Archive for Philly cheesesteaks

WINE AND CHEESESTEAKS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 3, 2009 by ballymote

Let me confess before you read any further. I’m not sure ANY wine goes with a cheesesteak. If I had a gun to my head I might suggest a nice Zinfandel but, quite frankly, I have never had wine with a cheesesteak, nor is it in my future plans.

I wanted to write this post because as I find more readers stopping by my blog it occurs to me that many of them may not be from the South Jersey or Philly area. One of the questions that always seems to take center stage with visitors to this area is, “where can I get a good Philly cheesesteak. As a public service to those readers, I thought I would offer a few suggestions on where one might partake of one of life’s greatest pleasures. Strange, isn’t it, that I consider both wine and cheesesteaks as some of the best things on earth and yet, they don’t go together. In fact, my drink of choice with a great cheesesteak would be your favorite soda or a nice cold beer. 

Most discussions on the topic of who makes the best cheesesteak usually begin with the eternal Pat’s vs. Gino’s debate. These two bastions of the Philly cheesesteak sit facing one another in the heart of South Philly. Are they representative of a Philly cheesesteak? Yeah, they probably are. Are they the best examples? Nope, they are not. Everyone has their own favorite. That’s part of the fun. No two are exactly alike. That adds to the quandary. In fact, when I went online to look for pictures of cheesesteaks I had to look through over a hundred to find what I thought was the right look.

Glen Macnow, a Sports jock on one of our local radio stations recently went in search of the Ultimate Philly Cheesesteak. He ended up with a Top 45 list. Here are his Top 10. You can’t go wrong with any of these selections.

Glen`s Cheesesteak Reviews


1.  John’s Roast Pork, 14 East Snyder Avenue, South Philadelphia, 215-463-1951.
I love the smell of onions grilling in the morning. And that’s the best time to get to the classic and famous John’s Roast Pork, because it opens before 7 a.m. and closes down shortly after lunch.
This little shack of a place – nestled between train tracks and an abandoned building or two along Snyder Avenue – hardly needs our endorsement. It has been honored in recent times by Esquire and Gourmet magazines, named the best cheesesteak by the Inquirer’s Craig Laban a few years back and even won a snooty James Beard Foundation Award.
So, of course, we were skeptical. No place can be that good. But, tell you what – one whiff of the aroma wafting from John’s had us enticed. And one bite of the $7.76 cheesesteak, and we were in gastronomic heaven. This, my friends, is ecstasy on a toasted Carangi’s roll.
It’s about a foot long and a thing of beauty, as you unwrap the white paper surrounding it. Loads of molten sharp provolone oozed throughout every crevice of the sandwich. Top quality seasoned beef, sliced into ribbons. Onions that are sweet, while still retaining a little sting. The roll – crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside to hold the juices – even comes with some sesame seeds for flavor.
John’s has been around since 1930, and deserves to be recognized as a civic treasure. The day we went, the customers were a blend of cops and blue-collar guys and a couple of dark-suited attorneys debating a case as melted cheese dripped on their legal briefs. A great cross section of this city’s populace enjoying al fresco dining on a few picnic tables as the semis rumble through South Philly. 
This is family-run operation, Momma Bucci and her sons, and everyone behind the counter and on the flat grill is gracious – in other words, they won’t holler if you screw up the ordering code.

I run these food hunts every year in order to tell you which places are the best. Folks, John’s Roast Pork, quite simply, makes the greatest cheesesteak I’ve ever had.

2. Steve’s Prince of Steaks, 7200 Bustleton Avenue, Northeast Philadelphia, 215-338-0985.
There is a perception in this town that to get a genuinely great cheesesteak, you need to head south of, say, Washington Avenue. Too bad. Because the one we had at Steve’s in the near Northeast should eliminate any geographic bias.
The hand-trimmed roast beef is tender, thickly sliced and doesn’t have a trace of fat. Because Steve’s uses top quality meat (one of my tasters – a former butcher – declared it to be eye round, which would be very impressive) it doesn’t have to be diced into oblivion. Instead, it’s grilled in whole slices and laid across a torpedo roll. Ahh, let your eyes savor this thing of beauty for a few moments before your taste buds take over.

One more plus: The quality of the beef means they don’t have to cook into a vulcanized rubber mess. The pros at Steve’s actually take the meat off the grill when there’s a trace of pink left. Everything else is top shelf – the provolone had a little bite to it, the onions carmelized into a sweet accent and the chewy roll held up its end of the deal. 

This is a truly magnificent sandwich, one worth breaking the diet for, a cheesesteak for the ages. Others may haughtily declare themselves “The King;” we’ll bow down to “The Prince.”

3. Chink’s, 6030 Torresdale Avenue, Philadelphia (Tacony), 215-535-9405
The grill is in the window on this Tacony hole-in-the-wall, and if the sight of steam rising from the meat on the big griller isn’t enough to pull you in, then the long line for take-out in mid-afternoon ought to be enough of endorsement. This joint – around for nearly 60 years – knows how to make our city’s signature meal
Any great sandwich starts with the bread. Chink’s roll was perfect – crisper than most on the outside, softer than any on the inside. This was not just two slices of bread to surround the meat, this roll could stand up on its own. The other big plus here was the cheese – stringier than most, almost like a good pizza cheese. The beef was fine, although a little overcooked; the onion beautifully browned. 

A few other plusses: The servers are young and – well . . . let’s say, lovely. Since we’ve thrown all dietary caution to the wind, we ordered up a strawberry-banana shake, which was cold and thick and (3,000 calories later) made a great compliment to our cheesesteak. And the juke box blasted a medley of Beatles and Stones tunes, which played right into our middle-aged wheelhouse. All in all, a terrific back-in-the-day experience.

4. Talk of the Town, 3020 S Broad Street (at Pollock), South Philadelphia, 215-551-7277.
I’ve learned in my years at WIP never to ignore Anthony Gargano’s food suggestions. So when The Cuz recommended this long-time Sports Complex-area diner, we loaded up the SUV with interns and headed down. Great call. Talk of the Town may not have the big-name cache of some other South Philly staples – it just has a better cheesesteak.

Everything works to near perfection here: the finely chopped onions, which are neatly distributed throughout the sandwich (nothing annoys us more than when onions are just sprinkled on top and tumble off onto our lap); the great roll, soft but not spongy; the thickly-cut, gently cooked ribeye, and the mouth-watering provolone, with an emphasis on the word sharp. 

Because of its location by the stadiums, Talk of the Town likes to boast of all the players who stop by after games (they’re open until 1 a.m. on weekends). Maybe so, but we’re not into mixing celebrity watching with our cheesesteaks. Instead, we recommend going early, before games, and grabbing a cheesesteak to take to the ball game. Trust us, it’s a whole lot better than you’ll get inside.

5. Grey Lodge Pub, 6235 Frankford Avenue, Northeast Philadelphia, 215-825-5357
Every time I launch one of these food hunts, I discover (thanks to listeners) a gem of a neighborhood bar that serves great brew and has surprisingly great food. One such place was Rossi’s Bar & Grill in Trenton which won our Hamburger Hunt. Another is the Grey Lodge Pub, a cozy Northeast spot with dart boards, local microbrews on draft and one of the most flavorful cheesesteaks we’ve found yet.

This baby comes with sliced (not chopped) beef, big chunks of sweet onion and a generous amount of cheese. It arrives on a fresh roll covered with flour dust. It’s a tad pricey at $7, but, hey, you’re paying for the atmosphere as well, and I’ll give extra points for a sound system boasting Tom Petty, Cheap Trick and other geezer rock that I prefer. Overall, it’s an outstanding sandwich – tender, succulent, greasy enough to please my clogged heart. A real pleasant surprise.

Only afterward did we learn that Grey Lodge’s fries were named “Best of Philly” by Philadelphia Magazine. How did we miss that? Ah well, a good excuse to return and scarf some down with a pint of Sly Fox Porter. And return we will.

6

. Slack’s Hoagie Shack, 2499 Aramingo Avenue, Philadelphia (Port Richmond), 215-423-4020.
Full disclosure: Anyone listening to my show over the years knows that Slack’s has been a good sponsor and friend. I am proud of my association with this fine chain of sandwich shops. I am also proud to have sampled nearly every sandwich on the menu, although a little restraint from time to time probably wouldn’t hurt me.
Anyway, I keep coming back to the cheesesteak. It’s top-notch, because Slack’s doesn’t scrimp. They use loin tail beef, with a little skirt steak mixed in for flavor. The cheese is a creamy Wisconsin provolone and the roll is specially made for Slack’s by Amoroso. Nothing fake here, nothing artificial, no liquid injected into the meat. All in all, it’s a superb sandwich.

By the way, my radio partner, Ray Didinger, always orders something called “The Empire,” which comes with all kinds of veggies and peppers. C’mon Ray, why junk up a great thing? Stick with the basics.

Last time I checked, Slack’s has 16 locations in the Delaware Valley, but my favorite has always been the one at the corner of Aramingo and Cumberland. Beyond the cheesesteak, you can get a mean plate of onion rings, as well. 

7. Sonny’s Famous Steaks, 228 Market Street, Philadelphia (Old City), 215-629-2760.
This Old City steak shop received almost no notice from the thousand-plus folks who put comments on our Cheesesteak Challenge web page, and I’m not sure why. Thanks to my poker buddy who tipped me off., because Sonny’s is a spot that any self-respecting cheesesteak aficionado must not miss. It may not have the notoriety of some of the tourist-trap shops around town, it just offers a better sandwich.

They use rib eye here, fresh-sliced daily and cut thicker than most so that it doesn’t overcook. I like a tender cheesesteak. It may have a slightly higher fat content than some other places we’ve been to, but here’s the rub: They add no oil to the grill at Sonny’s, so the meat needs a little more of its own lard for cooking. All in all, it tastes closer to a good roast beef than your typical chopped hash.

A crisp and fresh roll, thickly sliced onions, better-than-average provolone. It all comes together to 
produce one of the best cheesesteaks we’ve had over this grueling six weeks. Sonny’s has been open for less than five years, we’re told. Keep cranking out sandwiches this good, and it should enjoy a nice, long run.
8. Tony Luke’s, 39 East Oregon Avenue, South Philadelphia, 215-551-5725
You won’t believe this – I’ve been to Tony Luke’s dozens of times over the years and never ordered up a cheesesteak. Roast pork with greens and sharp provolone, yes. Veal cutlet with broccoli rabe, many times. But cheesesteak? I don’t know; it just seems like the kind of thing I could get anywhere else.
 
 What was I waiting for? Tony Luke, Jr., one of Philadelphia’s great characters, puts the same care and quality into his cheesesteaks as he does into all of his signature sandwiches. The beef is thick and juicy and not overcooked. The cheese is laid on thick, and it’s tangy – real quality South Philly provolone, rather than the generic government cheese we suspect we’re getting elsewhere. The onions were nicely browned and incorporated throughout the sandwich so that – unlike other places – they don’t tumble onto the floor as soon as you take your first bite.

Several weeks into the Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge we’ve discovered that the great myth is that you can only get a great and authentic cheesesteak in South Philadelphia. Well, Tony Luke’s may not win our contest, but it is – by far – the best we’ve had south of Vine Street so far. Still . . . next time we’re here, we’ll probably go back to the veal cutlet.

9. White House Sub Shop, Mississippi and Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City, 609-345-1564.
We swore going in to this contest that we weren’t traveling as far as the Shore, limiting our search to the Delaware Valley. But so many callers and website bloggers insisted we try White House that we loaded up the Family Truckster and head for A.C. – bringing along, of course, our usual bag of loose change to fritter away at the casinos.

Was it worth the trip? Well, not judging by results at the tables. But the cheesesteak? Yeah, that was worth it. The meat here was first-rate. The onions were terrific – cooked to that great brown color, sweet but still a little crunchy. Top quality cheese as well.

The key at the White House is the freshly baked bread, still piping hot and boasting the perfect blend of crispy and soft. The sign on the window says it is delivered up to 12 times a day by nearby Formica Bros. bakery. Next time we go, we’re going to see if we can get a few of those great rolls to go.

So why isn’t White House at the top of this list? Two things. First, the sandwich was poorly assembled, with a mountain of meat in the middle, but nothing at the ends. (As we said, eating an empty roll here isn’t the worst thing that could happen). And second, they lose a few points for service. We called ahead for our cheesesteaks, but when we arrived, the order had been lost. So we stood around for a while – gazing at all the pictures of celebrities who’ve eaten there. They even have, framed on the wall, a towel that Sinatra used to wipe his brow at his last Atlantic City concert. How many sandwich shops can boast that kind of ambience?

10. Dalessandro’s, 600 Wendover Ave, Philadelphia (Roxborough), 215-482-5407.
It’s cramped and a little bit seedy and there’s no menu to speak of. No matter – we’re not headed to this Roxborough hole-in-the-wall for ambience. Our mission is one of the city’s great cheesesteaks and, in that regard, the 50-year-old Dalessandro’s does not disappoint. This is a worthy contender for our title this year.

Start with the roll, which was described as “squishy” by one member of my Taste Team, but struck me as fresh and tasty. The beef is cooked on a big flat-top grill that insiders say is regularly seasoned with fat. Don’t ponder that image too long, just enjoy the great blend of meat and grease. Hey, if you don’t like grease in the first place, why are you eating a cheesesteak? 

Dalessandro’s melts the cheese on top, the better to ooze cholesterol-packed deliciousness through the chopped – but not too finely – ribeye. The onions were cut a little large for our liking, and somewhat under-fried. We ended up pushing about half of them off the sandwich. That’s okay, there was more than enough to eat – Dalessandro’s is not stingy with the beef. One more plus: You can order up a beer with your steak. Now that’s a party.

What’s my favorite? Hmmm, hard to say, I’ve always liked Dalessandro’s, John’s Roast Pork has a great one (if you can find this place, it is NOT easy), Jim’s at 4th and South is a good choice and maybe the easiest location for visitors. Fortunately, there is almost no such thing as a bad cheesesteak, just varying degrees of good. I’d write more but I gotta run out to Pannichelli’s here in Washington Twp. before they close, and grab myself a cheesesteak nightcap!!

By the way, if YOU have a favorite spot for cheesesteaks and you want to share it with others, use the COMMENT section below to tell the world!

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