It's been awhile since I last posted, and I have a very good reason for that - I took a 5 day vacation to Scranton (Pennsylvania), Philadelphia, and New York City. If you're wondering why we went to Scranton - we're huge fans of The Office, and that show is set in Scranton.
Since Scranton is just a 2 hour drive away from Philadelphia, it seemed like a no-brainer to go to Philly and try some genuine Philly Cheesesteaks.
Prior to our trip, I had never actually seen a cheesesteak. I pictured something very literal - a slab of steak with a slice of cheese on top, packed onto a bun. I didn't like that visual very much (I like my sandwiches tender and easy to eat, thank you very much), but I also figured that Philly Cheesesteaks wouldn't be so famous if they weren't delicious. Wise choice.
After deciding that we had to try cheesesteaks, the next decision was where to buy them. From my research, I learned that in Philly there is a bit of a rivalry between Geno's and Pat's, two cheesesteak restaurants. If you like Pat's cheesesteaks you can't like Geno's (and vice versa). After reading reviews, both sounded tempting, but another restaurant, Jim's, sounded even better.
Apparently, the meat in Geno's and Pat's sandwiches contain a lot of gristle in it. That might be authentic, and it certainly wouldn't be a problem for my Pho-loving boyfriend, but since I'm not a big red-meat lover in the first place, it didn't sound right for me. Meanwhile, Jim's is known to have all the meat without the gristle - right up my alley.
When you get up to the counter, it helps to know how to order. The cooks behind the counter work fast to try to get the line to move as quickly as possible - you don't want to slow them down. So unless you want a special mushroom, pizza, pepper, or hoagie cheesesteak, the most important thing to explain is whether you want onions and what type of cheese you want. After hearing a few people in front of us order, it was easy - "two cheesesteaks with no onions, 1 whiz [Cheese Whiz], 1 provolone."
The finished product is hard to photograph well - just a ton of browned meat with a hint of Cheez Whiz. But the taste is phenomenal. The meat is lean but flavourful, perfectly thinly sliced, and tender. The creamy cheddar flavour of the Cheez Whiz adds a nice contrast to the meat. And the flavourful juices from the meat soak into the bun and drip over everything, making this a messy meal - but one you'll be happy to lick off your fingers, if necessary.
It's been almost a week since I tasted it and I'm craving it. I hope I go to Philadelphia again some day, even if just to have another cheesesteak.
400 South Street
Update: if you'd like to try making your own Philly Cheesesteaks, here are a few recipes worth checking out: