Category Archives: cheesesteaks
Nick Solares, head Meat dude at Eater came to Philly for Cheesesteaks. usually when people do that they hit the Pat’s, Geno’s and Jim’s Steaks. Waht no one seems to realize is that they are all tourist traps. No one from Philly really goes to those places unless it’s after 2am and you are druuuunk. Instead, Nick hit Joe’s Steaks, Dalessandro’s & Chubby’s and got some good Philly Meat Injection right into his face.
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I sat down with Philly Cheesesteak King Tony Luke Jr and had a great chat! We covered everything from cheesesteaks in Bahrain to Pizza in Dallas to high school in the 70’s. He was a great interview and a super nice guy to boot!
Check it out here!
or on itunes!
Cheesesteaks. Philly is known for them. They don’t make them correctly anywhere but here. If you doubt me, come here, eat one then try to get one somewhere else. I was once in a suburban Chicago diner and saw a “Philly Cheesesteak” on the menu. Jokingly, I asked the waitress if it was a steak on a roll. She said, with a straight face “what else would it be?”. That pretty much sums up cheesesteaks outside the Philly area.
Within Philly, there are good, ok, and amazing cheesesteaks. And then there is the best steak that blows your mind. It’s like a journey, trying to find the one steak that’s got the right balance of meat, cheese and onion (if that’s your thing). It’s the steak you tell your friends to go get, the one you point out of towners to, the one you hold every steak you ever had up to: The Gold Standard.
I have found my Gold Standard. Welcome to Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop.
But first, a little background. Joe’s is owned by Joe Groh. Joe had been working for years at the shop, which was called Chink’s back then. You may be thinking “hey, that sounds vaguely racist”. After all, it was named after a guy who, growing up, was called Chink because he had almond shaped eyes. Soooo, yeah. That was back in the 40’s, when these things were accepted by most people. Now that it’s over 60 years later, things have changed a bit and after buying the shop, Joe decided his steak shop should be named after him. Was there also pressure from various groups to also change it? Yes. But in the end, he made the lone decision. He did the right thing. In a day and age when people rarely do the right thing, mad props to Joe Groh.
Unfortunately, when people do the right thing, sometimes there is weird backlash. In this case, jerks from the neighborhood with zero empathy for anyone but themselves decided that Joe had no right to control his own business and his name. That he should have kept that nice old name. That the thousands of dollars he spent on billboards and website stuff and all the fun of rebranding was wasted because he should have listened to them and stood thier idiot ground. They have been threatening him and his business, as well as leaving disturbingly shitty remarks on the business’s facebook page. Joe, at one point, was quoted as saying his business was down by at least 15%. This is a guy with a family, running a cheesesteak shop. That’s not right.
And luckily, more people felt like that as well. Two weekends ago, a Philly mag blogger arranged a sort of eat-in at Joe’s and last weekend there was another of the same sort of event. That was the one I got to, with my cheesesteak co-conspirators Vicki and Alex.
It’s a little place, from an older time when neighborhoods still had local sandwich places and milk still got delivered on your doorstep. You can’t help but feel like you stepped back in time a bit, most of these places are gone now, changed into a shitty bodega or junk shop.
This place is the real deal. You can even stand outside and watch them work thier magic on the grill. You can see the decades of seasoning on that thing, the mountains of cheesesteak meat, the fried onions and the happy people in for a date, or catching up with friends. Maybe sharing good news or just having a fun day out. If that grill could talk, it would say….”shut yer yap and get to the cheesesteaks already!”.
Who am I to deny the grill?
Let’s talk cheesesteaks. First of all, the roll. Joe’s uses Liscio’s rolls. They are always fresh and amazing. You need a good base for a cheesesteak because of the cheese, grease and the sheer weight of the meat, if you get a roll that’s kind of stale, once you start eating, it’ll fall apart and that’s no good for anyone, including your shirt.
Second of all, flexibility. Try going to the tourist trap cheesesteak places and asking for no roll, see what happens. No cheesesteak, that’s what happens. Blank stares. Weird head shakes. At Joe’s, they’ll put it on a plate for ya, as Vicky is gluten intolerant. The waitress didn’t even bat an eye! The rumor is that Joe’s is looking into gluten-free rolls. So there’s that!
Cheese choices are nice. Joe’s has them. There is but one choice in my mind…wiz. Cheese wiz. Cheese Whiz. Spell it however you like, it’s my personal choice in cheese with meat. Oh yeah. I know it comes in a 10 can. I know it’s not natural to this world. I also know I rarely eat it, so shut it.
Joe’s offers double meat on its menu. Not all places do. I immediately ordered double meat because, as faithful readers know, I always get the worst thing on the menu. I do it for you guys, for journalism, for my cardiologist’s kids so they can go to a nice private school.
This was so unbelievably delicious,I couldn’t even stand it. I looked like a toddler eating spaghetti, covered in cheese whiz. Some places just cook the meat in slabs. Some places mince the meat so much it looks like shredded lettuce. Joe’s chops it up into decent sized pieces, doesn’t overcook so it’s juicy but still has the grill char, and then layers on some lovely fried onions.
The onions aren’t charred or burned, they just get to dance on the grill enough for a little carmelization to take place, and then they come to rest in the party in the roll. It’s the perfect storm of cheesesteaks. It’s what’s in Jules’ briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It’s the Gold Standard.
Did you think this place is a one trick pony? That it’s all cheesesteak and nothing else? Then you are sadly mistaken! First of all, when we sat down, the waitress brought us a bowl of pickles and peppers to graze on. That was awesome. Then we ordered some cheese fries. They were perfect. They aren’t house made but they were fried perfectly (just a touch crunchy and warm and fluffy inside. Suck on that, Chickie and Pete’s), no burned ones, no slightly off-color ones. They were perfect. They weren’t skimpy on the cheese either, giving us a nice vat of delicious cheesewhiz in which to dip our perfect fries. there may have been some wrestling as to who got to finish the cheese, but I’ll never tell…..
You like shakes? I like shakes. Shakes these days aren’t like they used to be (get off my lawn!) but Joe’s has it on lockdown with handmade shakes in heavy glasses and a nice wide straw so you don’t get an aneurism in that 1980’s McDonald’s milkshake style. There were a few chocolate milkshakes on the table and none of them got out of there alive. I’m not gonna lie Marge, there was some fries dipping into that milkshake.
They also have fountain sodas. I don’t mean a fountain soda machine. I mean like, they use soda syrup and make you a soda. With flavors like orange, grape, and cherry (and many more, like Vanilla Coke and others), I had to get a Cherry soda. Alex got one too. We both tried it at the same time and…there was quiet for a minute. Quiet contemplation on how rockin’ that soda was. Holy awesomeness.
A nice touch at Joe’s is that in the booths they still have the individual jukeboxes. A lot of diners have removed them to out in those godawful megatouch machines. If I want to play video games, I’ll sit in my underwear, play them on my couch and eat pizza, thanks. They don’t work, but they are in pristine condition with a silly assortment of pop and classic stuff (we spied Elton John’s Candle in the Wind and some Bon Jovi). It was fun to see and add to the ambiance.
Finally, one more awesome thing about Joe’s? The price. We got 3 cheesesteaks (one with extra meat) the size of buicks, 3 sodas, 3 milkshakes and a large order of cheese fries and it was 40 bucks. Try that anywhere else. I dare you!
So if you want a cheesesteak that will blow your mind and make your body hap-hap-happy, get your ass over to Joe’s! It’s in the Torresdale section of the city, like 8 minutes from I-95. You’ll feel good from the awesome food but also because you are supporting a guy trying to make a positive change. Also, have I mentioned the cheesesteaks? Go! GO NOW!
In the parking lot of the Showboat Casino, the AC Food and Wine Fest trucked on with “Redefine Cheesesteak”. And redefine they did.
Massive tents were set up in the parking lot and cheesesteaks were aplenty. Being from Philly, I am really picky as to how my steaks are, specifically that they resemble a cheesesteak or change the name. By definition, a cheesesteak is thinly sliced ribeye fried up with or without onions and served on a long roll with cheese of the american, provolone or whiz variety. Is it something I need to get over? Indeed. But I was able to bend enough to enjoy some of the offerings.
First up was Mike Scoats of The Grey Lodge and his merry band of steak slingers. The Grey Lodge is located on Frankford Ave in the Mayfair section of Philly and has a ridiculous amount of oddball beers and even hosts a Friday The Firkinteenth event on every Friday The Thirteenth that has just won Best Beer Event in Philly Magazine’s Best of Philly 2012! Mike has a great calendar full of fun things they do and an interesting menu full of outstandingly delicious food! He brought along his Lodge Steak for the masses to try: Rib-eye, Genoa salami, roasted pepper mayo & house cheese sauce. They cut their own steak, use quality imported salami and you can taste the handcraftedness. I guarantee you will not find a more unique steak in town. They could barely keep up with the demand of the people who came by and then returned, time and time again!
Next up is my friends at Tony Boloney’s! They won the Guy Fieri’s Cheesesteak Battle at The AC Food & Wine Fest in 2010 with their ridiculous Cheesesteak Ole’ and haven’t looked back since! If they sent Californian Fieri back home with the picture of the Ole’ in his head as to what a cheesesteak should be, then everyone is a winner! Their Cheesesteak Ole’ is actually a little more like a cheesesteak hoagie, but it’s still fantastic. It involves 10 spiced sirloin steak, pepperjack cheese & chipotle house sauce on top of lettuce and tomato. It all melds together to form what I like to call the Cheesesteak of Greatness. In all honesty, Tony Boloney’s, at 300 Oriental Ave and a stone’s throw fromt he Revel, is one solid reason to drive to AC. Keep an eye out for more of thier menu on this blog.
The Community Food Bank Of New Jersey had a stand and they weren’t messing around! A soft, buttery roll center stuffed with steak and perfectly cooked onions with a nice crumble of cheese of top made it one of my favorite steaks of the fest. I also love what they stand for: helping anyone who needs a hand in the area. They run a food service training academy, they run a whole kids division with a kids cafe (to feed kids who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to eat), a kids closet (clothing and coats), a backpack program and even a tools for schools program. They also distribute food, do catering and lots of other stuff. If you want to donate some money, sending them some cash would be a great move, or buy their new book “Cooking For Change: Tales from a Food Service Training Academy“. All proceeds benefit the Community Foodbank Of New Jersey! This is truly an organization that knows how to help people and help them move forward!
Percy Street BBQ come to the fight with their unreal take on the cheesesteak, which is not a cheesesteak at all. Frankly, I could care less because it blew my mind. Bercy Street BBQ sits on South Street in Philly between 9th and 10th streets, cranking out BBQ that, until recently, was only really available closer to the South. They understand what the ring is and they are dead serious about this fantastic meat.
The meat was carved in front of you and packed with delicious strips of it, and smothered with a creamy cheese sauce. Easily my favorite non-cheesesteak cheesesteak. Well, it’s actually a tie with..
This sandwich was unlike everything else at the fest! Definitely not a cheesesteak but definitely on my meat list! It was like juicy shredded potroast on a roll and I could not get enough of it. Unfortunately, I lost their business card and only remember that they were next to Tony Boloney.
I have to also mention that it was about 900 degrees that night. Eating cheesesteaks in that kind of heat does a number on your body. What helped was that there was plenty of beer, provided by Amstel Light, and plenty of booze, provided by Jameson, Jim Beam and Red Stag. Red Stag is a flavored whiskey that Beam is putting out. At first I found it to be a party foul of massive degrees to do such a thing, but after tasting it (the Black Cherry flavor), it’s actually kind of interesting.
Andrew Zimmern, of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, was the host of this shindig, and he is really the nicest guy ever. After talking onstage for a little bit, he hung out at his booth, making sandwiches for people, answering questions, taking pictures and overall being a very personable and cool dude.
It was super crazy hot and humid, like I said above and he very easily could have disappeared into his tent/trailer/hotelroom and retired for the night. He didn’t and that was very cool of him.
His offering at his table was a cheesesteak made, of course, of tongue. I found that funny, because, well, us Philadelphians are known for having big mouths. As you can see, it looks like a typical cheesesteak, with nice carmelized onions and green pepper strips. I have not had tongue before but I figured if Andrew can stand in that heat and cook it, I can stand there and chew it. It was a little chewy but the flavors were nice and subtle. The tongue itself has a really weird aftertaste that I didn’t particularly like, but I applaud the effort!
Here are some more cheesesteaks that were pretty awesome!
This steak from Carmine’s, the “Italian Cheesesteak” was pretty great, the meat was very juicy and the roll was deliciously chewy after it soaked up all the juices. two thumbs up!
Union Trust Steakhouse, at 7th and Chestnut in Center City Philly, was there too with thier very traditional but also awesome cheesesteak.
Square 1682 is a fancy pants restaurant in the also fancy Rittenhouse Square area of Center City. Thier little cheesesteak on a square bun (get it?) was amazing. It was like the big pot roast sandwich above but on a tiny little bun and covered with a delicious cheese sauce that was thick enough to stay on the meat but thin enough to roll around a little bit.
Lastly, but not leastly, was the Sammy D’s cheesesteak dumpling. As someone who used to make a cheesesteak pierogies, I have to say that these guys got it right. The meat was wrapped tight, with the cheese mixed in with the right proportions (too much and it’s cheese with a hint of meat, too little and it’s drier then a desert). Huzzah to Sammy D!
The event in general was pretty awesome: not too crowded but the chefs were all putting out top notch food for the crowds. My hat is off to Showboat and the organizers for putting together a fun event that clogged my arteries!
That brings the first half of Day 2 to rest. Stay tuned for the second half soon!