Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ode to a cheesesteak

Let me say straight off that if the Israelites had gone through Philadelphia before writing their dietary laws, the mixing of meat and dairy would be kosher today. They probably would have run across an ancient cheesesteak place and tasted the perfect blending of cow flesh and provolone.

My arteries are begging me for mercy at the moment, but I'm giving them no quarter. I'm in Philly. There are cheesesteaks here. I love cheesesteaks. I am going to eat cheesesteaks -- more than one. If my arteries don't like it, they can go live inside a vegan.

Not all cheesesteaks are built alike. There are three famous places in Philly. Two of them, Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's, reside on the same corner in South Philly. Legend has it that Pat's invented the cheesesteak. There's another on South Street called Jim's. They are cheesesteak factories that get a lot of pub in tourist magazines. I'm sure many folks love their product; I am not among them. When I order a cheesesteak, I don't want to be served a barely warm sandwich with the cheese slapped on haphazardly and not melted. Can't blame the shops. They're making a billion at a time.

At Jim's you stand in a long line and watch the steaks prepared. It's considered a delicacy here to apply a liberal quantity of Cheez Whiz on a steak in lieu of provolone. Vats of the stuff line the kitchen. Excuse me, but yecch. Imagine sitting down at the House of Prime Rib to a luscious, thick slab, medium rare, then dipping it into a bucket of French's mustard.

D'Allesandro's. Now THAT is a cheesesteak. It's a tiny shop in the Roxborough neighborhood in North Philly. I found it by Googling "best cheesesteak Philadelphia no goddamn Cheez Whiz." God bless Google.

First off, the folks running it are real nice, even in a hurry. Behind the counter, workers chop the steak as you order it and cook it naked for a good while. Then -- and here is what makes these steaks better than the rest -- they top the meat with the provolone and let the cheese melt completely. Meat and cheese become entwined as one, like young lovers. Then, the roll is placed over the concoction, and the cheese is allowed to melt onto the bread.

Excuse me. I need a moment . . .

OK, I'm back.

My friend Pete picked me up downtown and drove me to D'Allesandro's this afternoon. I like my steak "without:" meat, cheese, bread. Pete went with mushrooms, onions and something liquid and red. Now, to me that's akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but I'm not going to judge. Pete's a native New Jerseyer. Grew up 10 minutes from here.

I have to go to work now. It's difficult. Leaving D'Allesandro's for a year, watching it shrink in the rearview mirror, must be what it feels like for a kid going off to boot camp and giving his girl one final kiss before the bus pulls away.

Till 2011, ma cherie frommage.


  1. Roxborough is not in North Philly...

  2. You're making things way too easy for Dylan Hernandez, Hank.

  3. Out of curiosity, what's your take on Jake's Steaks off Lombard Street in San Francisco? Anywhere close, or does one absolutely HAVE to go to Philly to experience the true goodness of a cheese steak?

  4. I am so glad I read this. Just the thought of Cheez Whiz on a beautiful sandwich brings tears of sadness to my eyes.

  5. Roxborough is Northwest Philly (my mom grew up on Mitchell Street, near Ridge Avenue)- close enough for a dude from out of town. As for Dalesandro's, yep- but you can also get a steak "wid" or "widdout" but with Provolone, not Whiz, at Jim's- you just have to ask for it.

  6. Daniel, I went to Jake's Steaks for the first time Wednesday night. Very good. Not quite D'Allesandro's, but better than the steak I got from a stand inside the Reading Terminal Market in Philly -- and definitely better than Pat's or Geno's.

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