathtaking: All the oxygen being used up by the school groups on their pre-holiday field trips, office workers and families on vacation, their matching fanny packs better used as battering rams than storage units. The hum only grew louder as I weaved my way to my destination, past the lobster tanks on the left, the inexplicably long line at Panda Express and Di Bruno’s beckoning with its always-tempting treats.
And then ... quiet. I’d caught Percy Street at just the right time, and entering its tile-and-metal sanctuary, breathing in the smoke-tinged air and glimpsing the steam trays of meaty wonders, I felt as if I’d gone through some sort of Indiana Jones-ish set of obstacles.
It was worth the battle to get there.
This month-and-a-half-old outpost of the popular South Street Percy does justice to what we’ve come to hope for from the Solomonov/Cook/O’Shea team, a pared-down Texas-BBQ spot that delivers all the addictive flavors you’d want, and at fair prices to (cowboy) boot.
The barbecued chicken sandwich is good—impossibly moist, sunset-colored and spicy from pickled jalapeños, sweet and savory from the Old Faithful and Hot Mess BBQ sauces. The slaw—creamy with buttermilk—rounds it out nicely and ties it all together.
The highlights here are generally the pulled or shredded or chopped meats—true to a certain school of Philly sandwich logic. Pulled pork was hoisted to the great Texan heavens by the bright hit of apple cider vinegar and pickle juice, a move that allowed the smoky, almost exotic spice of the meat (cumin, paprika, cayenne, more) to shine with startling clarity. The roll itself was lined with a few leaves of porky collards, and all of it is folded with Provolone. Unlike so many pulled porks, the meat here was the star, and not an obscuring ladleful of sticky-sweet sauce.
Chopped brisket, unexpectedly, found greater success than its sliced counterpart. The former was certainly the most deeply savory of the sandwiches at Percy, vaguely reminiscent of a cheesesteak in the Dalessandro’s mold, but nothing like it in flavor. Moistened with BBQ sauce and snappy from pickle slices, it was an exercise in balance and meaty joy.
The sliced brisket, on the other hand, while certainly well-considered, lacked moisture in its roll. Its deep smokiness brightened with pickled green tomatoes and horseradish mayo, the shock of sharp cheddar, but something was ... missing. Perhaps outside the context of the other sammies it would have been better. Sliced smoked turkey was like a pig-less riff on a Cuban sandwich with its mustard, pickles and Swiss cheese. Good stuff.
Some favorites failed to make the trip from South Street to the Center (deviled eggs, the BBQ fries), but the ones that did venture forth are winners. Mac and cheese was a creamy, oozy wonder beneath its seasoned breadcrumb crust. And dessert pies, in their little take-away-friendly tins, are just right in size and sweetness—the key lime creamy and just tart enough, the pecan decadent but not cloying.
I expect the Center’s crowds to grow less aggressively dense once Santa and Hanukkah Harry have gone their separate ways for the season. It doesn’t matter either way: This Percy Street justifies whatever efforts you have to make. Good barbecue does that, whether it’s on South Street or in an office complex.
Percy Street Barbecue at the Comcast Center
17th St. and JFK Blvd. 215.964.9014
Cuisine type: Texas-style barbecue, sandwich-centric.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10am-7pm; Sat., 11am-5pm.
Price range: $3-$9.
Atmosphere: Clean and welcoming.
Food: Dig in—this is delicious barbecue. (Meats, sides and desserts are made at the South Street location and brought over).
Service: Friendly counter service.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014