Philly Cheesesteaks -- Blair, Wisconsin Style!
- David Hart Nelson
Blair, Wisconsin is a largely Norwegian town of 1,126 in far west central Wisconsin. The Norwegian side of my family settled there after the Civil War, so we often make the trek for a visit. Blair features authentic Norwegian cooking (if you hit town at the right time -- it's a seasonal thing) and has a huge cheese plant as its primary industry -- there's an outlet store, as well. A tiny little lefse factory is located there too -- very Norwegian AND very tasty. We were in Blair recently for the 2001 Cheese Festival; we repaired to the Corner Café on Urberg Street for a snack. No Norwegian delicacies were on the menu but I spotted a Philly Cheese Steak. Naturally, I looked twice to see if my eyes had failed me. They hadn't. As a result, I ordered it just so I could say that I had eaten a cheesesteak in Blair, Wisconsin. Friends, I live in Virginia but I am a steak hound of note; I frequent Pat's, Gino's, Jim's, Steve's, Sonny's, and Rick's to name just a few. I am also aware that the concept of "cheesesteak" beyond, say, a fifty mile radius of 8th & Passyunk in South Philadelphia, is a very iffy thing. I was not prepared, however, for a Blair cheesesteak. It did have sliced beef as its primary ingredient. It was smothered, however, with a ton of canned mushrooms and a serious oversupply of sauteed (not chopped) onions. The cheese was provolone -- I think. To top it off, the entire cheesesteak was served between two slices of white bread! The finished product was so gooey and unwieldy that it had to be eaten with a knive and fork. Result: A Philly Cheesesteak a la Blair. The taste was not bad; however, I may have been predisposed to that conclusion because the owner and waitress were such absolute sweethearts. I had told them when ordering that I ate Philly Cheesesteaks almost as an avocation. When I was done, therefore, they came up to the table with big smiles. "How was it?" They asked. What could I say? "Delicious!" I replied. I did mention the propensity of steak joints in Philadelphia to serve their creations on hoagie rolls instead of wonder bread but got only a blank stare for my trouble. For those of you who want to see the anti-archetype of the Philly Cheese steak, do not bother with chain restaurants like Applebee's and the like. Their cheesesteaks certainly miss the mark but at least they end up somewhere in the same universe. For the least likely cheesesteak in the world, head straight for the Corner Café at 106 South Urberg Street in Blair, Wisconsin 54616 -- you will have a delicious, if mind-boggling experience! Plus, they have great home-made pies to kill the cheesesteak aftertaste. Those pies, at least, constitute a genuine Chowhound treat!