Taste: In Search Of… Italian Sausage

We head to 9th Street to find the Italian Market’s best “hot Italian”

In these dead-of-winter months, a hot Italian sausage-and-peppers sandwich can be as good a comfort food as a bowl of mac-’n’-cheese or a rack of ribs. We went to the Italian Market in search of a great “hot Italian,” and took six versions to Grace Tavern on Grays Ferry Avenue, where sausage sandwiches are a menu staple. There, we blind-tasted the sausages — sans peppers or bread — with a panel of six tasters, including Grace’s owners — Tom Peters, Fergie Carey and James Fernandes — and bartender Abigail Hare. All of the sausages were grilled and then baked. Enjoy our findings, from best to least favorite. 

Cappuccio’s Meats
1019 South 9th Street, 215-922-5792; $4.19/lb.
The most expensive sausage in the Italian Market was also the clear favorite. All but one taster deemed this the best, and the lone dissenter placed it second. Its well-balanced flavor — not too much fennel, not too much hot pepper — and thin casing won accolades.

1001 South 9th Street, 215-922-2659; $2.29/lb.
Esposito’s didn’t top the charts in our steak tasting in August 2004, but everyone enjoyed this sausage. The casing was a bit tougher than Cappuccio’s, and it could have used more fennel, though we did enjoy the heat.

D’Angelo Bros.
909 South 9th Street, 215-923-5637; $3.49/lb.
More than 300 types of sausage are available at D’Angelo’s — from boar to blood — so we felt pretty lame buying the Italian. The filling on this sausage wasn’t mixed thoroughly, so in one bite we got a lot of fennel, while in the next bite, it was all hot pepper. But the casing was thin, and there was virtually no gristle.

Hollywood Meat Market
1039 South 9th Street, 215-627-2453; $2.99/lb.
Wow, bring on the heat, baby. For those who like it hot — really hot — Hollywood is the way to go. But most of the tasters found that the blaring heat overwhelmed the overall flavor of the sausage. This sausage only had one trick up its sleeve.

Fiorella Bros.
817 Christian Street, 215-922-0506; $4/lb.

The kind folks at Fiorella Bros. have been at the sausage game for more than a century and sell to a long list of restaurants, including Ralph’s, Ernesto’s 1521 Café and Spasso Italian Grill — but we just weren’t feeling it. Where the Hollywood sausage had too much heat, Fiorella’s was all fennel — in one small bite, we counted eight whole seeds. If the Hollywood and Fiorella versions had a kid, it could be the perfect sausage.

Cannuli House of Pork
937 South 9th Street, 215-922-2988; $2.89/lb.

If there’s anything worse than too much fennel or pepper, it’s not enough of either. This was the case with the totally bland sausage coming out of Cannuli. Plus, the casing was chewier than the others. We still stand by Cannuli as the place to get a whole roasted pig, but for sausage, head somewhere else.