Part 7 - Philadelphia PA - Steves\Tony Lukes\Pats\Genos - Mon July 3, 2006
This was the first of two days at[url='http://www.sesameplace.com/sesame/pa/index.aspx']Sesame Place[/url], a Sesame Street themed amusement park about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Why two days? Because the cost of admission for two days is the same as the price of admission for one day. Right about 42 bucks apiece. Besides, I figured there was plenty for the kids to experience over two days - and there was.
Without going into the details, It is indeed a great park for really young kids. Some of you may remember going to an amusement park as a kid and wanting to ride this ride or that ride and then finding out you were too short to ride it. I know I do - I'm only 5'6" today and was always short for my age. Not so here....all rides can be ridden by young kids with the only real restriction being that they must be accompied by a parent. Which is great if you have a 1 kid to one parent ratio, which we did :-) Most of the rides are wet rides, and so if you go, dress for swimming and plan have a way to carry your cash and a credit card in some waterproof container you can secure on your person.
Oh, and the food here is expensive and awful. Really bad. The rules outside say you you can't bring in drinks or food, but we had no problem bringing in a few sealed juice drinks for the kids, some waters, and other small dry snacks we stuffed inside our change of clothes in a backpack in which we stowed in a locker (9 dollar rental plus 3 dollar refundable deposit on the key). But don't try to bring in an obvious cooler or lunch bags - those will have to be left behind.
We did not get out of there til 8, and with traffic and all, did not get back to the motel a mere 7 miles away til 10:30. I had planned on dinner at Tony Luke's for everyone, but the kids and wife were dead on their feet, so I got them some Wendy's (don't gag, they are perfectly happy with this stuff) tucked in the kids, kissed the wife, and with her reluctant permission headed out into the night alone to see what hoagies and cheeseteaks I could find
A note is temporarily necessary at this point. My camera had been temporarily misplaced, and so I left with the wife's camera in hand. I have not gotten it from her yet to download my food pics, so I add this note for now so you understand why there are initially only placeholders for pics rather than the actual pics. When I get the pics in, I will remove this note.
First stop - Steve's Prince of Steaks
I had run mapquest many times over to see how close various desireable cheesesteak places were to our motel in Trevose, and had early on noted that one of my top 5 - [url='http://www.gophila.com/C/Things_to_Do/211/Dining_and_Nightlife/223/Dining_and_Restaurants/221/Authentic_Philly_Cheesesteaks/361/U/Steves_Prince_of_Steaks/1049.html']Steve's Prince of Steaks[/url] - also [url='http://www.hollyeats.com/StevesSteaks.htm']Holly's number one favorite[/url] cheesesteak - was not more than 7 miles away basically due south, which in turn meant I'd end up closer to Pat's, Geno's, and Tony Luke's on the south side. I'd also confirmed Steve's was open that day, and stays open "late". [url='http://philadelphia.citysearch.com/profile/8921376/']Silvios[/url] was also about the same distance away and had received [url='http://www.hollyeats.com/Silvio's.htm']similar praise[/url], but the route there took me west, away from the south side of Philly. I wanted to try Silvio's, but not as much as I wanted to try the other three combined. With limited time, I reluctantly scratched Silvio's from my list and aimed the car south toward Steve's
This was not hard to find, despite the fact that US1 splits cleanly and distinctly into "you can only turn right" and "you can only turn left" streets that are side by side, seperated by a grassy/treed median. I also was not deterred by the driver who was going north in my southbound lane. I stopped well short of the guy, honked my horn and flashed my lights, and waited while he slowly and clumsily turned his car around. I have some suspicions that recreational pharmacueticals and/or alcohol may have been involved :-)
Looks the wife's camera takes lousy shots at night. Or I was hungry and lacked the patience to get a good one. Probably a little of both :-)
Like most of the Cheesesteak places I encountered on this trip, parking space was an afterthought, seating was sparse, the interior tiny, and options limited. Not a whine, just a fact :-) Like Pat's and Geno's, you order and pay for your sandwich in one window and order and pay seperately for drinks and/or fries in another. Odd, but it is what it is. The counter guys were brusque but not unfriendly - all business. I ordered the standard I had set for the trip - a whiz wit - and moved down to the drinks and fries window (the pic below shows the drinks and fries window close, with the fellow at the end ordering his sandwich at the sandwich window. Lots of free condiments in the middle. The place wan't in the best shape when I arrived, no doubt in part due to the late hour. They had a guy out cleaning up the service area just as I left.
I was was pleased to be able to get birch beer on tap. I ignored the fries despite not having eaten in 12 hours in order to save room for my other 3 planned stops, which turned out to be a wise decision. My sandwich was up in less than 3 minutes, and it was a thing of beauty
It is every bit as long as it looks - but maybe looks longer than you think due to it's overall flat-ness, which I'll get back to in a moment. Nonetheless, this was easily the longest of the sandwhiches I sampled on this trip. Pretty much the same amount of food, only flatter and longer than the others.
Now you'll note that the pic shows a roll that is far thinner than the others, in fact my first thought was "god, they flattened it", but that isn't the case. They use rolls specially made for them with less white bread innards and the same great crust I got on the Amoroso and Sarcone's rolls, so you taste more steak and cheese and less bread. Frankly, I love this idea. The steak was sliced rather than chopped, and I liked this better as well - seemed more like steak and less like coarse hamburger. Despite not being chopped, it was very tender and extremely flavorful. It was also loaded with cheese and was very messy to eat.
Hands down, this was the best cheesesteak of the 4 (5 if you count the bite of the wife's provy steak at Chubby's) I had in Philly. Just outstanding
I had every intent of saving half for later, keeping room to savor the other sandwiches I was to purchase that night, but my hunger and the absolute deliciousness of this sandwich got the better of me. Empty wrappers with noting but a few smudges of grease and a half dozen dabs of whiz lay before me in a few short minutes.
Second stop - Tony Luke's
I was a little nervous about this one, as I had left my map back at the hotel, but I knew [url='http://www.tonylukes.com/']Tony Luke's[/url] was near the freeway (I-95) and a good bit south of Pat and Geno's. And with [url='http://www.gophila.com/C/Things_to_Do/211/Dining_and_Nightlife/223/Dining_and_Restaurants/221/Authentic_Philly_Cheesesteaks/361/U/Johns_Roast_Pork/1048.html']John's Roast Pork[/url] and [url='http://readingterminalmarket.org/merchantView.php?id=22']Di Nic's[/url] unavailable to me (as a recurring theme of this trip, both were closed at this late hour. generally these eateries are open only morning and early afternoon hours), this was really my only shot at getting a classic roast pork with rabe sandwich from one of the "big three" - big in quality, not in name - roast pork sandwich eateries. See the [url='http://www.hollyeats.com/TonyLukes.htm']entry at Hollyeat's[/url] or the [url='http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Writeup.aspx?ReviewID=1232&RefID=1232']review right here on Roadfood.com[/url] if you have any doubts.
Luck was with me. I took a guess on an offramp, looked around to get my bearings, and spotted a sign pointing me to Oregon Avenue. SCORE! The exit let me off a mere block and a half from Tony Luke's. I wasn't brave enough to use the odd "middle of the street" parking available there, but I did find a spot just 30 feet away. Sweet.
I wasn't terribly hungry per se, so it the blurrines of the photo must be the wife's camera :-) Couldn't possibly be the photographer, oh no! :-)
Luck was also with me in terms of the line. Plenty of people were sitting on the many outside benches - if you want to eat there you eat outside, near as I could tell - but there were only two people in line when I took my place in the queue, and this after havign spent some time going over the large painted wood menuboard that hung over the glass of panels of the service area. It sort of reminded me of ordering at a walkup dairy shack of my youth, only on a much grander scale. The raised ordering window enhanced this effect, as the elderly lady manning the register crooked her head out and looked down on me as I prepared to order. I looked back - thank you lady luck - 20 people stood in line behind me (this at around midnight!), awaiting their turn to order.
I had it down cold by then - roast pork italian - pork, broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone on a large hoagie roll. My one disappointment was drinks - they served only pepsi products! Where was the local beverages? I had drained my birch beer from Steve's while driving there, so I settled for a lemon lime soda. I asked for and was granted double wrapping paper, as I wanted to conserve at least half of this sandwich for the wife to sample.
While I waited - it wasn't more than 3 minutes - I noted that Tony Luke had opened a Sport's Bar right across the street. I was sure it was also his as it was named Tony Luke's Sport Bar in large neon lit lettering. Anyone got any input on this place? is the same food available at the walkup window available in there?
I also noted a great melting pot of people in the assembled diners here at the time. Bikers nearly covered in tatoos, young couples on dates, families with kids, a businessman or two, and the obvious tourist or two (like me)
My name was called, and I sat down down and started to unwrap this thing of beauty. Before I saw it, I smelled it - all the steamy goodness of the roast pork intermixing with garlic and other spices, intermingling with the slowly melting but somewhat crumbly sharp provolone. My mouth was watering before I even got the outer wrapper off, even though I was still fairly full from the stop at Steve's. I can add that on the drive back to the hotel later, the whole car filled with the fragrances of this fine sandwich, tempting me repeatedly to deny my wife her sampling of this sandwich. If you appreciate a wonderful aroma as much or more than taste, I believe you will like this sandwich much more than any cheesesteak in town
I don't think this is a sandwich that a picture can truly do justice do, particularly this particular picture, taken under the stark yellow/orange lighting in TL's covered dining space in front, with my wife's clearly defective camera :-) Trust me, there is plenty of brocolli and sharp provolone underneath that pile of moist roast pork.
Here's a link to a somewhat more closer-up pic, in which you can better make out the pork texture and juice, as well as bits of provolone and some broccoli rabe peeking out on the far left http://www.roadfood.com/insider/photos/1069.jpg
The sandwich was absolutely phenomenal, second only to the Campo's hoagie and then only be a slight margin. The pork was juicy and tender, the brocolli moist and a little bitter, the cheese sharp and tangy. Lest I not forget the bread, it was excellent as well, although I think they could do better with a less bulky roll, ie less bread = more pork/cheese/rabe flavor. But the roll was so good, with such an excellent texture, that this really wan't a big deal.
Folks - get your cheesesteaks when you go to Philly, yes, no doubt, but a roast pork italian is or should be your second stop. Just outstanding.
Third stop - Geno's
I had told myself repeatedly in the weeks before coming to Philly that come hell or high water (no pun intended given the flooding that was occurring a few hundred miles north) that with Pat and Geno's open 24-7, I would definitely make it here, even if it happened to be in the wee hours of the morning. And so of course, that's the way it was.
I realized that Pat and Geno's are labeled as a touristy stop by some, and by others as a bad example of what a real philly cheesesteak is. However, having weighed all the evidence I could read on the net, my conclusion was (and is) that this is a necessary stop for any foodie who wants to make a serious comparison between various cheesesteaks, whether in Philly or elsewhere. I decided that the product served by Pat and Geno's is (for me) in effect the barometer by which all cheese steaks are judged. In a sense, this makes them "the average" from my point of view.
Anyway, once I left Tony Luke's, I knew that it was at that famous intersection - 9th and Passyunk - and that all the numbered streets ran north and south. So all I had to do was head westward from I-95 til I hit 9th, and then head north on 9th till I reached the cheesesteak "mecca". This worked out well, except - well, you'd have to be there to understand, but this is a fairly narrow street with cars parked on both sides and very little room to move through. The darkness didn't help either, but I suspect in the light there'd be a lot of people up and about in this tightly-packed residential area, and that might be worse as one tried to pick one's way north through a sea not only of cars but also of people.
Ten minutes later, I saw what I thought must be the lights of a gaudy Las Vegas casino. Gaudy yes, casino no. It was Genos! Lord do they have some tacky and overstated lighting.
It took another ten minutes orbiting this area to find parking, and then only when another vehicle exited a spot in a dimly lit alley about 3 blocks away and to the south. I wasn't thrilled with the location, but feared I'd find nothing better, and so I parked and then hoofed it to Geno's.
It was right about midnight when I made it there, and there were easily 30 people in line and another 30 or so eating/socializing at the few available tables or while standing in groups. I had time enough to note the many framed photos of celebrities eating cheesestaks and/or posing with the owner, as well as a number of plaques and noticed memorializing a police officer named Daniel Faulkner. I resolved to check into that later. In any case, the line moved suprisingly quickly, tho, and not more than 5 minutes later I had paid the 7 bucks for a standard whiz wit, double wrapped as requested. I watched them make and top the sandwich, and while it looked good, the emphasis was clearly on speed - the meat was slapped on the sandwich, onions added, and the cheese wiz brushed by knife on top all in less than 5 seconds. I kid you not. Wrapping was another 2 seconds, would have been less had I not asked for the double wrap. In any case, in the scant two seconds I saw this sandwich (and others, as I got near enough the service area to watch other sandwiches assembled) it was clear that the cheese and onions would not necessarily be evenly or even consistently applied to the sandwich. Then again, had they used more care, I have no doubt the wait would be a LOT longer as the time to build each sandwich would be longer. I strongly suspect that if you ask at that moment for them to stop and spread things out a bit better, you would get - best case scenario - a glare from both cashier and sandwich maker. Worst case - back to the back of the line. Said another way - be prepared to redistribute the contents nestled within the excellent amoroso roll by hand yourself afterwards.
I will add that I was very, very pleased to see that they did not chop the meat to bits like Chubby's does. I'm not sure they do this for any other reason than it takes less time as it eliminates a step - no chopping - but this is how I prefer my cheesesteak, tho admittedly I want to try more some day to be a better judge of this.
Speaking of attitude - I had arrived prepared for it, but was quite suprised - I got no guff, no attitude, and was suprised to see that others who were not ordering as the helpful sign (immediately preceeding the order window) directed get much kinder treatment than I had expected - that is to say, their orders were clarified and taken - no "soup nazi" treatment here! I had already decided to bring both sandwiches back to the hotel, so I only paused briefly to examine the condiment area and some of the photo's, before I walked the 100 feet or so through the milling crowds to get to Pat's.
Fourth stop - Pat's King of Steaks
I found some differences here - ie it was indeed a different business, with far less garish lighting, but there were more similarities than differences. Same big crowd, similar array of framed photos, similar lack of eating areas, exact same pricing, same roll, and virtually identical emphasis on speed in the building of the sandwiches.
One gent in front of me slapped down four 20-dollar bills and ordered 10 cheesesteaks. I groaned inwardly, thinking it'd be a virtual eternitey for me to get to place my own order, but his order was filled in under a minute. A minute! Where else in the world is such a large order filled so quickly? Again, no harsh words for anyone who violated the ordering protocols, which once again suprised me. From entering the queue to walking away with a sandwich with I knew had gotten much cheese whiz applied to it than I had gotten at Geno's took all of 7 or 8 minutes. Very impressive from a purely speed-oriented point of view, less so from a roadfood point of view. But it was late, and I knew my wife wouldn't be able to sleep til I got back, so speed had some value under the circumstances.
There were a few anxious moments waking back to the car - less so when a woman out walking a dog who abruptly informed me as she passed that her dog liked to bite people, and then far more so with the fact that I couldn't retrace my steps back to the car in the deep darkness and only found it after doubling back and executing a brief search pattern. I decided against using the car remote to make it honk the horn unless I became desperate, as this area is as I said a tightly packed residential area and it was well past many folks bedtimes, and breathed a deep sigh of relief when I found the car without having to do so.
I was amused briefly when I tried to pull out - another vehicle was waiting behind me to take my spot, just as I had taken the spot original as it's previous occupant pulled away. I worked my way eastward to I-95, and was back at the hotel in about 20-25 minutes. One comment - 3 or 4 different times during this particular drive, and at several other times when on highways in the Philly area - small groups of small-ish motorcycles zipped by me, easily above 90mph and perhaps over 100 - changing lanes every few seconds and generally scaring the crap out of me. Had this happened once - no big deal. It happened a half dozen or more times during our three day stay. Is this a Philly "thing"?
Final stop - The wife decide the best is.....
I brought in all three sandwiches - the untouched Geno's and pat's carryout as well as the half sandwich leftover from Tony Luke's. The wife first took a bite of the roast pork italian and said it was inedible. Inedible? How could this be, I asked - it's outstanding! After a brief discussion, she said comes down to the fact that she really, really doesn' like the taste or smell of the sharp provolone, which I in turn came to love. So there you go. I think she really, really wuld have liked a plain old unadorned roast pork sandwich, and that's what i will get her next time.
I then laid out a towel on the bedspread and upon that unwrapped the geno's and Pat's sandwiches and pulled them into rough haves for ase of sampling. She pronounced them both good, but definitely liked the Geno's better. More meat with better flavor, fresher bun, and ore cheese. This time, I wholeheartedly agreed with her - the Geno's was notably better even though it looked and smelled much the same. We ended up eating all of the Geno's sandwich and throwing away about half of the Pat's sandwich. I regretted trashing the Pat's sandwich, but only had enough room in the cooler for one or the other leftover and the Roast Pork Italian was hand's down the better of the two (the wife didn't want any leftovers and so she got no vote)
A footnote for the next morning - the kids hate broccoli, and I am always kidding them about inserting more broccoli in their diet. They'll ask for a hamburger one night, I tell them no problem, we'll go get us a broccoli hamburger. They want pizza? You guessed it, I tell them I'll order us up a broccoli pizza. This has gone on so long that at easter, I woke up to find my basket filled to the brim not with candy, but broccoli. My kids understand I am really kidding them, that I am not going to eat a broccoli sandwich or a broccoli pizza or broccoli ice cream with my broccoli birthday cake, but it is good for the occasional laugh.
So in the morning, I woke them up, and said "hey you two, look what daddy has for our breakfast". They love breakfast, so they ran right over, expecting pancakes or waffles or some other treat. It took them a few seconds to realize the horror - there really is a BROCCOLI SANNDWICH in this world! And daddy was eating it with obvious enjoyment! I had a good long laugh as they pleaded piteously with their mommy to not have broccoli sandwiches for breakfast. Mommy played along just long enough to pull out a box of Tastykake donut holes purchased the night before, chuckling, calling me horrible to torture the girls so. I didn't care - I had half of a wonderful leftover sandwich for breakfast - knowing I was in for another day of horrid food at the amusement park.
As a footnote - I took no pics of the Geno's or Pat's steaks in part because I felt it was unfair treatment of these sandwiches to photograph them after such a long delay. I also felt these two sandwiches are well documented elsewhere. I will say that laid side by side, you could barely tell the difference between them.