Finding and tasting a destination’s signature dish is one of travel’s greatest joys. And it often means more than simply sampling delicious food. A signature dish helps us explore a region’s historical and cultural influences. It challenges each of us to expand our horizons and try something new, and outside our comfort zones. When we arrive in Sudbury, that means seeking out a porketta sandwich.
For people traveling with dietary restrictions, though, this ritual can be complicated. I have celiac disease, which means I need to follow a strict gluten-free diet. This makes new things stressful and comfort zones disproportionately important for my health. But I’m also a self-professed foodie, so I’m always on the lookout for safe ways to sample local cuisine during my travels. And in the case of Sudbury porketta, what started as a well-intentioned mission became a DIY opus.
What is Sudbury’s signature dish?
Sudbury’s signature dish is porketta. This Italian pork roast is made of rolled boneless pork loin and belly, with the skin crisped and seasonings added. It was brought to Sudbury by the many Italians who immigrated to work in the city’s budding mining industry.
Apart from the spelling, there’s one key difference between Italian porchetta and Sudbury porketta. Italian porchetta typically includes fennel, garlic, and salt and pepper, while Sudbury’s version replaces fennel with dill. This unique combination gives Sudbury porketta a flavour profile all its own.
Where to eat gluten-free in Sudbury
During my week in Sudbury, I ate several excellent gluten-free meals.
Laughing Buddha (194 Elgin St., downtown) has gluten-free pizza crusts and bakes them in the foil trays they ship with to prevent cross-contamination in their ovens. They also have dairy-free and vegan options for those who need them. Their dill pickle pizza is delicious gluten-free and dairy-free, one of the best pizzas I’ve had with both modifications. And they even served us their tapenade appetizer with the gluten-free pizza dough instead of pita wedges.
At M.I.C. (Made in Canada) Canadian Eatery & Whisky Pub (200 Falconbridge Rd., New Sudbury), the kitchen has gluten-free burger buns and will prep your food in a different area upon request. I had the Big Smoke burger with no cheese and no onion rings, served with a side salad. While eating with a group, I was very grateful to have a variety of options.
I also ate with a group at Verdicchio Ristorante (1351-D Kelly Lake Rd., West End Business Park), and while we were served a set menu, the staff are familiar with celiac disease and able to suggest alternatives. Verdicchio offers a white-tablecloth Italian dining experience and is one of the best-rated fine dining establishments in the city.
Tucos Taco Lounge (582 Kathleen St., downtown) is a 100% vegan restaurant with a wide selection of clearly marked gluten-free options. I opted for the delightfully spicy and tangy Buffalo Tempeh Tacos after confirming they’re prepared in a separate gluten-free fryer. And I finished this late lunch across the street at Flurples (593 Kathleen St., downtown) with a dairy-free and vegan ice cream. I was floored to discover that several of their sundae options are also gluten-free—such a treat!
For provisions, Amici (863 Barry Downe Rd., New Sudbury) is a life saver. The shop is mostly gluten-free and caters to people with allergies and dietary restrictions. I was able to grab a supply of crackers, cookies, noodle cups, and more. I even grabbed some gluten-free and dairy-free cupcakes to take to some friends as a treat.
But nowhere along my Sudbury travels did I come across a gluten-free porketta sandwich. ‘No matter,’ I think to myself as the week is winding down. ‘I can take matters into my own hands.’
Time to find some Sudbury porketta to take home.
Searching for Sudbury porketta to go
On its own, Sudbury-style porketta is inherently gluten-free and dairy-free. It’s important to verify this wherever you’re buying it if this is important to you, of course. There may be unexpected ingredients or a risk of cross-contamination. But in nearly all cases, you’ll find you’re good to go.
It’s 4:30 PM on a Saturday as I’m finishing up my sundae from Flurples. We’re leaving Sudbury the following day, and I decide it’s time to find some porketta to transport back to Toronto.
During our stay in the city, I asked our local guide Ryan where he buys his porketta. He doesn’t, he replied. He waits for pork to go on sale and then makes roughly 200 porketta roasts at once to stock in his freezer. (This is normal behaviour in Sudbury, I’m told.)
Let me rephrase the question, then. If a visitor asks you where to buy porketta, where do you send them?
Ryan says this is a very divisive subject. Everyone has a different opinion and a preferred style. After some deliberation, he narrows it down to two locations: the Regency Bakery & Deli, or D&A Meats.
Regency is closest to our hotel, so I put down my sundae to plug it into Google Maps so my partner can start driving us over.
Except Google doesn’t cooperate. It closed at 4 PM.
All right—D&A Meats it is. Plug that into the GPS…
…and D&A is closed, too.
Panic sets in. Fearing my window for finding porketta has closed, I start racking my brain for other places locals have mentioned.
The Beef & Bird springs to mind. This is the home of Sudbury’s weekly Porketta Bingo. That’s right: every Saturday afternoon, revelers pack themselves into this west end bar, grab some cards, yell “Porketta!” instead of bingo, and take home porketta as a prize. There’s got to be some porketta in the building at least, right?
Sadly, Porketta Bingo isn’t running that day, the barkeep informs me over the phone. I ask if he has any idea where I could find some as the clock ticks down.
“Try Tarini Brothers,” he replies. “They’re just down the street from us.”
I frantically find and dial the number for Tarini Brothers and breathlessly ask for porketta. “Yes, we have it,” says the other end of the phone. “But you’d better hurry. We close in eight minutes.”
“We’ll be there in five,” I respond as I point my partner in the right direction and start punching the address into Apple CarPlay.
I skid through the door at Tarini Brothers Meat Market (1055 Lorne St., west end) in the nick of time. Despite my late arrival, all my questions are very patiently answered. Oh, you’re making sandwiches at home? You’ll need to warm the meat up in some drippings; we’ll grab you some from the back. You’re buying it pre-cooked instead of uncooked because you need to drive it to Toronto? Let us give you a little cooler to help you get it home safely. We even chatted for a couple of minutes about the 2023 BMW M2 we pulled up in.
At Tarini Brothers, they take the time to be friendly and kind. We encountered this in Sudbury nearly everywhere we went. It feels like small-town living in Northern Ontario’s largest city.
How to assemble a gluten-free Sudbury porketta sandwich
I get the porketta home to Toronto and set to work at assembling a gluten-free porketta sandwich.
When people without dietary restrictions ask where to find the best porketta sandwich in Sudbury, they’re invariably directed to Peppi’s Ristorante (93 Durham St., downtown). They list the ingredients for their porketta sandwich on their menu, so I do my best to follow the same formula at home.
To start with, a good panini bun has a crusty outside and a chewy inside. This can be a tricky combination to find in gluten-free baked goods. I decide to use Aidan’s gluten-free buns because they’re readily available near me and are, I feel, the closest to the right texture. If you try this at home, just use your favourite.
I slice up and roast some eggplant, mushrooms, and red peppers. I’m sure what goes into Peppi’s sundried tomato spread, but I’m not a huge fan of sundried tomatoes anyway. Instead, I use some herbed roasted Roma tomatoes from my local grocery store. And the contents of Peppi mayo are also a mystery, so I use plain mayo instead. Cheese is off the menu for me, but the Peppi Porketta comes with mozzarella, and provolone is a popular alternative.
With the ingredients prepped, I open up and thinly slice the Tarini Brothers porketta. After laying the slices out into a pan, I drizzle some of the drippings over top and slowly bring it up to temperature. Once the meat is warm and tender, I toast and (dairy-free) butter the buns, stack them high with slices of porketta, add the rest of the toppings, and dig in.
I quickly learn a few things. It’s important to warm the porketta slowly to achieve the ideal melty, pull-apart texture. Once you get there, it’s nirvana. Also, these are very filling: they’re a meal on their own. And with apologies to Italy, dill over fennel is a far superior choice. This gluten-free Sudbury porketta sandwich is spectacular.
Alongside, I pair it with a premixed cocktail from Crosscut Distillery (1347 Kelly Lake Rd., West End Business Park). All of Crosscut’s spirits are made with gluten-containing grains, and they don’t promote their products as gluten-free. However, gluten is removed during alcohol distilling and nothing with gluten is added to any of their spirits at the end of the production process. Proceed to your own comfort level. I happily pour a pre-mixed raspberry mint vodka cocktail to go with my porketta and feel as though I’ve never left Sudbury at all.
Thanks to a bit of tenacity and the kindness of a whole lot of Sudburians, I’m able to enjoy a gluten-free Sudbury porketta sandwich at home. And in doing so, I learned more than I ever thought possible about the City of Lakes.