“Philly cheesesteak! Philly cheesesteak! You’re always telling me that you can’t wait until your son is old enough to enjoy a Philly cheesesteak!” Many times my grandson, Laith, would repeat these words to me about initiating his son to the delights of Philadelphia’s famous sandwich. This day I thought that I would bring his wish to a happy conclusion.
I invited my grandson and his family – his wife Maria and their almost two-year old son Bilal, along with his one-month-old brother, Tamer, to Tony Luke’s eatery, one of the top acclaimed Philly outlets in Philadelphia. Best known for its Philly cheesesteak and roast pork sandwiches, it also offers a wide variety of other sandwiches.
“Jiddy (grandfather) is taking you for a Philly cheesesteak.” I was talking to my great grandson, Bilal. “Bulldo! Bulldo!” (in his baby talk meaning bulldozer), my great grandson replied as he showed me the toy he held in his hand. Apparently, Philly cheesesteaks were far from his mind.
For some strange reason he was hooked on bulldozers. He seemed to be entranced with these excavating machines. Bulldo, not lunch was what ensnared him. While I was thinking of treating him to a tasty cheesesteak sandwich, he was dreaming of bulldos.
I had, during one of my previous visits, enjoyed these famous sandwiches of Philadelphia. However, today it was to be a special event. I was to be instrumental in initiating my great grandson into the Philadelphia cheesesteak world, and this was to be in one of the city’s eating places that is known as the home of the Philly cheesesteak sandwich in its most authentic form.
The Philly cheesesteak in its traditional make-up is an appealing crusty roll that is the symbol of Philadelphia. It is not only a delicious sandwich but also a living creation of the city, a tourist lure and the city’s favourite sandwich.
In its pure state the Philly cheesesteak is usually made from a long crusty roll filled with thinly sliced and lightly fried ribeye beef steak and topped with cheese, usually with Cheez Whiz, but American or provolone cheeses are often used as well. Other toppings may include fried onions, mushrooms, hot or sweet peppers. Some sandwich shops also offer a hoagie, a combination of the cheesesteak with cold dressings such as lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Today, cheesesteak and hoagie sandwiches have become so popular that they are readily available at steak and deli shops, food trucks, pizzerias and even some high-end restaurants throughout the Philadelphia region.
Philly cheesesteaks were invented in south Philadelphia in the 1930s. Pat Olivieri, a south Philadelphia hot dog vendor, one day was grilling meat for a sandwich. The aroma flowing from his grill enticed a passing taxicab driver who asked for his own steak sandwich. From that day the attributes of the Philly steak spread by word of mouth throughout the city. Soon Olivieri was doing a roaring business and this led him to open Pat’s King of Steaks to sell his new creation. Today, Olivieri and Geno’s Steaks, the rival shop across the street, have grills that are sizzling day and night – gold mines for the owners. For 40 years, the two shops which are in the heart of the Philly cheesesteak world have waged a friendly competition to win the title of best cheesesteak in town.
I had, during a previous visit to Philadelphia, tried the cheesesteak sandwiches in both these eating places. This time I was inviting my Philadelphia family to partake with me in another of the city’s well-known Philly stopovers.
I was thinking of the two historic Philly places when we entered Tony Luke’s sandwich shop to find that there was a long line of hungry customers. Luckily we found an empty table and were soon enjoying three types of Philly cheesesteaks – with Cheez Whiz, American and provolone cheeses.
First thinking of Bilal, I cut a piece of one of the sandwiches to give him a bite. “Bulldo! Bulldo!” He handed me his small toy bulldozer that he had put in his pocket before leaving on our Philly adventure. “The Philly cheesesteak will have to compete with the bulldozer”, I thought to myself. My invitation to a cheesesteak feast had come to naught. Bulldo had won over the Philly cheesesteak but, in any case, we grownups enjoyed our delicious cheesesteak sandwiches. All was not lost!
IF YOU GO
Some Good Places To Find A Cheesesteak in Philadelphia:
Nearly every pizza shop on any corner of every neighborhood in the city serves Philly steaks and cheesesteaks:
Barclay Prime serves what is considered the world’s most expensive cheesesteak, featuring Kobe beef and truffles. 237 S. 18th Street, (215) 732-7560, www.starr-restaurant.com
Campo’s Deli famous for its traditional cheesesteak and hoagies. 214 Market Street,
(215) 923-1000, www.camposdeli.com
Cosmi’s Deli is a relative newcomer among the cheesesteak vendors, winning recent accolades from Philadelphia magazine. 1501 S. 8th Street, (215) 468-6093
Geno’s Steaks, described in the article. 1219 S. 9th Street, (215) 389-0659, www.genosteaks.com
Jim’s Steaks, noted for the aroma of its fried onions for its cheesesteaks flowing from its doors. 400 South Street, (215) 928-1911, www.jimssteaks.com
John’s Roast Pork is frequently cited as one of the city’s top steak spots. 14 Snyder Avenue, (215) 463-1951
Pat’s King of Steaks, described in the article. 9th Street & Passyunk Avenue, (215) 468-1546, www.patskingofsteaks.com
Sonny’s Famous Steaks, offers a fresh, healthier take on the preparation of its steak sandwiches, frying the meat in its own juices rather than in oil. 228 Market Street. (215) 629-5760, www.sonnysfamoussteaks.com
Shank’s and Evelyn’s luncheonette for a highly reputed cheesesteak. 901 S. Columbus Blvd., (215) 629-1093
Tony Luke’s, located near sports complex, described in the article. 39 E. Oregon Avenue. (215) 551-5725, www.tonylukes.com