A few years ago, I was in Philadelphia for a conference for work. And no trip to Philly would be right without a proper cheesesteak.
Pat’s King of Steaks lays claim to be the home of the original iconic sandwich. This establishment has been operated by the same family since opening in 1930. On an opposite corner is Geno’s Steaks, another famous beacon of cheesy hot steak served on a roll. And I literally mean beacon. Geno’s is lit up like Las Vegas. While Pat’s seems every bit historic and stoic with it’s cupola-like windows on the upper level, Geno’s is completely shameless. Although the two places serve the same sandwich–the classic Philly Cheesesteak, the two places couldn’t be more opposite.
When I was there a few years back, a group of us took a morning and walked through Philadelphia’s Little Italy Market (well worth spending a couple hours here on a trip to Philly) and browsed some of the shops and cafes, as well as “oohed” and “aahhed” over stand after stand of fresh produce that lined the sidewalks.
After shopping, we headed to South 9th Street to try an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Most of my group opted for Pat’s, but I wanted to try both to see how the two compared. I went to Geno’s and split my cheesesteak with another coworker who’d ordered one from Pat’s.
I hate to admit this because I don’t want to take anything away from the rivalry of these two titans of cheese and meat, but I couldn’t tell much difference between the two. Most locals it seemed had a definite favorite, and could articulate things they liked about their favorite that the other lacked. Maybe I just thought they were both really good.
This fall, when we ordered our half beef, we had the option to order some “hoagie” meat cuts. The person who hooked us up with the beef and butcher recommended we get the hoagie cuts, as they were excellent. It reminded me of my mom making Steak-ums when I was growing up. Do you remember those? I wasn’t sure you could still buy them until I looked them up on the internet. I haven’t seen them for years.
For our first taste of the hoagie meat cuts from our beef, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. An authentic Philly Cheesesteak. I have had some really good cheesesteak sandwiches over the years, but nothing quite like the one I tried in Philly.
After a quick internet search, I actually found the recipes for both Pat’s and Geno’s. There weren’t a lot of differences: thinly sliced steak, processed cheese, onions and mushrooms on a hoagie roll. Easy enough.
These were pretty good, but there was just something about having them at a picnic table outside of Pat’s in Philly that could not be replicated. I guess it was all about the ambiance.
I used generic cheese whiz. If you order an authentic Philly Cheesesteak, be prepared to be asked “Whiz wit?” when you order. This means cheese with onions, peppers and mushrooms. If you answer “whiz without,” that means no vegetables. I don’t know how to order it without the cheese, nor do I think this is advisable. Just don’t do it.
Since I sorta took from both recipes and made it my own, below is the recipe:
Whiz Wit Philly Cheesesteaks (makes 4 sandwiches)
- 8 oz. thinly sliced steak
- 4 Tb cheese whiz or store-brand
- 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
- 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tb unsalted butter
- 6 oz. sliced mushrooms
- 4 hoagie rolls
- salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
- lettuce and tomato to finish the sandwiches, if you prefer
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onions. Cook until the onions soften and begin to get translucent, 7-8 minutes. Add the thinly sliced steak, piece by piece. You don’t have to lay it out flat in the skillet. We just dropped it in piece by piece. Season with red pepper flakes and a little pepper. Cook for a minute or so until the steak starts to brown. With a couple spatulas, tear the steak apart and break it into bite size pieces, stirring to prevent it from burning. Cook a few more minutes until the steak is done through and browned, and the juices have cooked off. (This steak put off a lot of juice). Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in a smaller skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the mushrooms and stir well. Cook a few minutes until the mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Add the mushrooms to the onion and steak mixture. Spread a tablespoon of the cheese whiz on each hoagie roll. Most of the time, I say there’s no such thing as too much cheese, but here, less is definitely more. The cheese was so salty the taste completely over powered the meat mixture. Definitely use a light hand here. Add the meat mixture. Top with lettuce and tomato if you prefer. Enjoy!