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This came in via email from a reader named Ryan. I’ll second his opinion of 99 Miles to Philly. They’re okay. I’ve never had Carl’s.
First off, good job carrying the torch. That Arby’s commercial made me want to puke. Now I’m from Boston and grew up eating “steakancheeses”, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. BUT, I dated a girl from Philly for a few years and had my share of authentic cheesesteaks - some good, some bad, but they all had something in common: razor-thin steak, gooey cheese, and rolls that dissolved if you left them in the bag for five minutes.
When I moved to New York, i found two places that measured up:
Carl’s comes out on top, but they’re up in midtown and kind of a pain in the ass to get to. Now I’m back in Boston and cheesesteak-less, unless you count D’Angelos. (Don’t count D’Angelos.)
Just a heads up - keep up the fight!
Thanks for reading and writing in, Ryan. I’m glad as a non-native and as someone who may have never even lived in Philly that you’ve come to appreciate true cheesesteaks.
This is a great story from a reader named Bernhard.
This story doesn’t quite fit your theme, but I thought I’d share it anyway. Thanks for making me smile.
I’ve seen so many bad cheesesteaks outside Philly that I’ve given up testing them. I just have to go back to Philly occasionally to get my fix.
Last year, I was in Delaware with my wife and kids for a wedding. We flew into and out of Philly, and had just enough time left over to pop into the city on our way back.
So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go to South Street and stop by Jims. (I know it’s not your favorite, but was early afternoon and there were no lines.). As Jim’s came into view, my wife said “That’s it? No way I’m going in there!” I got three cheesesteaks anyway, onions, wid wiz.
When we got back to the car it was time to go to the airport. I gave two cheesesteaks to my daughters in the back and started in on the third while I was driving. My wife’s expression went from disgust to to “hmmm that smells good” and she asked if she could try it.
Next thing you know, she asks if we can go back to get another one.
'Sorry honey, we don't have time.'
'Well maybe we can catch a later flight?'
This email comes from reader, David. I believe he’s writing in response to this Tumblr Q&A.
Great description of a cheesesteak. A few additions:
- Slicing the steak thin is not enough. It needs to be chopped up. Some of the worst imitation cheesesteaks I’ve had have basically been steak that’s cut into thin slices like deli ham. Screw that.
- Regardless of the type of cheese used, it needs to be melted into the meat, not into the bun.
Also, people should know that there is a sandwich that consists of a cheesesteak, plus fresh (not fried) vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, and onion. This sandwich is called a cheesesteak hoagie. To make a cheesesteak hoagie, you must start out with a correctly-made cheesesteak, and add vegetables. There is no other correct way to do it.
Keep on fighting the good fight.
All true statements, David. I agree. I guess being the culinary novice that I am, I’m forgetting the chopped-up-part. Great point about the cheese being melted into the meat too.
I’ve been avoiding getting into the whole “cheesesteak hoagie” thing because it’s very confusing for some people. To those reading, a hoagie is our version of what NYC would consider a submarine. It’ a cold sandwich that typically contains (cold) meat, cheese, and fresh vegetables. A cheesesteak hoagie is the same idea except instead of the cold cuts and cheese, we put a hot cheese and steak on top of fresh lettuce, tomato and even onions. To me, this isn’t an authentic cheesesteak, it’s a hoagie.
Alright, despite my best efforts that’s still confusing as hell. I’m going to try to sway away from talking about hoagies because I am afraid that there’s probably a Californian somewhere reading this as their brain explodes.
An email from a reader, Frank.
Once and for all, in Philadelphia there never was (and I believe there still is not) any such thing as a “Philly cheesesteak.” There is only a cheesesteak. There are two acceptable kinds of cheese: (1) provolone, or (2) Cheez Whiz. There is only one truly authentic kind of meat — Minute Steak, but it is permissible to substitute chopped up steak of (slightly but not much) higher grade. In Philadelphia and at the shore, cheesesteaks vary in quality from good to great, which is almost entirely a function of choice of roll and sauce. Virtually all foreign efforts, even if basically qualifying for the name “cheesesteak,” fail on both quality counts.
The term “Philly cheesesteak” is the unmistakable badge of inauthenticity. The items served under that name around the country vary in quality from dreadful and defamatory (most of them) to still defamatory but marginally edible.
I hope that’s settled.
One point I keep forgetting to make is that on top of the steak having to be thinly sliced, it must also be chopped up while on the grill. Thank you for reminding me of this. I’m noticing there’s a lot of debate regarding cheese. In addition to the two that you mentioned (Whiz being my favorite), I’d also like to throw a vote in for American cheese. Though, there’s a huge percentage of people who believe you must go Provolone or go home. I personally am accepting of all three. Then there’s of course a lot of people who consider Whiz to be inauthentic and not even passable as ‘cheese.’ A conversation about this actually spawned on my Google+.
Anyhow, thanks, Frank. I appreciate your opinions, especially your last paragraph.