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the philly cheesesteak (not in philly)

since this seems to have picked up some steam in another thread, i figured to start a new one.

let's hear about the places and their respective products. who is renowned in the baltimore area for cheesesteaks? what do they do that distinguishes them from the rest? who is most authentic to philly?

i'm not an authority on the subject, but i have eaten my share of philly chessesteaks in my 20 years of living there. i know what it takes to make a good one. i don't think anyone here has nailed it, or is within arms-length of getting there.

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  1. MaGerks in Federal Hill has the best cheesesteak in baltimore.

    MD, I hear South Street Steaks

    DC? Nothing I've had has been any good... they all tend to come with LTM, which is not a cheesesteak... that's a steak and cheese.

    8 Replies
      1. re: MarcDC

        South Street Steaks is awesome! Fantastic bread and yummy steak.

        1. re: MarcDC

          Sorry, MarcDC, the Philadephia Water Ice Factory at 1204 H Street, NE, is the REAL DEAL. Unfortunately, it's closed for the winter because they work out of a window on the street but WOW! Bread down from the City of Brotherly Love - Amorosa itself! The sandwich is terrific. No LTM unless you really begged I suppose, but why would you?
          They've got the Water Ice that they're named after. Worth the trip and standing in the lines that they draw.
          People carry them into some of the nearby indie music venues that don't have food service in the popular Atlas District http://www.atlas-district.com/
          They're opening a branch near Howard University. Can't wait for warm weather when they open again. We have missed them.

          1. re: MakingSense

            cool, ive never heard of that place.... ill have to check it out.

            1. re: MarcDC

              Wait until Spring for Philly cheesesteaks, but if you're looking for some great music or good food, there's lots of options on H Street, NE, in DC. It's really hopping. They're packing them in at Granville Moore's, Napa 1015, the new coffee house SOVA, and the music venues -several of which have food.

            2. re: MakingSense

              Is that was the H Street area is being called now---Atlas District? Where does that come from?

                1. re: Mister Big

                  I remember the area around the Atlas theatre from the 1960's. I would NOT be proud of associating anything from that era or the theatre. This was one of the first places in D. C. to burn to the ground after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

          2. Interesting thread. I am going to make the argument that both Baltimore and D. C. are known for the steak and cheese sub-NOT the cheesesteak. (I'd also say the best cheesesteak is not in Philly but in Atlantic City at the White House but that's another thread.) Going back to the '60's both Baltimore and Washington had places that had excellent steak subs: the Cadillac on Rhode Island Avenue, N. E. and, in Baltimore, there was a place at Bel Air and Moravia (whose name I can't remember) that was legendary. There was NO thought given then to cheesesteaks: they were strictly a Philadelphia type of thing.

            The steak and cheese usually had Ottenberg's rolls, not Amoroso (although a number of places have brought them down here for years). There was nothing that spoke of grilled onions that aged on a flat top for the better part of an afternoon or evening; nor cheese Whiz, nor even countless photos of celebrities and wannabees on the underside of a ceiling or a wall-outdoors or indoors. Rather, there was good, cheap mayo, iceberg lettuce, hot house tomato, cheap hot pepper relish, pickles from a large tin can, sliced onion AND grilled onion all with chipped steak and a thin slice of American cheese on the sub roll.

            The first time I had a "real" Philly cheesesteak I was disappointed. It didn't compare to Hungry Herman's in College Park or the Cadillac. Neither did Jim's, Tony Luke's, Pat's, Geno's or any other.

            Of course, today, I know that if I go to Philly or Atlantic City and absolutely prostitute a cheesesteak with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickles, grilled onion and good "hots" on an Amoroso or an Atlantic City bakery roll the result will be far superior to anything I could ever find here.

            Philly just never got into steak and cheese which was a Mid Atlantic tradition. If they had, with everything that went with it, yes-they would have made a better sub.
            Still, today, even though I have driven from D. C. to both Philly and Atlantic City for a sub, I still believe that a steak and cheese with everything from the Cadillac on Rhode Island Avenue was as good of a beef sub/sandwich that I've ever had. I should also note that I grew up with this...

            15 Replies
            1. re: Joe H

              Joe H rules...very interesting post with a new paradigm and twist....BTW had a great meal at Bebo tonight..and good servoce at the bar as usual

              1. re: prowarbler

                The check is in the mail! Seriously, many thanks for the nice words but growing up here there was a special love for a steak and cheese. Somewhere along the line, perhaps in the '90's, cheesesteaks began to move in and places like Hungry Herman's didn't have the same appeal as, say, the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory. In a sense College Park became a kind of microcosm of this...

                1. re: Joe H

                  I totally get what you're saying, they're different animals but the Balto/DC version only flourishes in the summer with good local tomatoes, and Tony Luke's and John's Roast Pork really set a standard with their cheesesteaks and pork sandwiches.

                  1. re: ko1

                    this thread has me really excited for this monday... im going to philly with the gf and taking her to John's Roast Pork (it's better than Tony Luke's imo) to get both a cheesesteak (sharp wit) and an italian pork sub. she's never been there so it should be a nice treat.

                    on the topic of MD steak and cheese, since a very close friend of mine is from philly, ive never really gotten into the steak and cheese with LTM version so popular in our beloved state. I suppose going to philly so often made me more of a purist; that is to say, focus on the meat, rolls, and cheese. I akin it to going to a great steakhouse and asking for A1 sauce; a good steak doesnt need any condiments, nor does a good cheesesteak.

                    1. re: MarcDC

                      It took me many years to realize that the VA steak and cheese is not an attempt at a cheesesteak (although too many times it's referred to as a "Philly" steak and cheese). It is what it is...a really good sub and now I embrace it fully.
                      Joe-Philly does the steak and cheese; always has. It's called a cheesesteak hoagie. LTM and whatever else you want to embellish it with. It's not considered blasphemous to order ala the Kerry swiss cheesesteak. Its often viewed as a change-up from you usual whiz wit or whatnot.

              2. re: Joe H

                I very much agree with most of Joe H.'s post, although I find the fixation between the words "cheesesteak" and "steak and cheese" a little weird. When I was growing up in greater Baltimore (north suburbs), "steak and cheese" and "cheesesteak" were pretty much interchangeable terms for the same thing.

                I also think (as I said earlier in another discussion) that the biggest problem with the rolls on many modern Baltimore steak and cheese (and other) subs is that the rolls aren't fresh.

                Also, in my neighborhood the better sub shops had provolone for the steak and cheese subs rather than American cheese. And even American cheese isn't nearly as horrible as Cheese Wiz.

                I had my first "real" Philly cheesesteak last year (at Pat's), and like Joe H., I was not impressed. The roll was fine, but the overall taste sensation didn't strike me as particularly notable.

                1. re: Joe H

                  Joe--Thank you for your defense of the Washington steak'n'cheese. I ate most of mine at Louie's NY Pizza (and bookie joint) in the Blair Plaza at East West and Colesville Rds. They used provolone, but was otherwise what you described. Daisy and Mary ran the show while Louie and Jocko booked the bets. I'm also surprised no one ever mentions Eddie Leonard's, a large local chain that expired in the '70's.

                  BTW, my one experience at South Street Steaks was less than impressive. The meat was substandard.

                  1. re: Mister Big

                    There's still 2 Eddie Leonards left over in SE. Alabama Ave and Good Hope Road. I think the Eddie's Carryout on Bladensburg used to be Eddie Leonard's but no more. A lot of construction crews that worked for me used to get food there and I ate more of it than I should have.

                    1. re: Mister Big

                      I was a regular customer of Eddie Leonard's on Cameron street for years. And, Louie's!!!! I loved the place. Wasn't there a steak and cheese that was a "Louie special" or something like that? With tomato sauce, grilled onions and peppers? It's been 30+ years so forgive me if my memory isn't accurate but Louie's was special. As was Sammy's in White Oak.

                      1. re: Mister Big

                        In terms of meat quality, Jim's in Philly is one of the better "big" places IMHO, although it usually at least needs some salt. The best places in Philly, though, are really the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall joints.

                        Oddly, growing up in Kentucky, the distinction was made between Philly cheesesteaks and "Pittsburgh"-style "steak and cheese" sandwiches, the latter of which were the LTM hoagies that are so common in DC and MD. Meanwhile, when in the Pittsburgh area, a request for a Pittsburgh-style steak and cheese would get me sent to Primanti's for a cheesesteak dressed w/ fries and coleslaw, which was not at all what I was looking for.

                        Locally, my favorite LTM steak & cheese is probably still the one at George's Townhouse in Georgetown (which, ironically, bills itself as the "King of Philly-Style Cheesesteaks"), although that fondness may be from consuming scores of them during college.

                      2. re: Joe H

                        I come from the south 'burbs of Chicago, so my native variant is the Chicago-style "Italian beef" (where cheese is unusual , but not quite blasphemy). That said, as much as I like a cheesesteak or a good steak and cheese sub, I'd *really* love to find a Philly-style Italian Pork with sharp and rabe! I sometimes think that the Philly natives play up the cheesesteak to outsiders so that the Italian pork stays under the radar, and they can keep it for themselves! :-)

                        1. re: Warthog

                          I was in Philly a few weeks ago and was introduced to the pork & broccoli rabe at Tony Luke's, and I'd have to agree.

                          Rumor has it that Earl's in Clarendon has a pretty good pork & rabe; I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, though.

                        2. re: Joe H

                          Actually, many Philadelphia cheesteak shops have a Cheesesteak Hoagie option, which is essentially a steak & cheese. And yes, they're mostly light years ahead of the Maryland versions.

                          1. re: Joe H

                            amen on the whitehouse in AC. I love that place for their steaks & hoagies

                            1. re: Joe H

                              Now I'm Jonesing for White House.

                            2. As a Philadelphia resident for 41 years-and a Baltimore resident for the past 7( and a cheesesteak lover the entire 48) I think that no discussion can be complete without stating the obvious- the 2 cities have a different definition of what is a cheesesteak.

                              Don't talk to me about mayonaisse, various condiments, different types of rolls,exotic meats etc.

                              That being said-and understanding that even in Philly 5 people usually have 5 different choices- to me there are only 2 places in Baltimore that really serve a Philly cheesesteak:

                              1A) Sghetti Eddies on West Cold Spring Lane

                              1B) MaGerks-either location.

                              But I would love to hear of other places to change my mind....

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: willie 2

                                Like I said in the other thread, it's all in what you grow up with, for me it was steak and provolone with lettuce, tomato, fried onions, mayo and hots.
                                This is all making me very hungry...

                              2. Must agree that these are two different animals and when I get a jones I get a Geno's jones and have to drive to that city of brotherly love or I get a Captain Harveys(Logan Village) jones and make that trek. However,....my last few trips to Captain Harveys have been quite a disappointment. I grew up in the Dundalk area and there was something about a Captain Harveys "cheesesteak" after a nite of either adult beverages or some herbal refreshment. Cured the munchies like nobodies business.
                                The C Harveys was naked no lettuce no tomatoes no mayo, just the fresh cut(which is now a frozen Steakum style) rib eye with fried onions. Ahhhh the memories of youth, the last one I ate didn't agree with my 60 yr old digestive system and I think I have had my last Capt. Harveys, but maybe one last one in the future as a ceremonial end to my long lost innocence

                                1. Just to add to the discussion for western NOVA folks, Jimmy's in Herndon uses Amoroso rolls, and offers three types of cheeses (including whiz). You can get shrooms and peppers added for a small charge. They're my new fave sandwich in the area (finally besting the Hot Sicilian at The Deli).

                                  I took a Philly born and raised coworker there and he couldn't give them much of a negative mark at all (where he really slammed Philly Mike's).

                                  1. And who knows. Maybe there's a place carved out of the side of a Baltimore row home, or smushed between some factories and the expressway, in a less desirable area, or just way off the beaten path that's dishing out a cheesesteak worthy of even a staunch Philadelphian's glory.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. Please keep this discussion focused on where to find cheese steaks (or steak and cheese) in places that are both still open and in the Washington DC/Baltimore area. Discussion about where to find them in the Philadephia area needs to happen on the Pennsylvania board.

                                      2 Replies
                                        1. re: beauxgoris

                                          I like the sandwich there, especially since it's close and convenient, but it falls short of a Philly standard mark. If you're in the Reston Herndon area, check out Jimmy's version.

                                      1. While probably not "authentic" the cheesesteak at Joe Squared uses very high quality ingredients, and a really delightful ciabatta roll. I should also note that their Italian sausage sandwich/sub is similarly excellent. If you've previously thought of Joe Squared primarily for their pizza (or their rissoto), give the sandwich section of the menu a try!

                                        Again - not an "authentic Philly" rendition, but very good.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Warthog

                                          I always forget about Joe2 as a sandwich joint, but you're right, they are very good.

                                        2. I have not yet tried the cheese steak sandwich at Luka Cafe in Locust Point, but based on how good the "Sam's Hoagie" was, I'd definitely say the cheesesteak is likely to be worthy of consideration. Maybe not "Authentic Philly", but I'm the sort that is willing to accept some variation from the formula, if the result is good. Those seeking adherence to Philly standards ("Whiz" and all) probably need to look elsewhere, but others should give it a try.

                                          1. One conclusion I'm getting from this thread is the steak'n'cheese w/lettuce, tomato, mayo, and fried onions (which many Washingtonians grew up with) has its own adherents, and needs not pass judgment by Philly cheesesteak purists.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Interesting thread. Gonna have to check out Philly Water Ice Factory (not far from work) and MaGerks.
                                              Haven't done Baltimore for cheesesteakes but here's my 2c for VA and MD around the beltway:
                                              "plain" (steak, cheese (prov, amer. or whiz), and fried onions): Sports Cheesesteak and Hoagie Shop - Woodbridge, VA 22192. $10 for a 1/2 cheesesteak (that's a 1 foot sub). Sauce is brown as the onion is cooked w/ the meat. Bread and flavor is spot on. Will eat 2 subs if/when time permits.
                                              LTM philly-style steak & cheese: Alssteaks @ Del Ray in Alexandria VA. LOTS of meat, notably fresh Amoroso, and the LTM. Still a sizeable meal w/o the LTM
                                              I just can't stomach the sub shop in College Park. They cover the meat w/ the lid, effectively steaming it. What's w/ the white sauce?!?
                                              Philly Mike's just doesn't give you any meat or filler, regardless of what style sub you want.
                                              Mario's has a good steak & cheese w/ provolone & sweet pickles. Very unusual but in a good way. Bread's not perfect but works. I just keep forgetting to tell them to hold the mayo.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: hungryT

                                                I hear you about the sweet pickles at Marios, first time I got them I thought I was hallucinating. I usually forget to tell them 'no sweet pickles', so I pick them out at the table. Pretty good, not great, steak and cheese.
                                                I kind of like the Broiler on Columbia Pike, not as good as Marios but worth a stop.
                                                I have driven by Als in Del Ray for 15 years, now I know I have to check it out.

                                                1. re: Ziv

                                                  Al's is pretty good. I'm not claiming "authentic," but certainly good. About as close as you will get to authentic in the DC area, with the possible exception of South Street Steaks, but only possible, not for sure.......

                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                    I think South Street Steaks is the location I mentioned above for College park.
                                                    Update: Sports Cheesesteak in Woodbridge seems to have a new cook (or the owner's gone nuts).. Either way, the philly's gone from best to worst. If it's a new cook helping out then the spot is a hit / miss, depending on who you get.
                                                    Regardless of which joint you visit, remember to let them know what a philly is to you. Al's Steak at del Ray is done w/ LTM (and Al is from philly). Sports prefers American (the owner is also from philly). Other people like whiz.

                                                    1. re: hungryT

                                                      I had lunch yesterday at South Street Steaks based upon all the positive buzz it has received and was very dissapointed. The steak sandwich was far from "overstuffed" as one of the owners gloated. And the fries, although freshly made, tasted like they were cooked in foul oil. Just writing this gave me shivers thinking about it. You can get a better sub (not hot subs) down the street at Jimmy Johns.

                                                    2. re: johnb

                                                      Al's doesn't do Wiz, and I don't care for American, so I go for the "Roman Steak" with provo and onions. I prefer it to South Street's version.

                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                        Ahh, I just got done eating a "Roman" from Al's, quite tasty.

                                                        1. re: hillrat

                                                          So now the acid test: is it worth the drive, or is Philadelphia Water Ice Company just as good?

                                                          1. re: hillrat

                                                            Just did a Steak and American Cheese, light on the mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions, good and way filling, better than the Broiler but not as good as Marios.
                                                            I used to like a Philly Cheese Steak with just steak, cheese and onions on a roll, now I kind of like the steak and cheese with mayo, lettuce and tomato, but if I was in Philadelphia I think I could be convinced to order it Geno's style....

                                                  2. For Baltimore area, I cannot believe Captain Harveys didn't get more mentions. My husband spent his teens in Dundalk and introduced me to Harveys 30+ years ago, They are still delicious----even from the new location [not sure if that is Logan Sq----but---they are definitely NOT "steak umms" as mentioned by Hue 1.29.08.]

                                                    They have HUGE subs that are ALWAYS delicious!!! High quality meat [and I am rarely fond of beef] so generously filled, you can save half the steak for another day . . .

                                                    Super delicious fries, too [and, corn fritters]

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: caw226alter

                                                      Never had a Captain Harveys Cheesesteak but I have a friend who swears by them, says they are so big "you got something to work on".


                                                      1. re: hon

                                                        Matches the description I'd give to Jimmy's in Herndon - though they aren't listed on that site. Not a complete site, I guess.

                                                      2. I have had The Broiler's steak & cheese subs and no, they're nothing like a Philly cheesesteak (my husband is from Philadelphia, so he's introduced me to the "authentic" ones). However, for a steak & cheese sub with mayo, fried onions, lettuce, and tomato, the Broiler has been my favorite since I could first chew, so nearly 40 years. South Street Steaks is pretty close to what we had in Philly. We've also been to Captain Harvey's. I don't like theirs as much as South Street Steaks, but for sheer volume, it's a great deal. I can finish a South Street Steaks cheesesteak - I can't finish a Captain Harvey's enormous steak and cheese sub.

                                                        To my husband, a cheesesteak has Cheez-Whiz, definitely no mayo, and the ketchup should be cooked into the beef. To me, a steak and cheese *does* have mayo and provolone, not the Whiz.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: krdiamond

                                                          The cheesesteaks I grew up with had provolone and everything including hots and mayo. Ketchup cooked into the beef, ick!
                                                          It's all in what you grew up with.

                                                          1. re: krdiamond

                                                            Where in Philly do they cook ketchup into a cheesesteak??

                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                              seriously. I know for a fact that Tony Luke's, John's Roast Pork, Dalessandro's, and Jim's don't do that

                                                              1. re: MarcDC

                                                                Maybe she's confusing a Wiz Steak with a Pizza Steak? If you order a Pizza Steak at those places (which was always my favorite way growing up), they do mix the "red gravy" (read: pizza sauce) into the chopped steak while it's on the grill, before laying down the provolone and then scooping the whole thing on to the roll.

                                                                1. re: MarcDC

                                                                  Tony Luke's is good and open 24/7, but the bruschetta cheesesteak at John's Roast Pork is the one that rules them all.

                                                              2. re: krdiamond

                                                                Cheez-Whiz is nasty stuff, and is proof that Philly Cheesesteak purists aren't the paragon of taste. Just 'cause something's traditional doesn't necessarily mean that it's good.

                                                              3. I live in Frederick and there is a small carryout/limited seating on MD355 past the Lowes going to Costco called "Phillys". They have the Philly Steak & Cheese with Cheeze Whiz on Amorosa rolls. They do not put the LTM on there. They have a fixings bar if you need those items.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: shortykb

                                                                  Has anyone tried the new cheesesteak place in Adams Morgan (on Columbia I think) across the street from Heller's Bakery.