Philadelphia was a place that was bookmarked as part of my roadtrip. Most visitors come to run up the steps made famous in the movie, Rocky as well as see the famous statue. Personally, I came for the Philly cheese steak. As I was already behind schedule due to staying in New England area for longer than expected, I decided to take on the task of a big day of driving – fourteen hours in total from Vermont to Washington DC. The problem that plagued my mind throughout that day was, whether or not I stop into Philadelphia for a Philly cheesesteak?
I had already been up since 6am, with a full day of exploration and photography in Vermont and by the time the time had reached 7pm, I still had another three hours left until I would reach Washington D.C. I’ve had the almighty cheesesteak many times, but how many can say that they have had a Philly cheesesteak at the home of cheese steak?
Pat’s and Geno’s – The famous options
A few days prior, I put a shout out on Facebook as to where to find the best Philly cheesesteak. The overwhelming responses were: Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s. There are a few other recommended places like Tony Luke’s, but with the limited time that I had, I wanted to see what the ruckus was all about with the established and more popular options.
Pat’s and Geno’s, both open 24/7 are on opposing intersections which has been the scene for one of the longest running culinary rivalries ever been documented.
Pat’s is known as the self appointed inventor of the Philly cheesesteak back in the 1930’s when brothers, Pat and Harry, experimented with chopping up grilled steak and onion, and jamming it into an Italian roll. The exterior at Pat’s is quite humble, yet welcoming, complete with an all aluminium finish within a vicinity that is lit up with enough fluorescent lights to keep anybody awake at all times of the evening. They must get their fair share of intoxicated people come through here.
The only visible ornaments and decorations are the photographs of famous celebrities throughout time who have had the pleasure of having their gobs, wrapped around the famous sandwich. All of the images are in monochrome or have a sepia tint as a statement of how much longer that they’ve been around.
Geno’s is the late arriver on the block, having come on the scene in the 1960’s. Obviously, he’s had to make it own mark, so he’s gone with a styling that compliments his well documented larger than life personality. Looking at for the venue from afar, you are not going to miss it; with custom neon light fittings taking up most of the real estate, it’s a setup probably better suited for Las Vegas, than the city of brotherly love.
So between the two establishments, how does one decide where to eat?
I’m a believer of going with what you’re comfortable with, and that applies to the surroundings and ambience of where I’m going to eat. Not being a flashy and bright lights kinda of guy, I decided to side with Pat’s,
How to order a Philly cheesesteak?
Pat’s is notorious for its ordering guidelines. Standing in line feels like being in the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. However, the ordering process is straightforward despite having to use specific ordering language that may set human intelligence back a few years. If by any chance you manage to stuff this up then it’s the walk of shame back to the end of the line to start all over again. Apparently one can separate the locals from the tourists by this process.
On the recommendation of friends, I order the steak ‘wit’ onion and cheese whizz . Waiting for no longer than a few minutes on one of the picnic benches, the sizable cheese steak comes out exposed and unwrapped in all of its glory.The first thing that strikes me is the colour and viscosity of the cheese whizz. The intensely yellow coloured cheese is something that I’m not familiar with back in Australia, but it’s warm and runny and most of it has already seeped inside every possible crevice within the meat and bun.
The bread is reportedly of the Italian style, but I found that it wasn’t as dense as usual Italian bread. It lacked the distinct shine and crackly elasticity in the crust as a french loaf and Vietnamese Banh Mi, but there was still a hint of crust on the exterior and sufficient airiness to prevent it from becoming too heavy on the doughy side. Nevertheless, it was a welcomed change from the standard sugar ladened bread that is common everywhere in America.
With the meat being thinly sliced pieces of rib eye beef, my initial concerns was that it wouldn’t caramelize sufficiently before losing its moisture. This wasn’t the case as it came out succulent and without the flavour of boiled meat. The flavour of the meat was something that caught me off guard. I’m unsure as to how open they are with the preparation of the meat, but it tasted like it had been marinated in some sort of Asian marinade as there were distinct smoky flavours associated with Korean BBQ. Haters of onion, should still try it ‘wit’ onion as the sweet caramelization imparted onto them is enough to make any onion hater think twice.
Towards the final few bites of the Philly cheesesteak, the whiz cheese begins to firm up, and along with the change in temperature and texture, so too does the taste. While the cheese was warm, it acted as some sort of flavour sponge, soaking all of the meat juice, sweet onion flavour and made sure that for the next few hours in the car journey to D.C, I’d be excavating bits of flavoured cheese out from between my teeth.
Pat’s King of Steak is located at 1301 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147, United States and is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.