Here in Philly, cheesesteaks are a civic icon, a tourist draw and a cultural obsession. Often imitated around the world, the cheesesteak is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia
What Is A Cheesesteak?
A cheesesteak is a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese. Generally, the cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz, but American and provolone are also common choices. The art of cheesesteak preparation lies in the balance of flavors, textures and what is often referred to as the “drip” factor. Other toppings may include fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup and hot or sweet peppers.
Some sandwich shops also offer a cheesesteak hoagie, a hybrid version that combines the cheesesteak with cold hoagie dressings like lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
Cheesesteaks are fast, portable and readily available at steak shops, delis, food trucks, pizzerias and even some high-end restaurants throughout the region.
The cheesesteak made its official debut in 1930. Pat Olivieri was a South Philadelphia hot dog vendor who one day decided to put some beef from the butcher on his grill. A taxicab driver noticed the alluring aroma and asked for his own steak sandwich.
The next day, as the story goes, rumor of the delicious lunch had spread, and cabbies around the city came to Olivieri demanding steak sandwiches. Soon after, Olivieri opened up a shop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, Pat’s King of Steaks, to sell his new creation. Eventually, according to legend, he added cheese to the recipe.
Today, Pat’s grills are sizzling 24 hours a day, as are Geno’s, the rival shop across the street. For 40 years, the two shops have waged a friendly competition to win the title of best cheesesteak in town, with Geno’s founder, Joe Vento, claiming it was he, not Olivieri, who first added cheese to the cheesesteak.
How To Order A Cheesesteak
When ordering a cheesesteak at one of Philly’s most famous cheesesteak shops, the idea is to let the cashier know a.) that you would like a cheesesteak, b.) what type of cheese you want, and c.) whether or not you want fried onions. And you have to be as concise as possible while doing so.
Locals have become so adept at this practice that they basically have it down to three words: saying “one whiz with” to the person behind the counter means that you would like one cheesesteak [denoted by the “one”] with Cheez Whiz as your choice of cheese [denoted by the “whiz”] and with fried onions [denoted by the “with”]. Similarly, saying “one provolone without” would secure you a single cheesesteak [one] made with provolone cheese [provolone] and without fried onions [without]. Or saying “two american with” would get you two cheesesteaks both with american cheese and fried onions.
Ok. Got it? Now go ahead and test out your ordering prowess for real. Just be forewarned: lines can be long at peak times, and if you don’t have your order and money ready to go, you might be sent to the back of the queue.
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