How far is it to Philly?
The Cheese Steak Shop is not so hot
I’ve never been to Philadelphia. Thus I have never eaten at Pat’s, Jim’s or Geno’s, the oft-named “Big 3” of Philly cheese steak shops. So one might argue that I don’t know what a real cheese steak is supposed to taste like. Fair enough.
But, damnit, I know what I like.
Let me just say this: Contrary to what’s written on the Web site of Bay Area franchise The Cheese Steak Shop, which claims boldly in red, “CAUTION: may be habit forming” (registered as a trademark, no less), it’s highly likely that I will never return to their new Chico shop or visit any of their other restaurants, which include 13 in the Bay Area, in search of something mouth-watering to eat.
Let me also say this: Having photos on the walls of cheese steak shops in Philadelphia, including the aforementioned Geno’s, does not guarantee that the food one receives at The Cheese Steak Shop is going to satisfy one’s desire for scrumptiousness. Unlike Smokin’ Mo’s—the four-location barbecue chain which also makes its name serving regional, almost folklore-ish, non-Cali food, and covers its walls with photos of “the real deal” shops—The Cheese Steak Shop does not live up to the expectations generated by the photos.
My cheese steak sandwich at The Cheese Steak Shop on Nord Avenue, was—fittingly for the bland-looking new strip mall into which it is tucked—distinctly bland.
Details: My brother and I ordered a “Large Meal Deal” to share: a 7-inch Philly Cheese Steak ($4.09 plus $2.99 extra for large Twister fries and a 32-ounce soda). We also ordered a side of onion rings ($2.19).
Scott liked the Twister fries (seasoned curly fries) because there was “not too much seasoning” on them, like at some restaurants. I agreed.
We liked the onion rings, and agreed that, though they were probably originally frozen, they had a “decent batter,” as Scott put it, and, thankfully, were not breaded.
We also agreed that, though the sandwich was made on the traditional Amoroso’s roll, it thoroughly lacked oomph, and lacked the juiciness and zest that I associate with a good cheese steak. Scott pronounced it merely “edible,” adding appropriately that “the sides are better than the sandwich, and you come here for the sandwich. That’s brutal!”
What we ate was a layering of tasteless meat over barely melted white American cheese on a cold roll, topped by coarsely chopped sweet peppers that seemed to have just barely grazed the grill, if they were grilled at all (and none of the grilled onions I had asked for). The heated ingredients on the sandwich, for all I know, could have been microwaved. We didn’t watch them cook it, but we never heard any sizzling sounds and the sandwich showed no signs of having been grilled. Like I said, it barely showed signs of heat.
I was so disappointed with my cheese steak that I needed a remedy, something yummy to take the place of this ho-hum eating experience.
The next day I went to The Original Philadelphia Deli at 905 Wall St., which I remembered from past experience as having the most divine sandwiches. I spent the lunch hour there in pure drippy, cheesy, spicy bliss, devouring my hot, steamy, aromatic cheese steak sandwich ($5.25, which includes a bag of Lay’s potato chips and a dill spear).
The taste of the juicy, finely chopped and grilled beef, onions, and hot peppers, slathered in hot melted white American cheese, served on a grilled roll stayed with me—happily—for hours. (How can two places make the same cheese taste so different? Answer: Toss the cheese in with the ingredients on your grill, and let those meat drippings do their delicious work!). In fact, I can still conjure it up and I look forward to taking Scott to The Original Philadelphia Deli to show him what I think a real cheese steak sandwich should taste like.