Columnist Caitlin Weigel recreates a Philadelphia classic for her final column.
Philadelphia obviously has some great eats, but none is quite as famous as the almighty cheesesteak. Cheesesteaks are the spirit of Philadelphia, in greasy, edible form.
There are plenty of places to get your cheesesteak on in the city, ranging from the obvious heavyweight champs – Pat’s and Geno’s – to South Street favorite, Jim’s, to the spots that are worth the drive, such as Tony Luke’s. The city is packed full of places named after men that offer the Philadelphia staple.
It’s a pretty simple sandwich setup: start with delicious, fresh bread, layer on your chopped meat, add cheese at your discretion, maybe a few toppings and viola – Philly’s famous foodstuff.
I thought it would only be fitting to attempt to re-create our fair city’s most famous fare for my last column. And so, fully aware of the high standards I had to live up to, I gathered my ingredients and set forth to create the most noble of hoagies.
Freshness of the bun is crucial to pulling off the cheesesteak. For those truly in search of quality, I recommend heading to the Italian Market. L Sarcone & Son, located at the corner of Ninth and Fitzwater streets, is famous for its bread and would be a solid pick for the foundation of your masterpiece. While you’re in the neighborhood, swing by Isgro’s on Christian Street near 10th Street to pick up some cannolis for dessert.
For the meaty portion, I cooked up some Steak-umms, the classic frozen steak product that offers the perfect level of thinness. I chopped up a few onions to add to the mix, then in a burst of creativity, added a handful of mushrooms.
Then comes the great cheese debate. As a great appreciator of fine cheese-ry, I struggle to see the good in Cheese Whiz. I can appreciate that it certainly has it’s place – perhaps on overpriced nachos at the movie theater or in the stomachs of pre-teen boys without fully developed taste buds, but I like to think there’s something better out there. A sandwich as famous as the Philly cheesesteak deserves something better. In my case, it deserved provolone.
And so it was done. Combining the ingredients together atop a beautiful bun, whose soft doughy sides seemed to encompass the lot, giving it all a hug as if to whisper, “Shhh – we’re beautiful together. This is how it’s meant to be,” I stepped back to examine my work.
The results? Heavenly. With a dash of hot sauce on top just for good measure, I had created something beautiful and delicious. It almost brought tears to my eyes, though, I think that was mostly a side effect of the hot sauce.
The final verdict? It’s a tie. You can absolutely make it at home, where it will be cheaper and offer more customization options. But the beauty of the Philadelphia cheesesteak lies not in the taste of the sandwich itself but in all that it represents. So go out and get that cheesesteak – not because it’s the most delicious thing in the world, but because it’s something that brings Philadelphians together. It’s something that makes us proud, and it’s something to not just eat, but to experience. Go out to become a part of the hype and participate in one of the great traditions of Philadelphia.
Thank you for coming along with me this semester on my adventure through Philly cuisine. I hope no one suffered any severe burns, and you only had to throw away a few frying pans. Please continue on your quest to consume all that Philly has to offer and to achieve your own drool-worthy cooking accomplishments at home.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.