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In Search of the Great Philly Cheesesteak
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Provolone CheesesteakEveryone has a general idea of what is in a basic cheesesteak.  But, unless you're from or have visited the Delaware Valley area, few people know or understand the exquisite flavor, aroma and satisfying taste that only a true Philadelphia (or as more affectionately known, "Philly") cheesesteak can provide.  The basic ingredients create a synergy that is much more than the sum of it's parts. 

Cheesesteak with everythingAs most people know, a basic cheesesteak consists of a bread roll, thinly sliced or shredded meat (usually beef, but now chicken is frequently offered, in which case it's called a chicken cheesesteak) grilled with onions and/or mushrooms or green peppers and of course, melted cheese.  Condiments can include sweet peppers, hot peppers, dill pickles and ketchup (never mustard), according to taste.   Cheese is usually in the form of American (white American cheese only), provolone or Cheez Whiz.  It sounds simple, but the culinary art skills, experience, environment and ingredients necessary to produce the consistent quality of cheesesteak that will pass muster in the Delaware Valley is not easy to acquire and often too sophisticated to effectively reproduce for those deficient of a Delaware Valley heritage.   ;-)

Cheesesteak with Cheez WhizHowever, I'll let you in on some of the local "secrets" to enjoying great Philly cheesesteaks and highlight a few of the best sources of true Philly cheesesteaks in the Delaware Valley, some of which will even ship direct to your door.  

First, let me establish my preferences regarding cheesesteak.  I'm somewhat of a cheesesteak purist, preferring quality, thinly sliced beef steak, provolone cheese and optionally, onions either grilled (called "fried") or raw. I may allow some simple variations depending on mood, such as grilled green peppers or mushrooms or condiments like sweet peppers or dill pickles.  I'm not strongly opposed to varying the type of meat, which can include chicken or even emu (I'll talk about where to obtain emu cheesesteaks later in this article).  
 
I will allow white American cheese or possibly even mozzarella, but I avoid the Cheez Whiz. I'm even open to a "cheeseless  cheesesteak".  Actually, a Philly cheesesteak without the cheese is simply a plain steak sandwich (called a "steak"), but as prepared in the Philly tradition it still tastes better to me than anything outside of the region. 
 
One ingredient I will not compromise on is the roll.  It must be baked by either Amoroso's in Philadelphia or baked fresh by another local bakery, preferably Italian in style.  (For those that can not handle the roll because of wheat/gluten allergies, there are bread substitutes that will provide an adequate approximation of the flavor and effect; or you can have everything, but the bread, and still get a somewhat satisfying eating experience.)


Pat's King of SteaksHistory:  The Philly cheesesteak was invented by Pat Olivieri in 1930.  Twenty-two years later he started offering Cheez Whiz in addition to provolone and white American cheese, as it shortened the preparation by the time previously required to melt cheese and it's flavor blended well with the other ingredients.   In the city of Philadelphia, you have a great selection of choices between the Cheez Whiz, provolone and white American cheesesteaks.  I'm of the provolone persuasion.  Once outside the city, you tend to find more of the (non-Cheez Whiz) provolone / white American cheese options, especially where they also serve good pizza and/or hoagies. 
 
Chances are, from my experience, if you find a good pizzeria in the Delaware Valley, you will be able to obtain a decent provolone or white American cheesesteak (because they have the best fresh bread and cheese ingredients.)

Terminology: In the Philadelphia area, the term "Philly Cheesesteak" is rarely used.  People in the Philadelphia area think more in terms of steak sandwiches and whether they are with or without cheese.  A steak sandwich without cheese is just called a "steak" and a steak sandwich with cheese is called a "cheese steak" or "cheesesteak".  You will see both spellings used, but when referring to the category of cheese steak sandwiches, then "cheesesteak" is the norm.  To order a steak sandwich with provolone cheese and with onions, you would say "provolone with"  (or "provolone wit").  Note that "with onions" always implies fried (i.e., grilled) onions, not raw. 

For the proper terminology to use when ordering at a traditional Philly steak place, here are references that include some guidelines for effective ordering:
How to order a Cheesesteak in Philly
How to order A Steak
Pat's Steaks and Ordering Technique

Eating Technique: Effective eating technique requires performing the "Philadelphia lean" when eating something like a cheesesteak in which there are juices that tend to run and drip.  To avoid getting anything on their clothes, Philadelphians will lean forward to bring their mouth up to the cheesesteak and keep the steak over the plate, instead of bringing the cheesesteak up to their mouths.


Geno's SteaksWhere to find great Philly cheesesteaks in the City of Philadelphia:
Chink's Steaks - 6030 Torresdale Ave.,
Dalessandro's Steaks -  600 Wendover Street in Roxborough.
Geno's Steaks - 9th and Passyunk, directly across from Pat's King of Steaks, since 1966.  They have an online store and ship steak sandwiches (but NOT cheesesteaks).
Jim's Steaks -  4th and South Streets and at several suburban locations. [click here for video]
Pat's King of Steak - Where 9th Street crosses Wharton & Passyunk Ave., Pat's invented the Philadelphia cheesesteak in 1930. [Click here for "How To Order A Steak"]
Rick's Philly Steaks - In the Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Streets.  Rick is 3rd generation to the original Pat's.
Steve's Prince of Steaks -7200 Bustleton Ave  (1 block south of Cottman Ave) in NE Philly.
A Taste of Philly - I've never used them, but they provide shipping of Philly style cheesesteaks and other local foods, including international.
 
 
Where to find great Philly cheesesteaks in the Delaware Valley:
Big John's - 1800 Marlton Pike E (Rt. 70, off of 295 Exit), Cherry Hill, NJ
Di Vello's, 122 Medford-Mt.Holly Road (541) and 200 Tuckerton Road, Medford, NJ
Donkey's Place (and Bar) - 1223 Haddon Ave., Camden, NJ - Make cheesesteaks on a round poppy seed roll (supposedly same amount of meat as regular roll).
Gaetano's - 440 Beverly Rancocas Road, Willingboro, NJ
Leo's - in Folcroft, Delaware County, PA
Little Hut Sandwich Shop - Ridley Park, PA, about 10-15 minutes from the airport.  Take out only. They offer a variety of steak meats, including chicken and emu (which, if you're wondering, tastes a little like...well... chicken, of course!); they also make hoagies.  They can provide overnight shipping of standard cheesesteaks and hoagies.
Mama's Pizzeria - Locate at 426 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd, PA
White House Sub Shop - 2301 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ

In South Jersey, most good pizzerias also serve a good cheesesteak.
The Jersey Shore has consistently good pizza and cheesesteaks.  Somehow, the ocean breeze makes everything taste better.
 
 
References for advanced research and study of the Philly cheesesteak:
Wikipedia - Cheesesteak
Cheesesteak 101 -
A Primer On The Who, What, Where And Whiz Of Philly Cheesesteaks 

                                  (also where/how to experience the famous Philly flavor)
The Philadelphia Cheesesteak - Parts I thru IV - a non-PC introductory guide to the Philadelphia Cheesesteak  (remember, you were warned)
The Best Philly Cheesesteaks - where to find the best local Philly cheesesteaks and where to find something close to a Philly cheesesteak outside of the greater Philadelphia / Delaware Valley area.
Reference.com: Cheesesteak - History, ingredients and preparation, availability elsewhere, links.
Philly Mignon - An authentic cheesesteak is as simple as meat, cheese, bread, and onions. Or is it?
The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Experience - Cheesesteak and other Philly experiences.
HollyEats - Guide to great Philadelphia food. Cheap.
Philadelphia Experience - Philadelphia fast foods, including the cheesesteak.
How to Make A Philly Cheesesteak - all about the ingredients.

Philly Cheese Steak - The Music Video (short)

Cheese Steak Video - Eating at Gaetano's
The Philly Cheesesteak - The Video



What are your favorite sources of great cheesesteak and what makes their cheesesteak great (click here to add your comments to my corresponding ActiveRain blog post)?


 

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