A few weeks ago I was excited for a show by The Charlatans in Montreal. Then it was been cancelled because drummer Jon Brookes had passed out and stopped breathing during their show in Philadelphia the night before. He was recovering in a hospital. Having recently been to Philly, my immediate thought was “cheesesteak.”
Cheesesteaks are notoriously unhealthy. This may explain why Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate in the United States. Imagine the greasiest cuts of beef fried with onions in oil and drizzled with fatty cheese in a large bun. And I’m talking large. Most cheesesteaks can feed three people but are typically eaten by one person.
Cheesesteaks were invented in the early 20th century. They are credited to Pat and Harry Olivieri, who opened Pat’s King of Steaks in 1930. In 1966, Geno’s Steaks set up competition across the street. The rivalry continues to this day, with locals queueing up at the South Philly grease purveyor of their choice.
Which one did I go for? Neither. I avoided the hype and followed the advice of a food critic for Philadelphia magazine who tried 50 cheesesteaks in 36 days. He was horrified by the meat at Geno’s, “riddled with pockets and veins of fat” and “a rainbow of colors from brown to gray.” The description of Pat’s sounded equally vile. So off I went off to try the “damn good sandwich” at Cosmi’s Deli.
Judging by the girth of people in Philadelphia, I was expecting something far worse. I avoided the Cheez Whiz topping and went for American cheese instead, which may have saved the day. The meat was quite tasty. It reminded me of thin lean cuts of fondue chinoise or Korean bulgogi, not the lardy stuff I’d expected. The cheese blended in perfectly. It was quite good, and left me feeling better than most poutines.
Something was wrong. This wasn’t the trashy experience I’d been promised. Maybe I should’ve gone to Pat’s. Or maybe I should’ve gone for THIS. Ouch!