Welcome, dear reader, to the latest installment of "The Healthy Humorist®'s Guide to Unhealthy Eating Across America." If you're a first-timer, here's the skinny (so to speak): My name's Brad Nieder. I'm a doctor, comedian and keynote speaker, and I travel around the country delivering my "Laughter is the Best Medicine" shtick. I do try to stay true to my moniker (that is, I try to be both "healthy" and "humorous") but I also like to splurge on regional delicacies, even when they're not so healthy. When in Rome?
Or, as was the case recently, when in Philadelphia?eat cheesesteaks! I had been to Philly several times in the past, and I had sampled a lot of different cheesesteaks. It was time, though, to revisit some old classics and finally answer the age-old question, "Who has the best cheesesteak in Philly, Pat's or Geno's?" My unequivocal answer: neither! I know, I know. I'm supposed to take a stand. So I will. Pat's wins, hands down. But neither one is even close to being the best. Both are coasting on reputation and just going through the motions, as far as I'm concerned. I've had better in Denver!
Pat's and Geno's actually face each other at an intersection in South Philly (South 9th St. and Passyunk). They both had long lines early in the evening at sunset when I drove up. I ordered the same thing at each spot: a "Whiz wit." Translation: cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and onions. (That's the Philly way. Other cheese choices often include white American and provolone. "Witout" is the buzzword to go sans onions.) Geno's was actually among the worst cheesesteaks I've ever had. They spread the Whiz on both halves of the authentic roll and then added a few slices of meat and grilled onions. Like a factory assembly line. No chopping. Lazy. And kind of skimpy.
Pat's did a bit better. Heartier sandwich overall. Authentic roll, carved out more like a boat instead of a true top and bottom slice. The meat was chopped a little bit. The onions and Whiz were added on top, which allowed the cheese to mix in a little bit with the meat below. Decent.
The next night I went old school (literally) when I hit Abner's (38th and Chestnut) right off the Penn campus, where I believe I first had a cheesesteak in Philly on a college scout trip with my brother about 15 years ago. (He ended up attending Penn.) Abner's beat the Whiz out of both Pat's and Geno's. Still not the best, as they pumped the Whiz on to the boat-like roll first, which isn't ideal for blending the cheese throughout the sandwich. But they chopped the meat and onions on the griddle together and gave a hearty portion. I was satisfied. And though it wasn't quite the scene of Pat's or Geno's, it had it's own charm, such as the cops in bulletproof vests sitting behind me watching the Monday Night Football game. (Not the best neighborhood around Penn!)
For those interested in my favorite cheesesteak in Philly, I'll tell you it's in quite an unexpected spot. Gianna's Grille (507 S. 6th St., near South Street) is kind of a bohemian, vegetarian-friendly pizza joint. No long lines of tourists. No cops in Kevlar. But wow, do they make a great cheesesteak! Chopped meat and onions all mixed together with the cheese. Hearty and delicious! Best of the bunch. (Thanks to Nicholas Gilewicz for his online article "The Cheesesteak Chronicles" in MSN City Guides for turning me on this spot.)
Of course there are still many I haven't tried?but I intend to! Let me know your favorites. Until next time, Philly!