Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop: The Gold Standard
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!
Crabby Nachos Are Nacho Good
I’m on vacation this week. Some friends went to the shore with me and we went to dinner at The Island Grille in Ocean City. I controlled myself enough to not moon the Tabernacle assholes as we drove by (if you are unfamiliar: Ocean City is a dry town. The restaurants are hurting in this economy by not doing any sort of liquor and a lot of people will go to nearby Somers Point so they can imbibe. The restaurant guys came up with a plan to offer BYOB only between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but as usual, the rich douchebags don’t care about the working guys out there and lobbied enough to scare people into voting it down (by saying “The Town will turn into Wildwood” which I find to be elitist and douchey). The funny part about the whole thing is that they were saying that it would ruin the “family vibe” of OC if they let in liquor. Meanwhile, check out the recycling bins on trash day or the long lines at the 2 liquor stores conveniently located at the bottom of both bridges leading into town.) and we circled around long enough to park within walking distance of The Island Grille.
I found this place because my Mom had a magnet from there on her fridge, no kidding. The website looked nice and the prices seemed ok. They have nice outside seating as well as arctic ac inside if that’s your thing. They offer lots of seafood and pump in a lot of Jimmy Buffet music. I hate Jimmy Buffett but that’s just me. I guess it goes with the decor? Whatever. Anywho, as Julie, Cecilia and I sat down, we saw “Crabby Nachos” and ordered them immediately.
It said they came with crab and “cheese sauce”. I didn’t think much of it, I thought it would be cheese whiz, which I am a big fan of (keep your hate mail to yourselves). I could have done without the giant salad on top, but I suppose it was for color. For some reason, they used bagged tortilla chips. You might not know this but it’s cheaper to MAKE YOUR OWN CHIPS. Please take note, everyone in the food industry who insists on using these shitty chips. But, I am flexible. Perhaps they are busy and don’t have the time to do prep. Who knows.
I have to say they are not skimpy with the crap. These things have tons of crab on them. Do you like crab? I know I do (insert Will Ferrell doing Harry Carrey here). The crab doesn’t disappoint. What does disappoint? I hope you are sitting down.
Let’s start with the jalapenos, of which came out of a can. Seriously. Seriously? How about the salsa? Of which is also from a can (or, a plastic bottle). Seriously. Do you have any idea how cheap it is to make salsa? And the longer it sits, the better it gets, so it’s not like you have to throw it away every nite! You could make one big thing of it once a week and be done with it! Jalapenos that come from a can…I have no words for that. No words. Actually, I do have words: you suck.
Let’s sit a spell and chat about this “cheese sauce”. Now, I love cheese whiz. I am a Philadelphian, and it is in my DNA to enjoy a few things: Tastykakes, cream cheese, water that tastes like a pipe, and cheese whiz. I could put it on anything. I have put it on lots of stuff. I don’t want to say I have licked plates or wrappers that it might be on, because my Mom reads this and will yell at me…but I’ll let your imagination work it out.
This is not cheese whiz. This is straight up cheap ass, 7-11 nacho cheese. When I worked at the Sev, it came in a bag, and the pump attached to it. They might have it on a Bain-Marie, which is like a water bath type of thing, like you see on a buffet line. It would probably be in one like you’d see soups in. Do you know how cheap it is to buy shredded cheese in bulk? Super, crazy cheap. And that cheese is used everywhere and for something like nachos, it’s great! To say “cheese sauce”, you’d think it was something like the melted cheese sauce they use at Chickie and Pete’s for the Crab Fries. But no, no, you’d be wrong.
If this place was run by some idiot wahoos who decided it would be fun to have a restaurant without any training and they pulled this sort of thing, I’d understand. They wouldn’t know any better. But according to the website: “Andy is the chef and runs the back of the restaurant. Wife Allison manages the front of the restaurant. Andy is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University with a BS in Food Service Management and an Assoc. in Culinary Arts.”. Johnson and Wales is right behind the CIA in pumping out trained culinary people. There is no excuse for this.
So let’s see how this went:
Chips. Eh. Jalapenos. Bleh. Cheese. Ugh. Salsa. Nasty. Crab. Tasty. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. The crab is awesome, but the rest of it could be fixed so easily. Please, Island Grille, FIX IT.
Urban Saloon’s Cubanish Sandwich
One of the things I do on a regular basis is stand up comedy. There is an Open Mic on Monday nights at Urban Saloon called Laughs on Fairmount that I try and hit weekly. It’s a fun mic with a great vibe. Just as importantly, Urban Saloon has some great food. Last week they updated the menu and, being the glutton I am, I decided to give something new a shot. The new Cuban Sandwich.
This Cuban sandwich has pork, ham, cheese, pickles and a nice mustard on both sides. The pork is pulled and the ham was grilled before putting this thing together. They weren’t skimpy with the mustard and it was nice and warm when I got it. Overall, it was delicious.
I opted for loaded tater tots instead of fries (or a side salad) because Urban makes the absolute best with bacon, cheese whiz and green onion. Oh my god, they are awesome! Perfectly fried and the bacon is obviously not from a can or a bag. I have had them many times and I swear to you, you will never find a better tot plate in this city.
The one small problem I have with this sandwich, and it makes it not really a Cuban but a
cuban-ish sandwich, is this: Cubans are made on a roll. Always on a roll. Then you press it and it moves into delicious territory. This sandwich was made on white bread. So, technically that makes it a crazy good grilled cheese with meat..and a pickle. I’m still kind of puzzled about that. Maybe the kitchen didn’t have any rolls? Maybe they dropped the sandwich and it was the last roll and they had to remake it with white bread? I have no idea.
It was a good sandwich (which fantastic loaded tater tots) but not being on a roll was just weird. If they add a roll, this thing could be a huge, huge seller.