If you're incapable of making a decent steak sandwich (aka, a cheesesteak), here's a pro tip: DON'T TRY.
In case you missed past blog posts, I'm from Philly. We're a bit particular - protective, even - about how we like our cheesesteaks and there is definitely a certain science to ordering this classic Philly meal.It's All In The Name
[caption id="attachment_906" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Whiz wit from Jim's Steaks (South Street, Philadelphia)"][/caption]
For starters, the accepted vernacular is cheesesteak (one word, written), steak sandwich, or outside of Philadelphia proper, Philly cheesesteak. Terms like cheese steak (two words, written), steak with cheese, steak sub, steak roll, Philly sub or any other such nonsense are eschewed. Try ordering it that way and you'll find yourself at the back of the line at Pat's or worse.
One such tale involved my friend Mike. He was in the Air Force Academy in Colorado and had a hankering for a cheesesteak. He went into a restaurant and before ordering, he asked them if they knew how to make one. He was told they did and proceeded to order a cheesesteak. The brought him a T-bone with cheese on top.
Secondly, the selection of cheeses that go on said sandwich are not infinite, despite popular myth. The only cheeses that should be found on an authentic cheesesteak are:
- Cheez Whiz
The only acceptable condiments on your cheesesteak are:
- Sauteed onions (aka, the "wit" you hear about - more on this later)
- Green peppers
No Swiss (fuck you, John Kerry). No cheddar. No mushrooms. No pickles or peppers. No ketchup and certainly never mayonnaise. EVER. And the only acceptable roll that should ever be used is an Amoroso's roll. And no, I cannot explain why. Once you have a cheesesteak with an Amoroso's roll, you'll know why.
Those in the know understand ordering etiquette. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The most popular cheesesteak by far at Pat's is the Whiz wit. First, to know how to order properly, you need to understand the meaning of the phrase:
- Whiz (the cheese that goes on top of it - Cheez Whiz called simply Whiz or Wiz)
- wit or witout: as I briefly mentioned before, wit refers to the sauteed onions on the sandwich. You can order your cheesesteak wit onions or witout onions. Despite popular myth, it does not refer to green peppers on the sandwich.
Those that wish an alternative to Cheese Whiz will want to use a different vernacular. Simply order your sandwich with the cheese at the end, i.e. Cheesesteak wit and American or Cheesesteak with Provolone. Never order the sandwich with the cheese selection before the word cheesesteak, otherwise it just sounds awkward (is an American cheesesteak different from a German one?)
Places to Go
[caption id="attachment_903" align="alignright" width="224" caption="No Coke Here: Pat's King of Steaks serves Pepsi products"][/caption]
In my travels all over the east coast and throughout the midwest, I've only found one place that truly makes an authentic Cheesesteak. That place is Pat's King of Steaks. Located in South Philadelphia, where 9th Street, Passyunk Avenue and Wharton Street all intersect, Pat's has been doing things right since 1930.
Started by Pat and Harry Oliveri (brothers), Pat's makes the cheesesteak you come to Philadelphia for. They usually have a decent sized line for ordering, so much so they've split it into two windows. The first window is for ordering cheesesteaks only. The next window is for everything else: fries, soda, etc.
Pat's goes an extra step in their cooking process - they chop the thinly-sliced rib eye meat while they cook it. This way, you avoid pulling out a big chunk of pipping hot meat with your teeth and Whiz while you eat it. If you order cheese fries, they will put Whiz on there. If you don't like Whiz, do everyone a favor and get plain fries. They're just as good - decent size fries that put places like McDonald's to shame with their scrappy shoestrings.
[caption id="attachment_905" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="How to order your cheesesteak"][/caption]
Word to the wise is that you want to be prepared to order when the guy at the window yells, "NEXT!" Otherwise you're going to get yelled at. On my recent trip to Philly, my wife and I went to Pat's. We ordered our cheesesteaks (a total of $18.00 for a Whiz wit and one witout), and the guy behind us did the same. Skip to an middle-aged guy about six people behind us in line... wasn't paying attention... didn't know what he wanted... disaster. The guy at the window called "NEXT!" about 6 or seven times and the dude in line was in lala land. The guys quick ordering skills saved him from having to start over at the end of the ever-lengthening line. Moral of the story: know what you want before you waste everyone's time. It's best not to get an Italian annoyed on their own turf.
I have only been one other place that even comes close, but sad to say, falls just short of the original product. That place is Jersey's Cafe in Carmel, IN. Located in the shopping center at the intersection of of 136 and Meridian Sts., Jersey's specializes in east coast cuisine. From Jersey Rippers to Italian hoagies (not subs, hoagies) and an authentic NY deli Corned Beef or Pastrami on Rye, they've got everything you can imagine to well-represent the tri-state area. They stock only Thumann's - the finest in deli meats - and Tastykakes (don't ask, just click). They also import Pennsylvania Dutch brand soda products like ginger ale, Black Cherry Wishniak and birch beer.
A tip here is to come hungry and patient. Since being featured on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the normal wait time of anywhere between 25 minutes to an hour has just about doubled. Where there once was no line for seating, there is between a 10-30 minute wait for a table. But if you're in the neighborhood and you want to save the expense of driving to Pat's in Philly, you can't beat the price for the quality you get. While the do not use Amoroso's rolls, they do import rolls from New York City, so the quality is still there. That would be the only reason why I would discount their creation.
If you want to try a little taste of the City of Brotherly Love, order the 9th and Passyunk, which is essentially the Whiz wit. I've been there many times with my wife and it's the closest thing to home without leaving the state.
[caption id="attachment_907" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Don't let the name fool you: Lee's also serves cheesesteaks"][/caption]
While there are several other places to get cheesesteaks in Philadelphia (Jim's, Gino's, Lee's Hoagie House), Pat's is the one I'd recommend.
I hope you've learned quite a bit about a real Philly cheesesteak in this post. What to order and how and where to go to get the best Philly cuisine.
For those of you at home that want an original taste of Philly, but can't seem to find a place that will do it right, don't worry... I'm considering posting a video on how to make an authentic Philly cheesesteak in your own home. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see something like that.
In the future, I'll make other posts about how to make or buy authentic east coast treats like an Italian hoagie (it's not as easy as you think).
Meanwhile, if you're a Philly transplant to another part of the country, I'd appreciate hearing from you in the comments below, especially if you found a place where you're located that makes a decently authentic cheesesteak. It's time we give props to the people that do it right.