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!
Be Still My Clogged Arteries!: Fat Sandwiches in New Brunswick
I have always been fascinated by ridiculous sandwiches. Even when I was a kid and would see Dagwood, in the Blondie comic strip, make those crazy sandwiches, I was fascinated. In New Brunswick, New Jersey, there lives Rutgers University. Whenever you have a college, especially one as large at Rutgers, you get food trucks. These trucks, known as “grease trucks”, are exactly what you think they are: sandwich trucks. But these sandwich trucks spawned something interesting: The Fat Sandwich.
The Fat Sandwich is a bad meal on a long roll. That’s the best way to put it. You feel like eating a cheesesteak with a side of fries? Well, why not just put the whole thing on the cheesesteak? Maybe you wanted Jalapeno Poppers as well? Put those bad boys on there too. And maybe some chicken fingers? Yup, everyone in the pool!
So when I went to visit my friend Pat, who seems to be becoming my new food-partner-in-crime at times, we put down our beers long enough to decide to order some sandwiches. He steered me towards a place called Giovanelli’s. This place has a laundry list of fat sandwiches, as does a bunch of others. He really likes this place tho, so we ordered!
First up is the Fat Phillipino. Not a very politically correct name, but the tastiness of the sandwich makes up for it. I felt a little better about eating it because it has a lot of lettuce and tomato on it. Maybe it’s a mini-salad? Yeah, let’s go with that.
But this puppy is loaded to the gills. It doesn’t look so bad when you take a top down view of it. It looks almost tame, right? Like it’s a small sandwich? (This is a half by the way. Pat and I decided to switch halves in order to try 2 kinds. No wonder he is a graduate school graduate. I can’t even say that 5 times fast…)
Now let’s take a look at this thing from the side and I will go over the things that are loaded in here. Are ya ready? (And please, click on the picture to get the full effect. Yowza!) It’s got cheese steak, chicken fingers, gyro meat, mozzarella sticks, french fries, white sauce, lettuce and tomato. The fries were a little bit limp by the time the food got to us, but I’m ok with that.
The sandwich is supposed to have white sauce on it, but it did taste a little dry. I imagine it’s because of the time of transportation and also because of the bread and the breaded ingredients within the sandwich. How did it taste overall? It was pretty darn delicious, I have to say.
The second sandwich was the the Fat Giovanelli. I actually heard my Mom yelling at me in my head for eating this thing. The things I do for journalism! This one looks really harmless from the top, doesn’t it?
That red you see is hot sauce. It’s actually not a very spicy sauce but it does give the sandwich a bit of a kick. It also made the sandwich a lot less dry then the other ones, but it could have used more moisture. But, like I said, I think transportation and bread’s moisture sucking qualities kind of did me in a little bit. Don’t despair, beer helped.
Now check out the side shot of this thing (then go take your cholesterol meds). This thing contains: cheesesteak, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, french fries, bacon, egg, hot sauce. I am a HUGE fan of eggs on cheeseburgers, so when I saw there was a sandwich with egg on it, I was all over it. This thing does not disappoint. The egg gives the whole thing some more moisture and some great texture when you are up against the cheesesteak meat and the breading of the chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks. And again, the hot sauce moistens up the fries a bit.
So, would I eat one of these monstrosities again? Sure. Do I think I can take on the challenge of eating 5 that one of the trucks does? No way. Will I be eating salads the rest of the week to make up for the damage I did? Probably. I’d like to try another kind of these at some point, so we’ll see what happens. But thanks to Pat Farley for being smart enough to not only graduate grad school but also to know where the good places to eat are!
Tony Boloney’s Food Truck: Food Of The Gods
A little while ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Atlantic City Beer Fest. It was pretty awesome. Lots of beers from all over the world, friendly people, beer themed oddities to buy and food to eat.
Wait?…Food to eat? Well, yeah. You can’t have a whole giant convention floor full of beer and not offer food, that would be wrong. Or, more succinctly, it would result in some very drunk people driving their cars into the ocean. That’s not good for anyone.
There were lots of different food vendors selling everything from crabcake sliders to yelp offering pretzel necklaces to kielbasie sandwiches. But I was more interested in the truck with the curly moustaches on it.
Normally, when people start blabbing on their website about how good their sandwiches are, I tend to automatically roll my eyes. I am from sandwich-land, aka Philly, and it is real hard for me to accept boasts from others about these things. Even with pizza, I feel the same way. There is something in the water here that makes for fantastic bread (and, of course, dough. Doh!). I don’t know what it is (nor do I want to know, save your emails), but you can’t find it anywhere else.
I did some research before I went to the Beer Fest and Tony Boloney’s caught my eye. Funny little name. Fun to say is good branding, along with the big fat chef that’s the mascot. They have a pizza & sub (not hoagie, we are outside the Philly area) shop in
AC. They obviously understand branding and food, because the menu for the shop is like 4 pages long and every single thing is a different spin on favorites (Like meat on a pizza? Try the Casino Carnivore with “every animal noah brought on his ark ravaged by mozzarella”) as well as things I never would have even thought to make (Reuben Fries!).
They decided to start a food truck (and bring it to the Beer Fest!): The Moustache Truck! Obviously, these guys are up on trends and understand marketing. It’s nice to come across a food place that understands marketing that isn’t a shitty major chain. I had emailed them and asked if they might be interested in donating a shirt for the giveaway I was doing and they were excited about it! That was cool,
because a lot of the beer vendors and assorted other vendors came with nothing to sell, nevertheless give away (besides, ya know, beer). Another thing I loved about these guys is that they are putting forth the idea that people actually *live and are from* Atlantic City, a fact that a lot of people tend to forget
when they come to empty their pockets and stuff their faces full of famous chef restaurant food (not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is much more to the city then that). Their slogan “Indigenous Atlantic City Grub” hammers that home in a mouth watering way!
When I made my way over to the truck, I was impressed with the smartness of the menu: pizza and the cheesesteal ole’. People who are drinking love pizza and cheesesteaks! They had a bunch of pizza options, but as soon as I heard it, I knew I had to try it. What was it? Reuben Pizza!
Say what? That sounds odd. That sounds weird. That sounds…delicious. And you know what? IT WAS!
The Reuben pizza would have been something terribly simple to totally screw up. How much kraut do you put on? Do you just use a squeeze bottle to put the dressing on all around? Or do you use it like sauce and cover the whole pie?
Do you cover the whole pie with corned beef like you do with pepperoni? The questions are endless! (seriously people, I need a life.) I think they nailed it. They used a 2 cheese blend to keep the pizza from tasting flat. under the meat, there is kraut, under that is a glob of the thousand island sauce that ooozes a bit but not too much. So ridiculously good. I had to physically restrain myself from getting another piece.
I also really liked how they were having fun with the crowd. It got a little chaotic, so what did they do? They whipped out a bullhorn. There was no panicking (what I would have done. To the panicking!), no freaking out, just a little louder and they kept on cranking out some awesome pizza!
I realized, after awhile, that I wanted to try the cheesesteak: The Cheesesteak Ole’. This thing had apparently won some kind of 2010 Guy Fieri Cheesesteak Battle. (An aside: I find it funny that a guy from Northern California can put his name anywhere around something called “cheesestesk” because, um, that’s all that is wrong with the world.).
This thing was awesome. It might be a tad small, length wise, if compared to what we can get in Philly, but make no mistake, this thing si PACKED with meat. Is it more like a cheesesteak hoagie then a cheesesteak because it has lettuce and tomato on it as well as the cheese and steak? Probably. But honesty, I could not care less, because this cheesesteak was fantastic.
Let’s start with the steak. Chopped sirloin. A little different then the usual meat used, which is a thinly sliced ribeye, but it’s cooked tender with a 10 spice mix. It’s a kind of taco spice that works deliciously with the jack and chipotle house sauce. Have no doubt, this thing is cheesy in all the right ways. It sticks with the meat, not like a weird cheese “sauce” you see sometimes, and it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the roll either. I was a little thrown by the lettuce and tomato on the bottom (nice and fresh too), but it gave the cheesesteak a nice bit of texture. Finally, the roll was chewy but not too chewy, and really fresh. Those Atlantic City rolls are no joke!
Wrapping this rambling review up: if you find the Tony Boloney Moustache Truck anywhere you are, go grab some food! If you find yourself in Atlantic City, wander on over to 300 Oriental Avenue (by the new Revel Casino) and go grab some grub. This place is awesome and while I wish I lived closer to them, I’m kind of glad I don’t, because I really can’t afford bigger pants. My hat is off to the Tony Boloney guys! Go now! Go!
The Grey Lodge
I really want to like the Grey Lodge. Super, super badly. I hate going downtown to drink and I am not particularly in love with the jackass hipsters in Fishtown either. I also do not mind the northeast too much, so it is a decent change of scenery sometimes. So, when I had heard of this place a long time ago, and realized it is next to my dentist (oddly enough), I was kind of excited.
This place is a bar on Frankford Ave in Mayfair that stocks, what can only be described as, a shit ton of beers. In the cooler they have your regular array of Boddington and other recognizable overseas beers (for those who pay attention to this sort of thing). But they have, on tap, a great rotating selection of beers that range from local PBC to California microbrews to everything in between. They also offer them in different sizes so you can just have a smaller glass of a beer and then have a few different ones as opposed to one giant beer. They have done their homework and it shows. They even have a nice selection on their second floor, which could have gotten the shaft and had the usual Coors, Bud, whatever sucks crap.
I had arranged with one of the managers to reserve some space upstairs for a reunion, and the guy I talked to (Patrick) was super awesome, incredibly accommodating and professional. When we all showed up, everything was exactly like he had promised, and everyone had a really good time.
My problem is the staff behind the bar and the food. First off, this was not my first time at the bar. I had been there before, in the middle of the afternoon. The place had 4 people in it and a very short, young looking girl. She wasn’t too interested in taking my beer or food order, which annoyed me. Then when the cheese fries came out, they were limp and not fried very well. Mushy, would be a good word to describe them. But! It was the middle of the afternoon, so I cut the kitchen some slack. But if you don’t want to be at work in a service job in the middle of the afternoon, please do not take it out on the customers.
The second time I was there, I strolled in around 6:30 on a saturday. It was dead, but there was a lineup at the bar watching the ballgame. When I popped up on the barstool, the bartender literally sneered at me from behind his bushy beard and took my order like I was asking him to pick fleas off my cat. Again, I was annoyed. When I paid the fellow and he got his tip, he seemed relieved, which I thought was bizarre.
Later on, I moved upstairs and there were 2 women behind the bar that were nice, quick with the beers and food orders and tidy with the bar. I ordered my food and it arrived quickly.
I got the Lodge Steak (Fresh-sliced ribeye with cheese sauce, roasted pepper mayo, and Genoa salami). I wanted to get the Surf and Turf Cheesesteak (fresh-sliced ribeye with cheese sauce and marinated shrimp) but honestly, it sounded a little too good and I didn’t want to slop myself up in front of people I had not seen in forever (that can wait for next time).
Anyway, it came in a basket and I was a little bit excited. I love cheese sauce (I have said many times, as my friends can tell ya). The meat was kind of chewy, the mayo was nonexistant and the salami felt like it was right out of the prep area and onto the sandwich with no grill action or anything (it was cooked, as you can see in the pic by the black marks on the edges but I think not long enough for the thickness of the meat).
It was the most disappointing thing I have eaten all summer. I had such high hopes, that maybe I ruined it for myself, that no one could meet my expectations? I don’t know. Perhaps.
I want to love the Grey Lodge. I love the beers. I even like the decor (they had a cool Okocim metal sign upstairs!) and it is a very clean bar with ample room for darts. The bathrooms have glass collages in them! The management are very nice people! But the food…I just can’t get with it. I’ll be back Grey Lodge, maybe we can make it work then!