Among the multitude of places in and around Philadelphia that serve significant cheese steaks, Geno's is a classic. In the recent Roadfood team taste-test, it didn't make Number One in the listings, but neither should it be ignored in any roster of cheese-steaks-that-should-be-tasted.
Our own personal loyalties have wavered over the years from Pat’s to Jim’s to Olivieri’s (now Rick's, in the Redding Market) out to Mama's in Bala Cynwyd, but we have always appreciated a certain fundamentalism about the way things are done at Geno’s. The rolls are sturdy, the meat is cut thick and served in large flaps rather than a hash and, of course, the cheese choice includes Provolone, American, or Whiz.
The place itself is a beaut, similar to (and a French fry's throw away from) Pat's. Open into the wee hours of the morning, it is a magnet for night owls who eat standing under carnival-colored neon leaning forward at the waist so shreds of beef that fall from the sandwich hit the sidewalk rather than their shoes. Decor consists mostly of 8x10 pictures of the famous and not-so-famous people who have pledged their allegiance to Geno's over the years.
As at Pat's and most other traditional sandwich shops, it is crucial to arrive at Geno's prepared to order a steak properly: first give your choice of cheese then say the word “with” or “without,” indicating your decision on whether or not you want onions. In other words, “Whiz without” means a cheese steak made with Cheese Whiz but no onions. Philadelphian Marc Bruno informed us that if you want extra onions, you conclude your order with the word "bundle."
Red sauce is another option, creating a pizza-like steak; but for most aficionados, sauce is not an essential ingredient. On the other hand, you must have fries – or, better yet, cheese fries – on the side.