Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Philly Cheesesteak Adventure

Yesterday my husband and I decided to explore The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, PA. Philadelphia is a centerpiece of early American history, and served as the host to many of the ideas and actions that gave birth to the American Revolution and independence. Although the weather yesterday was downright miserable-cold, rainy, and windy, we didn't let it dampen our spirits or amend our planned itinerary.

First stop, Old City where we saw the famed Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, and the birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, Independence Hall.

Oh, and we visited Benjamin Franklin's grave too. Please, don't hate on the poncho. Some of you may opt for the more fashionable, socially acceptable umbrella. But when the rain is coming in sideways and the driving wind is chilling to the bone, the poncho is by far superior...no matter how "dorky".

After Old City, we headed for the Philadelphia Museum of Art- but not to look at the paintings and sculptures, although I am told that the collection at the museum is wonderful. Also, if it's not pouring down rain, the gardens next to the museum and Boat House Row are very nice areas to explore as well. However, my intentions at the museum were purely a pop cultural obsession on our tour of the city. You see, I have watched every single Rocky movie. More than once. Well, the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps are the very same steps that Sylvester Stallone (aka Rocky Balboa) conquered when training for his fights. I just had to reinact that moment on "The Rocky Steps". (In case you've never seen this movie, HERE is that famous scene.)

And so that's just what I did. Can you see me, all triumphant, at the top?

If not, here's a closer look...

I may have been a little too excited about this whole Rocky thing. Just maybe....

After all of the history (and running up steps), we had worked up and appetite. Of course, since we were in Philly, you can bet that we were hunting down some cheesesteaks! If you've seen the coverage on The Food Network or Food Wars on The Travel Channel, then you've heard of the rivalry between Geno's and Pat's which are conveniently located right across from one another at the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. We parked 9 blocks away and walked through the Italian Market, the oldest and largest working outdoor market in the United States. Pretty much a foodie's field trip dream come true!

With my jeans soaked up to the knees and blisters forming on my heels, we spotted Geno's looking like a neon-lit oasis on the horizon.

This certainly isn't my favorite picture of myself (all rain-sodden and sleep deprived) , but I have to include it, because here I am with Geno himself! Famous as this establishment has become, Geno still hands off the cheesesteaks at the window. Pretty cool!

A fun bit of trivia: Geno didn't actually start Geno's. His dad, Joe Vento started the business back in 1966. As it turned out, there was already a Joe's Steak Place in the city. Joe had to come up with a new name. A neighborhood kid had written his name "Gino" on a back door to the store. Joe changed the spelling to "Geno" and went with it. When Joe's son was born 5 years later, he and his wife named him after the business.

My husband and I split a Whiz (that's Cheese Whiz, folks) wit onions. No, I didn't mis-spell "with". That's the way you say it in Philly.

Then we crossed the street for Pat's King of Steaks. Definitely less flashy, but don't let that fool you. Pat's claims the title of "the originator of the steak sandwich". Straight from their website, "Pat's King of Steaks® was founded by Pat Olivieri in 1930. Pat had a modest hot-dog stand at the base of the famous Italian Market in South Philadelphia. One day he decided to have something quite different for lunch, so he sent for some chopped meat from the butcher shop. He cooked the meat on his hot dog grill, placed the meat onto an Italian roll, and dressed it with some onions. Just as he went to take a bite, a cab driver who ate a hot dog everyday asked what he had there. Pat said that it was his lunch. The cabbie insisted that Pat make him one. The cabbie took one bite and said to Pat, "Hey.....forget 'bout those hot dogs, you should sell these." The steak sandwich was born. As the years passed, both employees and customers alike demanded change..cheese was added."

Pat's actually posts the rules for ordering outside of their establishment. Hey-the lines can get pretty long...no time for debate or fumbling for change at the window! I had been warned of ordering procedure by some native Philadelphians that I met in Atlantic City this week, so I rehearsed the order in my head while my hubby counted out our cash before we approached the window!

Cheesesteak in hand (ordered exactly the same as the one we consumed at Geno's) we located a table. Note: there is only outdoor seating available at both establishments.

The verdict: Both cheesesteaks were pretty similar in taste...but my husband and I agreed upon a winner....Pat's King of Steaks!

Now for a more detailed analysis:

Admittedly, both cheesesteaks are pretty similar in taste. The biggest difference: the way that the meat is sliced. At first I was trying to put my finger on it, then I read this article on Associated Content stating the following:

"Both establishments use the same ingredients; however the way they prepare the meat is different. Geno's on one hand slices their meat in the fashion gyro meat is sliced. Pat's on the other hand, slice their meat like what you would expect in any cheese steak. The taste is not affected by this, but the tenderness is."

Honestly, my husband and I both preferred the texture of Geno's meat. Pat's meat definitely had more of a "steak" texture, but for me that meant one or two bites had chewier meat (and maybe even a bite of fat). Still, as we hovered over Pat's sandwich...about 2 bites in...I said, "I think that this one has just a little more flavor." To which my husband responded, "I think you're right."(Oh how I love those 4 seldom heard words!) Another edge in the Geno's vs. Pat's rivalry: My husband (being a connoisseur of hot sauce), used the hot sauce offered at each establishment to top his half of the cheesesteaks. I tasted a sample of each hot sauce from his sandwiches. We both agree: Geno's hot sauce was a bit overwhelming heat-wise, while Pat's hot sauce had more depth of flavor and added to the sandwich. Instead of hot sauce on my sandwiches, I opted for cherry peppers (complimentary toppings at both restaurants). These were same-same. My tip: If you crave a little more heat on your sammie, bite open a pepper and then either drip the pepper juice directly onto your sandwich or squeeze it onto the paper for dipping.

The bottom line is that both Geno's and Pat's serve a delicious cheesesteak and you can't go wrong with either, but yesterday, for us, Pat's won!

We're not the only people that hold this opinion. As proof, I conclude this post with a funny Atlantic City story: After a cold, rainy day in Philly, we sought refuge in that cozy Irish Pub back in Atlantic City that I mentioned in my last post. We bellied up to the bar for a nightcap next to a short, burly, red-headed man with what I can only describe as unruly mutton chops. He struck up a conversation with "How was your day?" or something like that. We ended up telling him where we'd been and started talking Philly cheesesteaks...which eventually led to the fact that I am a food blogger. "Oh, so did you go to culinary school?" the stocky fellow inquired. I explained my background and then he shared that he had attended cooking school in Philadelphia. Next, I stated a question/observation, "So you're a chef?" I was certainly not prepared for his response: "No. I'm a leprechaun." I tried very hard to keep a straight face as I proceeded with my next line of questioning (which I won't burden you with here). Bottom line: the man is a leprechaun. A professional (and even successful) leprechaun. 34 years running. Famous, even. I don't know why I doubted him, he certainly looked the part. He even showed me print ads of his work. Willie the Leprechaun. Wow. You can bet that I'm really kicking myself for dropping my camera off in the room before heading to the pub. I would love to provide proof. It's certainly not everyday that one meets a leprechaun.

Anyhow, while I was talking Philly Cheesesteak and the fact that we thought that Pat's had slightly more flavor with "The Leprechaun", the bartender jumped in with, "Pat's definitely had more flavor!" After a few more observations from the bartender, it was clear that he had picked a favorite: Pat's King of Steaks.

So, that's my funny Atlantic City story, we spent last evening in the company of a leprechaun. I haven't gambled here yet, but let's hope some of his luck has rubbed off!

Hope you are all having a wonderful week! And if you ever get the chance, visit Philadelphia and do the cheesesteak challenge for yourself!


Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

That old pick up line (I am sorry, can't resist)...

Hey lady, want to see me lucky charms.

Great well written post.

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chanda said...

looks like a great trip!

Unknown said...

So glad you enjoyed the City of Brotherly Love -- and our cheesesteaks! Next time you come back, I suggest a food truck tour. Or maybe testing out one of Iron Chef Jose Garces' many fine restaurants. Or perhaps some of our farm-to-table cuisine... okay, okay, I'll stop there.

Glad you had fun!

Krystal said...

my husband just got back from Philly with my daughter. I was stuck here in utah. He says he won't let me have a philly steak sandwich unless I'm in philly, so at least now I know where to get a good one! :)

Amy said...

I can't stop laughing.... If I weren't in my "dead zone" of an office I would be calling you right NOW!!! This is Hilarious!

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