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Philadelphia Hoag-Off


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Philadelphia is a city of famous sandwiches.

 

Today I did a cheese steak v. roast pork death match.

 

Cheese steak at Geno's. I've had imitation cheese steaks in New York and Boston, but never the real native thing. But you know what? How good can a cheese steak be? It's not like Geno's uses better (or even different, if you're talking about the better out-of-Phillie places) meat or special seasonings. Or like their method of preparation is better. So it turns out that a cheese steak is what it is. There's no hidden revelation when you go to the mothership. And what it is isn't all that distinguished.

 

Now it may be that a part of my negative reaction to this place was caused by the borderline nasty xenophobic signage they have all over the place. I'm usually pretty oblivious to political displays in restaurants -- all different kinds can gather over food -- but maybe these ones especially bothered me because they were so exclusionary. "Give me back my country!"????????????????????????? I doubt Joe Vento's family has been here much longer than mine. People should fucking remember where they fucking came from.

 

Roast pork at the DiNic's counter in the Reading Terminal Market. Unlike the cheese steak, this was something special. The pork was moist and perfect. The sharp provolone actually cut the fat. I know greens are the traditional topper, but I find them too bitter. I had roasted peppers -- which, to my surprise and delight, were hot peppers, which gave the sandwich a nice kick and further cut against the fat. Just delightful. (And I have to say the roast beef, served with a horseradish gravy, looked really great, too. Next time.)

 

There were three people working there. A white girl, a black guy, and an Asian guy. Fuck you, Vento.

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The DeNic roast beef sandwich is excellent, as is the roast pork wid greens n prov. The pork sandwich is incredibly messy, but wonderful. I've never had a bad sandwich at Reading Terminal Market

 

Both Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's (which is across the street) have been part of the civic dialogue in Philadelphia for many years. They understand and sometimes accelerate the tenor of discussion in their neighborhood, for better or worse.

 

Geno's has required that all orders be placed in English, or the local equivalent thereof, for several years. They make no accommodation for non-English speakers, which has led to periodic picketing, and increases in sales by people who agree with their policy. It's part of the local political circus.

 

Pat's is a particular favorite of many police agencies, and regularly sponsors benefits for charities related to officer issues. You may have noticed the NO PARKING signs on 9th across from Pat's, these spaces are informally reserved for police vehicles. When I was there in April, Pat's was selling steaks to benefit the family of a local police officer who was killed by an accused killer out on bail for another accused murder. Folks at a table were collecting contributions for a recall effort to end that judge's term of office, as well.

 

Both Pat's and Geno's have been actively involved in local issues for many years. Neither is likely to change any time soon.

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Cheese steak at Geno's. I've had imitation cheese steaks in New York and Boston, but never the real native thing. But you know what? How good can a cheese steak be? It's not like Geno's uses better (or even different, if you're talking about the better out-of-Phillie places) meat or special seasonings. Or like their method of preparation is better. So it turns out that a cheese steak is what it is. There's no hidden revelation when you go to the mothership. And what it is isn't all that distinguished.

 

I'm not much of a cheesesteak eater, but there are some false assumptions in that paragraph. Things that make a cheesesteak better or worse include quality of bread, kind of meat (sliced vs. chopped), cooking technique (how long does it sit on the grill before being served? how do they deal with the grease? etc.), how they incorporate the cheese, and so on. There definitely are better and worse cheesesteaks, and very few would claim that Geno's makes the best in town.

 

DiNic's, on the other hand, is one of the best, if not the best roast pork sandwiches in town.

 

Oh, and next time you're at Reading Terminal Market, try the hoagies at Salumeria (be sure to get the house sauce and artichokes.)

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What are considered the better cheese steak places? (I'm sure there's a thread on it, if I only did the research.)

 

I like Tony Luke's. John's Roast Pork has its partisans as well. Pat's beats Geno for the history and for the owner not being a raging asshole, but unless eaten after the bars close, it's not really worth it, IMO.

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Honorable mention to Pagano's. They make a very good sandwich. Most of the downtown places make horrible ones, mainly because they skimp on the meat. I also prefer Pat's to Geno's, even moreso since the "English Only" thing.

 

In my travels and experience, I find that any place that calls their sandwich a "Philly cheesesteak" is usually full of it. I ate a "Philly" cheesesteak at some now (hopefully) defunct eaterie in San Diego in the late eighties. The place was in La Jolla actually, and the steak was roughly chopped, chewy as hell AND had sun-dried tomatoes and a white cheese sauce on it - served on a wheat bun. I was never so offended in my life. We went there to eat something before going to see that godawful Pauly Shore at The Comedy Club. I've tried them in Boston, Los Angeles and Washington DC. The only ones I've liked were the ones made in Philly.

 

You can't glam up a cheesesteak. Sun-dried tomatoes? Alfalfa sprouts? Fancy cheeses? LOL - HELL to the NO! I do know that an inexpensive cut of meat works best, and it has to be on a roll that is crusty and chewy on the outside, and soft on the inside, preferably and Amoroso. The mom & pop places always seem to make the best, and you don't have to be an Italian-American to make a good one. You just have to know how to work that steak on that grill.

 

Don't even bother with those minute steaks they sell in the frozen food section - it is, at best, a major culinary fail.

 

I loved the pork sandwiches at Wawa's, but they have been disappearing in Center City like beehives. There was a place in Suburban Station below my old office building that made the best, with roasted peppers and horseradish...

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The place was in La Jolla actually, and the steak was roughly chopped, chewy as hell AND had sun-dried tomatoes and a white cheese sauce on it - served on a wheat bun. I was never so offended in my life. We went there to eat something before going to see that godawful Pauly Shore at The Comedy Club.

 

 

wow, a couple of bad decisions right in a row there.

 

i find pat's and geno's to be both uniformly crappy.

 

as far as other famous places go, jim's is OK but actually kinda small.

 

if you're heading to the pat's/geno's area, just keep walking to 8th & greenwich or dickinson, and hit up the cheesesteak at cosmi's deli, which is really good.

 

steve's up in the northeast, though, is still my favorite that i've ever had, i think. the only problem, if you're visiting, is there's not that many other reasons to head up there, and is the best cheesesteak really worth it? i'd say not. roast pork maybe. cheesesteak no.

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OK, next time with the greens.

 

(I tried the greens at the onetime NYC branch of Tony Luke's and didn't like them. But that was an NYC branch. The pork at DiNic's was infinitely better than at the onetime NYC Tony Luke's branch, so why shouldn't the greens be?)

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I'm not much of a cheesesteak eater, but there are some false assumptions in that paragraph. Things that make a cheesesteak better or worse include quality of bread, kind of meat (sliced vs. chopped), cooking technique (how long does it sit on the grill before being served? how do they deal with the grease? etc.), how they incorporate the cheese, and so on.

 

In my travels and experience, I find that any place that calls their sandwich a "Philly cheesesteak" is usually full of it. I ate a "Philly" cheesesteak at some now (hopefully) defunct eaterie in San Diego in the late eighties. The place was in La Jolla actually, and the steak was roughly chopped, chewy as hell AND had sun-dried tomatoes and a white cheese sauce on it - served on a wheat bun. I was never so offended in my life. We went there to eat something before going to see that godawful Pauly Shore at The Comedy Club. I've tried them in Boston, Los Angeles and Washington DC. The only ones I've liked were the ones made in Philly.

 

One thing I wasn't clear about: I understand that there are levels of quality in cheese steaks. What I meant to say is that there are actually some good out-of-Philly cheese steak places that I've been to (certainly Carl's in New York, for example). Ones that cook with care, rather than giving you indifferent deli slop. And, in my experience, they still didn't make cheese steaks amount to anything very great. Obviously what they serve is better than the slop -- but it isn't a great sandwich.

 

So I wondered whether the real Philly places do something with this dish that the out-of-town places just don't. And -- even accepting that Geno's isn't the best there is -- I'm beginning to think they don't. As I said, a cheese steak is what it is. There can be better ones and worse ones -- but I now doubt they can ever be great food (like a roast pork sandwich can be).

 

ETA -- We've all had experiences where dishes we thought were ordinary turn out, when done right, to have potentialities we never realized. I'm thinking right now of the first time I had dumplings with red chili sauce at the then newly opened original Canal St. Grand Sichuan International in New York. Up to then, I'd had hundreds of mediocre New York Sichuan renditions of this dish at dozens of mediocre New York Sichuan restaurants. They weren't bad, but they were certainly nothing special. It wasn't until I had the dish prepared well, with care, and better ingredients, that I saw that it could actually be excellent.

 

I was hoping to have a similar awaking with respect to cheese steak. I don't think it's happening.

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