Cheesesteaks. I love ‘em. Maybe my favorite food. Either cheesesteaks or the still beating hearts of my enemies, (which I consume raw to absorb their courage, natch.) not quite sure which yet. Though cheesesteaks are easier to come by.
With all the references to cheesesteaks in previous Eighty-Four Glyde entries, (go ahead and check if you don’t believe me) I know exactly what you thought when you read the title to this column:
“It’s about damn time.”
And you’re right, for far too long have I neglected to write about a topic so near and dear to my heart. (Next week I’m going to continue the streak by writing about another topic dear to my heart: necrophilia.)
Webster’s dictionary defines cheesesteak as: “a type of food with a whole bunch of different shit cooked together and thrown on a bun.” And in this definition, they are correct. The typical cheesesteak has four basic ingredients, (yes, two of them are cheese and steak, how did you ever guess?) the final two being onions and bread.
I actually like my cheesesteaks with green peppers and mushrooms as well. My cheese of choice is provolone, (yeah Philly, I know all about the “whiz” but I’ll address that garbage later.) But you can get anything you want in a cheesesteak. Such is the beauty of said item of food; it can be tailored to any whim. Some people like banana peppers, (freaks) or other cheeses or even chicken instead of beef (if you can imagine such a thing!)
Whenever one thinks of cheesesteaks, one’s mind naturally thinks of Philadelphia (which is Latin, Phila meaning “town,” and Delphia meaning “of ridiculously narrow streets.”) The birthplace of the cheesesteak.
Now, while the town of the cheesesteaks is rarely, if at all, argued by people (except for real cheesesteak enthusiasts, I suppose) the establishment that makes the best cheesesteaks is a never-ending argument on the level of “Who Shot First, Han or Greedo?”
In the grand tradition of the Hatfields vs McCoys, Marvel vs DC, Peter vs Sylar, Transformers vs GoBots, Coke vs Pepsi and Great Taste vs Less Filling comes Pat’s vs Geno’s.
Located in south Philly, (at the intersection of 9th and Passyunk) Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are locked in eternal battle, across the street from each other, for Philly steak supremacy. Pat’s King of Steaks is widely accepted as the actual birthplace of the cheesesteak, sometime in the early 30s, though Geno’s Steaks, which appeared in the 50s, takes credit for actually adding cheese to the equation, (prior to that they were simply called steak sandwiches.)
Recently, I had the opportunity to patronize both establishments, to see just whose cuisine reigns supreme. First up: Pat’s.
As the originator of the cheesesteak, I felt that I had to visit Pat’s regardless of whether I was able to follow up at Geno’s or not. It’s not often that one gets to eat at a place where a type of sandwich was invented. But I didn’t go in there without knowing what I was doing. People who are familiar with Pat’s, know that, much like the Soup Nazi, there is a certain way that the food must be ordered. Failure to properly order the food will result in a lot of evil looks, rueful head shakes and being ordered to go to the back of the line.
The key to ordering at Pat’s is easy. In fact, they even have instructions there to let you know what to do. You start off by saying what kind of steak you want, there are a few different varieties and you can tell what the toppings are because they are included in the name. For example, as previously stated, I like mushrooms, onions and green peppers on my cheesesteak. So, I ordered the mush and pepper steak. Don’t bother telling ‘em what size you want, it’s a cheesesteak, it comes in one size: hungry.
Next, you say what kind of cheese you want. Philly residents go with cheese whiz, saying that it’s what makes a cheesesteak a cheesesteak. I disagree, since the cheesesteak was invented in the 30s and whiz wasn’t invented until the 60s. Besides my fav provolone, (considered, in some circles, to be the ultimate cheesesteak cheese) there’s also American, mozzarella and Swiss, though it’s considered bad form to order Swiss in Philly. So, at this point, my order is a mush and pepper steak, provolone, (you don’t actually say and, you imply a comma, they know what you’re talking about.) Lastly, you need to decide if your steak is gonna have grilled onions or not. Since I already said that onions are one of the base ingredients of a cheesesteak, I recommend getting them. If you want onions, you tell them “wit.” If your punk ass doesn’t want onions, you say “witout.” Pronounce it that way or you will have revealed your neophyte status.
So, for everybody keeping track, when I got to the window, I said, with frugality of words: “Mush and pepper steak, provolone, wit.” About two seconds later I got my food.
Pat’s is the original, so some leeway must be given. They did give me my steak with all alacrity, but the cheese wasn’t close to melted and the meat and toppings were tepid at best, but mostly cold. I felt bad. I thought that it could have been a pretty kick ass steak if it were hot, but its luke-warmness worked against it. On to Geno’s!
Since it’s literally across the street, I was worried that the people at Geno’s would see me walking up from Pat’s and spit in my food. I’m glad they didn’t.
Confident that I had mastered the ordering technique, I walked up to the window at Geno’s (both establishments have ordering windows and open air seating.) and repeated exactly what I said at Pat’s. I received the response that Geno’s doesn’t do green peppers, so I had to get a steak with onion, mushrooms and cheese.
Let me just take a second here to say something. Green peppers are not a rare ingredient, not even close. Hell, they’re all over the damn place. So, for a restaurant to say that they don’t do green peppers means that somebody made the conscious decision to not involve that specific vegetable. Strikes me as odd and potentially neurotic.
The second thing that caught my attention was a sign posted in the window. “This is America, when ordering ‘SPEAK ENGLISH,’” it said.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a patriot. As a soldier I don’t fall for that whole “I may not believe in what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” bullshit. And I often get annoyed when I go to the drive through and the person on the mic speaks two words of English and always messes up my order (“Pancake syrup on my Whopper? Are you serious?”) But even I know that sign is wrong. Besides the fact that there is no official language in this insane country, it is also bigoted and strikes me of those “whites only” signs back in the first half of last century. I don’t dig on that vibe.
I sat at a table and ate my steak. Geno’s has a unique approach, they don’t chop up the meat like people are used to, they leave it in big slices. I don’t know what that’s all about, but it seems to work. The Geno’s steak was better than the one from Pat’s. Sadly, with the lack of green peppers and the awkward approach to language barriers, in my mind Geno’s rates the lower of the two.
What do people in Philly think? Well, I asked a few and the word on the street is that Delassandro’s is the place to chow down on some yummy cheesesteaks. Go figure.