If you didn’t have a Philly Cheesesteak, then did you really even go to Philadelphia??
The answer is, no. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a Pennsylvania law that states that you are not permitted beyond the city limits without first having had a cheesesteak. I haven’t checked, but in the state where it’s against the law to sleep on top of a refrigerator outdoors or to sing in the bathtub, there’s gotta be something in there about eating a cheesesteak. However, cheesesteaks are good, so why wouldn’t I have one anyways?
If you ask someone where to get a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, they’ll tell you to go to Gino’s Steaks or Pat’s King of Steaks. They are by far the most popular cheesesteak purveyors, compounded by the fact that they are steps away across the street from each other (I stood in the exact same spot to get both of the above photos) and harbor a bit of a (fake) rivalry.
However, ask someone from Philadelphia where to get a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, they’ll tell you to go anywhere but Gino’s or Pat’s; and they’ll usually tell you to go to Jim’s Steaks on South Street. That’s where my friends took me when I visited, and I recommend that you have friends like mine that take you to the right places instead of the popular places.
Jim’s Steaks is small and narrow, and there is almost always a line, which gives you ample time to practice your order. Trust me, you want to be confidant in your order, because once you make it to the front of the line, they don’t take kindly to indecisiveness. They move fast and with purpose in order to pump out order after order of individualized cheesesteaks among other menu offerings. The line waits for no one.
Cheesesteaks are a very personal affair, everyone has their own preferences. There is no right way to order a cheesesteak, however there is definitely a wrong way to order a cheesesteak, and that is to order it with Cheez Whiz. You’re ordering a steak sandwich, don’t top it with “pasteurized cheese sauce” (read: not legally allowed to be classified as real cheese) from a can that is marketed to elementary school children.
Ordering a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz is like scheduling a full day at a spa. . . and booking a deep tissue massage from Edward Scissorhands. It’s like if when Michelangelo was sculpting his renaissance masterpiece, David, he thought, “You know what this really needs by Mikey? Yoga pants and a mesh shirt from the 90’s!”. . . and then he just did it. It’s like listening to “I Will Always Love You” by Whiteney Houston, only it’s not sung by Whitney Houston. . . really it’s Gilbert Gottfried version.
My cheesesteak of choice is a Philly Cheesesteak with Sharp Provolone and Onions, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than the one that is served up at Jim’s Steaks. The bread is soft and chewy on the inside with a slightly harder crust, providing a great texture vessel for the contents of the cheesesteak. The cheese (you already know which one) is layered directly onto the roll and topped with the steak and whatever other toppings you choose hot off the grill. This serves two very smart purposes; first it melts the cheese, which is one of the best consistencies of cheese, and second it provides a moisture barrier between the juicy steak and the soft roll. Without the noble cheese barrier, the whole cheesesteak would become too mushy, and no one want’s a mushy cheesesteak.
As always, the lesson here is to listen to locals, and not national popular opinion. Though, I guess I’m not a Philadelphia local. . . but still, you should listen to me because. . . I guess because I have a blog? Sure, let’s go with that.