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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dinnertime in the City of Brotherly Cheesesteaks

While driving home last night from a meeting in the Baltimore area, I was talking on my cell phone. I was being safe and using the headset, but I guess I was distracted enough to miss the split where I-95 goes up to Philadelphia and the I-295 heads up to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Jersey Turnpike. Rather than turn around and go back the way I came, I decided that it made just about as much to continue up I-95 and cross into New Jersey up near Trenton.

As I was approaching Philadelphia, a thought ocurred to me. Here I was, entering the City of Brotherly Love right at dinnertime. What serendipity, seeing how one of my favorite foods is the Philly Cheesesteak!! Whenever I see a cheesesteak on a menu, I stop reading, since I'm on something of a quest for the Holy Grail of Cheesesteaks. Of course, it might be that I stop reading the menu because my eyes kind of glaze over as I drift off into Cheesesteak Anticipatory Fantasyland. Sadly, I find that, more often than not, I'm disappointed with the cheesesteaks that I end up with.

So there I was, cruising into Philly. I called home and asked my wife to check the internet and let me know where I needed to stop for the best Philly Cheesesteak in Philly and she quickly gave me directions to Pat's King of Steaks, (click here for other people's reviews) on Passyunk Ave and 9th Street. My first problem was parking. The narrow streets were full of parallel-parked cars and I had to drive around for several minutes until I found a spot I could squeeze my little station wagon into before walking a couple blocks back to the restaurant.

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When I got there at about 5:30, the place was already mobbed, with a line wrapping around two sides of the triangular building. The open-air restaurant claims to be the birthplace of the cheesesteak, so it wasn't a huge surprise that it was so busy on the last Saturday of the summer, particularly with the St. Padre Pio festival going on just a couple blocks away. During the half-hour wait to get to the order window, I got to do some people-watching. A crowd of motorcyclists came roaring through. A family with a small boy stood behind me and the parents did their best to keep thier child from coming unglued as his patience wore thin.

When I finally made it to the window, I ordered a "Provalone pepper steak with onions" or "wit," as the sign spelled out phonetically. From there, it was on to the second window for french fries and a rootbeer, then finding a spot to sit so I couldenjoy my cheesesteak.

I've had better cheesesteaks. (The best ever was in Stroudsburg, PA, at a now defunct lunch counter in the back of an appliance store, with a sandwich made of New York Strip steak, gruyere, and exotic mushrooms!!!) but Pat's was tasty. The steak, itself, was quite good; thickly shaved (or is that thinly sliced?) top round, not the formed and pressed beef like I've often found. The onions were very lightly grilled, and were still rather crunchy, which was unfortunate. The peppers were placed on top of the meat, rather than being mixed in, and the provalone was in the form of several slices that formed the bottom layer of the sandwich. The bread was nice and chewy. In retrospect, though, I should have gotten the Cheese Whiz instead of the provalone, as the processed cheese goo seems to be the "traditional" version of cheese for the sandwich. Maybe next time. Unless, of course, I make my own, in which case, I might have to use gruyere and maybe some exotic mushrooms.

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