Rule #2 – Write from what you know
Many American cities are known for specific foods. These foods may come from the industries that keep those cities afloat, or from the immigrant heritage that settled in that area. When you say the name of the city, your brain immediately registers the food in question. For example,
Kansas City – Barbecue
New York City – thin crust pizza, brick oven preferable
Maine – Lobster
Boston – baked beans
Memphis – Barbecue
Maryland – Blue Crab anything
Alaska – King Crab anything
Chicago – deep dish pizza and more barbecue ribs
New Orleans – beignets and lots more
North and South Carolina – Barbecue
Texas – beef barbecue
Hmmmm…. I’m seeing recurring themes here… lots of seafood and barbecue. Not seeing any problems here, are you?
Anyway, my city of birth is Philadelphia PA, known for the hoagie and the cheese steak. Both are sandwiches. One is cold and the other served hot. Both are loaded with flavor and ingredients. Both tend to explode out of their bread shells, which makes it difficult to eat when you are dressed fancy or in your Sunday best. Neither is recommended on a low-fat, low-sodium diet – but there are ways around that, too!
The hoagie has cousin sandwiches with different names all over the country. I’ll give you my favorite way to make a hoagie in some other post. Even Subway gets this one right some times.
But the cheese steak, that’s another matter. Even in Philly, there are cheese steak wars. You have your Pat’s Cheese steak fans. You have your Geno’s Cheese steak fans. And then there are people like me, who chuck both recipes and make it up as we go. Here we have a sandwich that allows for some creative wiggle room.
|Pat's King of Steaks - 9th St. and Passyunk Ave.|
|Geno's Steaks - 9th St. and Passyunk Ave.,|
|the start of some beautiful sandwich warfare in Philly|
Oh, the memories of cheese steaks long, long ago! I grew up visiting relatives in South Philly and getting my cheese steak fix from a luncheonette at the corner of 15th and Shunk Sts. They put the basics together – crusty Italian bread-recipe roll, chopped beef steak, and cheese – with fried mushrooms, onions and green peppers. They didn’t usually use Pat’s or Geno’s Cheez Whiz or orange American cheese. Your choices here were provolone or mozzarella. Drip factor to the max with the mozzarella!
|1 roll + steak + cheese + stuffins = Heaven! (hold the mayo and ketchup)|
I don’t know if that luncheonette even exists anymore – only in my memory. But those memories have me now searching out Philly Cheese steak sandwiches all over the East coast. Many restaurants here in Maryland offer Philly Cheese Steaks. But the question is – are they AUTHENTIC? Some say, if it ain’t made in Philly, it ain’t authentic. I say, it’s a matter of taste. If it’s got the right blend of ingredients, the right textures, the right mouth-feel, the right drip factor… it’s authentic enough for me.
|Original Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich - notice orange cheese (not for me!)|
I started my search at a chain restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. They have a California Cheese steak sandwich on their menu. Ignoring the fact that they put “California” and “Cheese steak” together on the menu (sacrilege!), I gave it the college try. My sandwich arrived on a sour dough round roll, stuffed with chopped steak and a blessing of provolone cheese. It was chock full of fried onions, mushrooms and green peppers. They had the good sense to put lettuce and tomato on the side (some add it directly to the sandwich). This was a pretty good sandwich considering it was made at a chain restaurant. This Philly girl would rate it as:
Steaky – 4.5 (out of 5) drips
Bread – 3 drips
Stuffins – 5 drips
Overall drip factor – 5 drips since I’m still trying to get the grease spots out of my shirt. Not too bad, really!
Next stop was a local (Millersville, MD) foodie hangout called Zandi’s Grill. Fans of “Restaurant Impossible” will recognize the name, since it was one of those rehabbed from atmosphere to menu on the show. They offer Zandi’s Cheese Steak Sammie, which was stuffed full of sirloin beef roasted right on site. This baby arrived on a sour dough torpedo roll, with provolone cheese and lots of fried onions, mushrooms and peppers. This place put the lettuce and tomato right on the sandwich, but they asked me first. I wanted to hoagie-fy my Sammie, but drew the line at mayo and ketchup. (What is it with mayo on everything below the Mason-Dixon Line, anyway?) Using the above-listed rating system, I give the sandwich at this eatery:
Steaky – 5 drips – at least!
Bread – 5 drips
Stuffins – 5 drips
Overall drip factor – 5 drips. Yes, I’m still wearing some grease spots here, too. This place is a keeper on the “I-need-a-cheese-steak” list.
Last stop - on this round anyway - was the Chesapeake Grille and Deli in Bowie, MD. On their Hot Sammy menu, they offer a Sirloin Cheesesteak. They start with Angus sirloin beef, chopped and grilled up. They grill up the onions (not fried) and top it with provolone, all this on an Italian bread torpedo roll. I added grilled mushrooms to my sandwich and I did hoagie-fy it with lettuce and tomato. The cook added a Maryland extra – Old Bay seasoning! This sammy came with it’s own kick! The Old Bay took the Philly out of the sandwich, but was a very tasty touch. It was a great example of culinary creativity. Not bad, Maryland, not bad at all! This sandwich rated pretty well on my personal rating system:
Steaky – 5 drips – juicy but not fatty (serious yum)
Bread – 5 drips – brought back memories
Stuffins – 4 drips – needs some peppers and more ‘shrooms
Overall drip factor – 5 drips. No spots as souvenirs from this epicurial adventure, but I have a great memory of the Old Bay seasoning on the sandwich. It wasn’t a totally Philly experience, but it sure tasted good!
Ok, Self… you are so NOT done searching for the Philly Cheese Steak of your dreams. The tummy and the waistline will continue to seek out the best sandwich around. So far, you haven’t met a cheese steak you didn’t like.
Now to get more laundry spot remover….
By the way, here’s a short cheese steak history lesson. Check this out http://www.visitphilly.com/articles/philadelphia/top-10-spots-for-authentic-philly-cheesesteaks/ .
All photos are public domain.