Ruminations on a sandwich


This discussion was prompted by a post from my son concerning a commercial product primarily designed for people to make Philly Cheesesteaks at home.  It reminded me how disappointed I was in “the best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia,” and I couldn’t help comparing the Philly Cheesesteak to other iconic sandwiches that I have had and loved.  But first, a little history.  Invented by Pat and Harry Oliviera in the 1930’s, the Philly cheesesteak sandwich consists of shaved meat placed in a Hoagie roll, originally without cheese. Provolone cheese was added by a manager of the Ridge Avenue location. Other variations add mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and other varieties of cheese–American and Cheese Whiz.  Geno’s opened across the street from Pat’s and the rivalry has its partisans, with Jim’s added to the mix as well.
Let’s break down the classic Philly cheesesteak into its components:
1. The meat
The best meat used for this sandwich is very thinly sliced rib eye. Other cuts include top round and progress down in quality from there. Placed on a flat top grill, the meat is beaten up by the edge of a flat spatula to cut it into small pieces. Since the meat is not seasoned, it basically has no taste, even when it is from a rib eye, as there is not sufficient browning for a good Maillard reaction.
2. The cheese
The provolone on the sandwich I had at Jim’s was a domestic cheese with absolutely no taste. As for using velvetta or cheese whiz, since these highly processed products don’t deserve to be called cheese in the first place, one can imagine the disdain that I hold for them to be used in any application, much less an iconic sandwich.
3. Mushrooms
There are from a can. Need I say more?
4. The bread
This is, I think, one of the main reasons that I don’t like the Philly Cheesesteak. The use of a soft “hoagie” roll typically from Amoroso’s is the defining character to the Philly sandwich.  Amoroso’s Baking Company is a Philadelphia based, family-owned company that specializes in hearth baked breads and rolls. Over the years the Amoroso sandwich roll has become synonymous with those Philadelphia culinary institutions, the hoagie and the cheesesteak.  I don’t like this bread, as it is too soft, with no bite to the crust and an undistinguished crumb. The Gonella Italian baguette used for a typical Chicago Italian Beef sandwich has a much better crust, but using a great French style baguette is far better, and is one of the reasons that the New Orleans Po-boy is such a great sandwich.
So, there is a way to make a Philly cheesesteak that one could eat with complete satisfaction. It does not exist, as far as I know, commercially. I don’t include Jose Andres’ take on a Philly because he uses a cheddar cheese espuma filling of “air” bread and this is topped with Kobe beef slices (created at his restaurant Bazaar in the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles and I have not tasted it but it looks wonderful and the recipe reads great). My ideal “Philly Cheesesteak” uses seasoned thin slices of ribeye (frozen to start so there is time to get a Maillard reaction on the surface of the meat when it cooks, without overcooking the meat), a great imported provolone, sautéd fresh mushrooms and onions, and placed between a great French baguette sliced on the horizontal.  Now, there’s an icon for you.
Now, I know that this discussion will raise the ire of any Philadelphian out there, but one other conclusion that I have reached is that what you loved growing up effects your current opinions.  Imagine, if you will, the inability of getting most New Yorkers to understand, much less, appreciate, deep dish pizza!  I, however, can not put the classic Philly Cheesesteak in the pantheon of great sandwiches, sandwiches like the beef Po-Boy from Mother’s in New Orleans, the muffuletta from Central Grocery in N.O., the wonderful oyster Po-Boy I used to get from a little shack on Magazine Street in New Orleans, an Italian Beef with hot peppers from Al’s on Taylor Street in Chicago, or the lobster roll from Linda Bean’s in Delray Beach, Florida, to name just a few.
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About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. Nonetheless, I love a great Chicago style hot dog or Italian beef, even though the next meal might be haut cuisine. My biggest problem is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews! All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me, and when I am not the originator they are correctly attributed to the source author.
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One Response to Ruminations on a sandwich

  1. Pingback: In the Mood For A Really Great Italian Sandwich? « jovinacooksitalian

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