Ah, the classic Philly cheesesteak. One of the most iconic sandwiches in America, the cheesesteak goes along with Philadelphia just as much as the Art Museum steps and Rocky. The sandwich consists of chopped up sautéed ribeye, a cheese of your choosing (most commonly whiz or American), and sometimes onions, all thrown onto a crusty long roll.
As the story goes, the cheesesteak was created in 1930 by south Philadelphia hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri. One day he decided to throw some finely sliced beef on his grill and make a sandwich of it using an Italian roll. A local taxi driver passing by smelled it and stopped and asked for Olivieri to make him a steak sandwich. The taxi driver enjoyed it so much he told all of his taxi driver colleagues and soon enough cab drivers from all over the city were coming by asking for steak sandwiches. Olivieri eventually opened a steak sandwich shop on Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue and called it Pat’s King of Steaks.
Who put the cheese in the cheesesteak is a widely controversial topic nowadays among cheesesteak vendors. The most iconic rivalry is between Pat’s and Geno’s which are right across the street from one another. Both restaurants claim that their original founders were the ones who first added cheese to the famous steak sandwich. Much like any rivalry, both sides have their fair share of supporters. Pat’s vs. Geno’s is the equivalent of the Mets vs. the Yankees of the Philadelphia food scene. Regardless of who actually did introduce the cheese to the steak sandwich, everyone is happy that they did.
One of the interesting things about the cheesesteak culture is the ordering process. Many cheesesteak vendors throughout the city of Philadelphia will kick customers to the back of the line if they do not know how to order a cheesesteak quickly and efficiently. You want to be as quick as possible. The best way to order is to say how many cheesesteaks you want, what kind of cheese you would like and whether you want fried onions or not. Frequent customers and native Philadelphians have it down to a science, “One, whiz, without (without referring to no onions)”.
Besides Pat’s and Geno’s there are hundreds of places around Philadelphia where you can get cheesesteaks, if not thousands. However, not all of them represent this amazing sandwich in its full glory. I’m going to give you the top places to get delicious, authentic Philly cheesesteaks (my personal favorite is Dalessandro’s). In no particular order:
- Pat’s King of Steaks
- Geno’s Steaks
- John’s Roast Pork
- Tony Luke’s
- Jim’s Steaks
- Dalessandro’s Steaks
- Steves’ Prince of Steaks
Here are some random fun facts about cheesesteaks:
- In December 1998, the Philadelphia Eagles set the world record for longest sandwich by creating a cheesesteak on a single roll as long as a football field, counting end zones.
- Steak-umm, the most successful boxed frozen sandwich steak, got its name during an argument over what to call it. Fed up, someone used a profanity followed by ". . . 'em, stick 'em with Steak-umm.
- The main reason steak rolls are better in Philadelphia is simple: freshness. Other cities don't have the volume to get daily deliveries.
- Bob Dylan once offered an autograph at Jim's on South Street, but got turned down by an unimpressed meat cutter.
- This past year Philadelphia had its first ever cheesesteak festival which included vendors, music, attractions and contests.
- The electric bill at Geno’s is $5,000 a month.
Well that’s just awesome, now I’m in the mood for a cheese steak.