Yes, they’re bad for you. Who cares?
I was raised on Philly cheesesteaks. And excuse me for living, but in my neighborhood, we never, ever, ordered ours “wit whiz” — the way they do in South Philly. But we did regularly order cheesesteak hoagies (with lettuce, tomato and raw onion), or, as I always did, with a mix of sweet and hot cherry peppers — from places like the Essen House (conveniently located near my grandmother’s apartment) and Joseph’s Pizza (our go-to joint for dining in, picking up or delivery).
Speaking of Joseph’s, there’s an old family prank my sisters and I are still pulling 35 years later. It harkens back to our childhood and the contemporary version goes like this: You call your sister who’s now living in South Jersey/Bucks County/Edmonds, WA and say, “Hello, Joseph’s? I’ll have a cheesesteak with pizza sauce and raw onions. And my brother Ed wants one, too!” Don’t ask. Our brother’s name is Jake.
Clearly, Philly’s famous sandwich holds an emotional attachment for those of us who grew up eating Butterscotch Krimpets, running after the Jack & Jill Ice Cream truck and calling water ice “wooder ice.” In fact, in my early 20s, when I first moved to the West Coast, I recall driving 30 miles each way from my home in Santa Barbara with like-minded East Coast expats in search of some Philly cheesesteak-shack. There, we’d heard, a guy was selling the real deal. Turns out he was. We ate our steaks at picnic benches, knocked back some Tastykakes and went home. And then we drove back a week later to do it again.
Fortunately, living in Greater Seattle, I don’t have to drive that far. In fact, my favorite Philly cheesesteak here isn’t a cheesesteak at all: it’s the Gilbano, at Grinders Hot Sands in Shoreline, only minutes from my front door:
Is it authentic? Nah, but owner Mitch Gilbert doesn’t, er, steak that claim. But don’t get expats from the City of Amoroso’s Love started on the “no place like home” routine. Because when you do they’ll go on for days, comparing there and “here” — where ever here might be.
Ask an overfed former Philadelphian (or their South Jersey cousins) where to get the “best” cheesesteak around here and they might spout off about places like Philly’s Best, Philadelphia Fevre and Tat’s Delicatessen — among others. And who am I to disagree?
Anyway, in honor of the Phillie’s World Series win, I thought I’d inquire: What’s your favorite Philly cheesesteak joint? And do tell: what ingredients must the sandwich-maker employ to prepare that steak the right way for “yez”?