Monday, November 10, 2008

King Of Cheese Steaks


A few days ago, this man (who I can't name here for legal reasons) who runs a steak and hoagie shop in West Philly that I patronize, told me that his great-grandfather was the "King of Cheese Steaks." A strange boast, but okay, if he wants to say that... It's fine with me... It's not like I haven't heard it before.

I have always come into his establishment around lunch time or on a Saturday afternoon and have ordered my personal favorite, a cheese steak hoagie. He uses that thick Italian bread, slathers mayonnaise across the top, spreads lettuce across it, drapes freshly cut tomatoes, raw onions, and pickles across it, and then adds the chopped-up steak with Cheese Whiz melted on it to the mix. If you live in this area, you'll find that this is the norm for most of these type establishments.

While I was sitting there waiting, the man's great-grandson (who is about my age) confided to me that his great-grandfather actually invented what has become a Philadelphia staple... the steak sandwich. Of course, I thought... he must be kidding. You can go to any neighborhood in North, South, or West Philadelphia, Roxborough, Manayunk, Mt Airy, or Germantown and find a neighborhood steak and hoagie shop... they will tell you the same thing useless they are Asian, Greek, or Black (because then, they know that you know they are lying).

If you venture to South Street, you'll find places like GENO's, Jim's Steaks, and Pat Oliveri's House of Steaks that will brag that they make the best cheese steaks in Philadelphia and their owner is the true"King of Cheese Steaks". This is all debatable. So, I asked this guy to tell me the story of how his great-grandfather invented the steak sandwich and this is what he said.

He told me that his great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had a hot dog stand down near the docks, which is now known as "Penn's Landing". Several other men had hot dog stands down there, competing for the dollars of the longshoremen, bricklayers, etc. His great-grandfather needed something to give his stand an edge over the other hot dog stands so, he brought some steaks with him one day, cut them up a little bit, and tossed them on his grill. He cooked the chopped up steak and tossed it onto a hoagie roll. The smell of the steak brought some curious customers over to his hot dog stand and voila! The steak sandwich was born! A little later, he melted some sharp cheese, added that to his steak sandwich and thus, the cheese steak was born.

Of course, this is a preposterous story and very much like the one Pat Oliveri III (of Pat's House of Steaks) told me once. Needless to say, I think I believe Pat Oliveri. I don't believe that this guy's great-grandfather invented the cheese steak but, I do believe that "somebody" probably invented the cheese steak the way the told it and the story just got passed around and embellished over time. Like the fish story about the fish that got away, the fish gets bigger each time the story is retold.

Don't get me wrong... it's a great story to hear while you're munching on a cheese steak, some french fries, and drinking a Coke. Of course, these are all of the things that you're not supposed to be eating because, unlike when you were 17 years old and reed thin, you're not reed thin now and the weight will stay on you and make you ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror sometimes. (At age 17, I was 6' 1+1/2" and 146 pounds... today, I'm about 215 pounds.)
Anyway, I asked the man who was telling me this story why his great-grandfather didn't go and get a patent? Why is the family still working in the three steak shops that they owned and, more importantly, why they all weren't swimming in dough right about now? Then, he told me another preposterous story about how his great-grandfather was basically swindled out of his "invention" by the owner of one of the steak shops I mentioned above. Not Likely.

Hmmm, this story is still suspect... but, still a great story to hear when you're eating and not thinking about health and weight issues. So, who really invented the cheese steak sandwich? Who is really the "King of Cheese Steaks"? I don't know... but, I'd love to thank him/her for a great eating idea.
(Can anyone from the Baltimore-DC area tell me about your famous Pit Beef sandwich? Believe it or not, I actually came close to having one when I attended my cousin's engagement party a few weeks ago but, the food was catered so, I didn't have the pleasure. I'd love to hear about it. Holla back!)
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Update: After completing this post, a funny thing happened when I did the image search for a cheese steak... I actually stumbled upon the true history of the cheese steak and it looks like Pat was telling the truth!

21 comments:

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hey there!

That photo is soooo temping!!

I thought that cheese steaks had to have mushrooms and Provalone cheese instead of American cheese??

Mmmmmmm.

(smiles)

Lisa

Toni said...

Keith,don't make me hungry this early in the morning.-lol

Lisa said...

Oh my God, that looks so good..

Angie B. said...

Everybody knows that Jim's makes the best cheese-steaks in Philly!

James Perkins said...

Good Post...I've actually heard that Dellesandros in Roxborough makes the best Cheese-Steaks...Though Jim's is a pretty close second.

Grover Tha Playboy said...

I don't live in Philly, but when I was up there to visit my cousin, we
went on south street to a place called Ishkabibbles..and their cheesesteaks was slammin.

Keith said...

@Grover- Ishkabibbles!!! Yeah, how could I have forgotten to give them a play? You are absolutely right, they are the best!

Sunflower said...

There was a place in South Philly I used to go to..a neighborhood spot..I can't recall the name now, but I loved their cheese-steak hoagie.

Keith said...

@Blackwoman blowing the trumpet-
Hey Lisa...I've got to get over to your blog today if I don't do anything else.

Angie B. said...

@James Perkins- Jim's and Ishkabibbles knocks Dellasandros out the box on any day.lolol.

tate2 said...

lololol-Interesting Post...I've been around the Philly area and I'm surprised that nobody mentioned "Chubby's Sportsbar" in Manyunk.

Keith said...

@tate 2- "I've been to Chubby's..
They make great food..but they don't have the cleanest establishment. The floors are too
greasy.

Shanita Waters said...

I originally thoguht you were talking about one establishment but toward the end I was unsure. Now I have to go back and read the article because I spend the whole time while reading looking for clues as to which spot you were talking about. LOL....

I'm ready to go to Jim's right now. They are my favorite - the one in West Philly.

Mizrepresent said...

I don't know or care who invented...just thank God that they did! It looks so good! BTW i never had an original Cheesesteak Hoagie, or "Philly Cheesesteak", but believe me i will need to add that to my list of "to DO's"! Great story anyway!

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

man i can read i keep scrolling back up to that samich

Thoughts of a Southern gal said...

Eating an original cheese steak from Philly is on my to do list. LOL I love the faux ones so I know I will love the real cheese steaks.

CurvyGurl said...

Wow, Keith. You made a story about cheesesteaks interesting...that's what I call literary excellence :).

Pitbeef is definitely a B'more thing. To be honest, I've lived in metro DC all my life and can't think of a single food that it's known for...

I'll take mine with extra cheese and grilled onions. Thanks!

Mr.Slish said...

WTH...Got my stomach grumbling and i just ate!!!...lol

12kyle said...

that picture had me. i'm so hungry right now. too late to be eating!

Keith said...

@12Kyle-lolololol.

Kin'shar said...

well I love steak and cheese but I had to give up eating so much beef to lose weight...I lost 45 pounds since Feb...and Im loving it




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