After years of living roughly 100 miles from Philly, I felt it was about time to visit and give homage to one of my personal favorite sandwiches and an American Classic - the Cheese Steak. Over the course of three days some friends and I (two of which were Tanninacious and Cinnamonkey) would individually try 5 of Philadelphia’s most recommend cheese steak joints – Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, Sonny’s, and Tony Luke’s. To keep comparisons fair, I tried the same cheesesteak– wit Wiz and Onions – which was priced around $8 at each location. Without further ado, here are my thoughts in eating order:
Sonny’s Famous Steaks (no working website)
Honestly, I had never heard of this cheese steak joint and, from my discussion with a number of locals, neither had they. However, as Sonny’s was quite close to our hotel and a Philly tour guide recommend it to us, we decided to give it a shot for lunch and surprisingly, I was not all too disappointed. For a little over $10 their lunch special offers consumers a cheesesteak (with their choice of cheese), soda, and a side of fries. Let me immediately point out that this was by far the best deal we found at the five locations we tried over the course of the trip. As for the cheesesteak, I found the bread, an Italian Hero, to be a bit less dense then I would have preferred and the meat a bit dry which was surprising. Besides those two flaws though, I could find little else wrong. There was a perfect ratio of cheese to meat and, with the French Fries, I was far from hungry by the end of the meal.
There are three Jim’s Steaks locations in Philadelphia. We visited the one on South Street and regardless of the time of day, Jim’s consistently had a line out the door landing it on our ‘must try’ list. To top things off, you could easily smell the cooking rib-eye strips from a block away and, after my 20 minute wait in line, I can happily say that it was worth every bite. Though I did appreciate that the bread, an Italian Hero, was slightly denser than Sonny’s, the real impressive factor for me was how moist and more flavorful the meat was. There wasn’t a single bite of this sandwich which I found dull and, at the end, I found myself eating the loose scraps off the paper which my cheesesteak was packaged in.
I obviously found myself quite thrilled to be visiting the home of the original cheesesteak. So much so that I may have unfortunately set my expectations too high. Don’t get me wrong, Pat’s will always deserve credit for being the originator but in terms of taste, it fell below the curve for me in comparison to both Jim’s and Sonny’s. I didn’t enjoy the bread (also an Italian Hero) at all, I felt it lacked total body and flavor; the meat was on the blander and dryer side and the onions were essentially non-existent. The only aspect I enjoyed was that the wiz was placed on top of the meat rather than spread on the inside of the bread. I felt this small touch provided a more complete taste with each bite. Truthfully, I do not understand why any other cheesesteak place would do it differently.
With the passing of Joey Vento recently, let him rest in peace, I honestly feel bad for the review I am about to write but truth be told, I did not enjoy my cheesesteak here much at all. With all of the celebrity pictures posted around, some may think that would stand for something…unfortunately it did not. The cheesesteak in its entirety had the same bland taste and texture as Pat’s. I suppose this makes sense as their clientele must be the exact same (they are located across the street from one another) with very little around unless the Italian Market happens to be open. The bread (yes, an Italian Hero), had no body and the cheese to meat ratio was way off. At first I thought it was because they put way too much cheese on the sandwich until I took a closer look and realized it was actually due to the lack of meat which I was given. The amount of wiz was pretty much on par with every other cheesesteak I had eaten. I honestly felt like I was eating the Subway comparison to cheesesteaks – all bread and other shit with a sliver of barely visible meat. Talk about a disappointment.
Was a literal ‘must-have’ for me after seeing the Philadelphia episode of Man Vs. Food. No, I did not try the Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge. Yes, I sort of regret it but I was honestly still a bit full from the epic brunch I had at Sabrina’s Café (review to come another day). To be honest, I was a bit nervous about trying another place after being let down to such an epic extent at Geno’s but thankfully I went through with it because Tony Luke’s was superb. The bread, which was a French Baguette, provided much more body, flavor, and stability to the cheesesteak than any other. The onions were perfectly cooked and there was a significant amount of meat on the sandwich…much more than I remember receiving anywhere else. Unfortunately all of that meat threw off the meat-to-cheese ratio a bit but I would honestly rather have more meat than cheese then the other way around any day (I am looking at you Geno’s).
Which did I enjoy the most?
Jim’s followed by Tony Luke’s in a close second simply because of how good the meat tasted. No matter what cheesesteak I was eating, I found myself wishing that Jim’s meat was used in it. Even now as I write this I find myself salivating over it even though cheesesteaks have currently lost their appeal to me ha ha.
A Breakdown by Preference:
My Perfect Cheesesteak:
Tony Luke’s Bread, stuffed with Tony Luke’s quantity of Jim’s meat and onions, topped with wiz like it is done at Pat’s.