Fatty, oozy, meaty, cheesy, bready — cheesesteaks are a thing close to my heart.
There’s a joke there somewhere. It’s about a cardiologist.
I’m not from Philly, but the place still feels like home on the rare occasions I get to go. I lived there only two and a half years. This was a while ago. But it’s the first place I felt like I got to know through its food.
I was 21 when I arrived. This led inevitably to many, many late nights or early mornings or whatever the hell they are at that point.
On one strange night that involved a complicated situation with a female, 6 a.m. Or maybe it was 7 by the time my friend and I got there. I hope not.
Then there was the night with the hot sauce. Ow. Just … ow. Also: I may have peed in an alley.
Pat’s. Geno’s. Of course. (Pat’s is better.) A couple places not there anymore.
But a cheesesteak is truly a Philly thing. Get outside the city and there really isn’t anything comparable. And people there are loyal partisans. One night I took a friend from Reno to Pat’s after the bars closed. Long line, into the street. Geno’s is literally spitting distance away, ablaze in garish neon. There was first a murmur and then a full-on bellowed chant from the back of our line.
“Geno’s sucks! Geno’s sucks!”
The drunks were taunting the other line. People looked around like there might be a fight. I thought it was funny. But that’s how it can be there.
A real cheeseteak: Sirloin or top round steak, cheese, maybe onions, maybe cherry peppers, all on a good roll. Cheez Whiz, provolone, both — whatever. Shouldn’t be that hard.
So there I am on the South Side. Pittsburgh. Not known for its cheesesteaks. Someone told me Southside Steaks got its rolls from the Amoroso’s bakery in Philly. This is one of only two acceptable bakeries for a traditional cheesesteak roll.
It was cold. I was hungry. Early for something, but I forget what. I went in apprehensive. I saw words like “chipotle” and “Cajun” on the menu. Not helping.
The nice lady behind the counter tried to talk me into something weird and complicated even after I said specifically I was looking for something simple, authentically Philly, the real thing.
Thanks, but no.
That they went to the trouble to get the right rolls and listed Cheez Whiz as a menu option told me I should at least give it a shot. If I was serious about finding an exception to the no-good-cheesesteak-outside-Philly rule, there are worse things to go by.
Cheesesteak with onions, Whiz and provolone. I might not be 21 anymore — praise be; I was kind of a jackass — and it wasn’t 4 a.m., but this was worth a shot. No cherry peppers to be had, though.
The roll is critical because of the grease off the meat and the runny cheese. It has to hold up. All the while, it still has to taste like good bread. Good in that department. The meat was tender and well-seasoned. Onions browned into sweetness on the flat-top and not mushy or burnt. And the cheese tied it all together.
Pretty damn close. Definitely not bad. Might have to go back for another.