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Jul 31, 2008 08:10 AM

Arlington's The Broiler, Alexandria's Al's Steak House

Arguably, The Broiler has the best steak and cheese sub in the D. C. area. However, a place on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, Al's Steak House (whose slogan is "Uncle Al's the nation's pal") has been in business longer. Fifty three years while The Broiler has "only" been open forty nine. The Broiler is, indeed, superb for a steak and cheese. But I have not been to Al's.

Has anyone had a steak and cheese there? The Broiler also?

And, please, don't call a steak and cheese a "cheesesteak" in this thread. Steak and cheese subs are a half century plus D. C. area tradition. When made correctly they'll hold their own compared to Tony Luke's, Jim's, Pat's and Geno's.

In '04 there was a thread on here that mentioned Al's and one of the two people who had actually been there noted that they cook the onions on the grill separate from the meat. That's actually how a steak and cheese is made. In Philly the onions are "chipped" in with the meat as it cooks. Curiously, The Broiler which has a huge sign in front of it announcing "Steak and Cheese" does this exactly as they do in Philly. And Al's, known now for their cheesesteaks," does not.

My guess is that someone changed the name at Al's to try and capitalize on the national fame of a "Philly cheesesteak."

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  1. What type of cheese does The Broiler use?

    1 Reply
    1. re: EatOrGoToYourRoom

      I think it was provolone. The Broiler is definitely the quintisential DC steak and cheese - it includes mayo/lettuce/tom and optionally onion.

      I like Al's but I found it needed some condiments - it seemed to be just steak and cheese and onion without mayo/lettuce/tom.

    2. Al's is okay, not bad but not worth a long trip. Better steak and cheeses can be had at many lunch-time deli places in the area.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ChewFun

        I went to Al's on a Chowhound recommendation, wanting to find something excellent.

        I didn't. I far prefer those available elsewhere.

        My cheesesteak-loving son far prefers the ones at Gigunito's cart, in the parking lot of the 7 Corners Home Depot - I had a great Italian sausage sandwich there too.

        1. re: ChewFun

          I tend to agree. Many "delis" (read carry-outs open for breakfast and lunch) have credible steak and cheese subs, with grilled onions, lettuce and tomato, mayo, and provolone. Sometimes the roll is halfway decent. Save American for the cheesesteak.

        2. I've had literally hundreds of cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and very, very few self-respecting places mix the onions in with the steak before assembly. The good ones are always stewing by their lonesome on the side of the grill.

          Can someone explain the difference between a delicious "cheesesteak" from any number of purveyors in Philly (Steve's, JRP, Tony Luke's, etc.) from the so-called "steak and cheese" made here in DC that's usually just a poor attempt at copying the real thing?

          24 Replies
          1. re: aburkavage

            Joe put out the bait and got a biter!

            Start at his first post on Jan 18th in this thread:

            1. re: aburkavage

              nickdanger's post above yours perfectly describes a Washington steak'n'cheese. How Philly ever got its reputation while serving Cheez Whiz is beyond me.

              1. re: Mister Big

                Have you ever had a really good cheesesteak with whiz and fried onions from Steve's in Philadelphia? (No comparison to Pat's or Geno's) It's like a Guinness in Ireland or a slice of pizza in Naples - there's nothing better!

                1. re: aburkavage

                  Steve's, the one down the street from Jim's? I once sampled 5 cheesesteaks in 2 days, Pat's, Geno's, Jim's, Chubb's, and Steve's. Steve's is by far the worse. I ordered every sandwich wit wiz.

                  1. re: Ericandblueboy

                    Steve's is not down the street from Jim's - it's way up in North Philly. Get yourself a new map, sir.

                    Sidenote - Pat's, Geno's, and Chubb's are considered the worst of the worst by aficionados.

                    1. re: aburkavage

                      If you catch Geno's on a good day, they are only half-gross. Pat's and Chubb's are always full-gross.

                      The cherry peppers at Geno's are super hot. The last time I were there, a guy at a table next to us was in a world of hurt after eating one. He was trying to shake it off like a tough guys since his girlfriend was there with him, but there wasn't enough cherry soda in the world to cure what ailed him!

                      1. re: aburkavage

                        There's a Steve's at
                        650 South St
                        Philadelphia, PA 19147

                        It may not be what you're referring to, but it's there.

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy

                          It's certainly not what I'm referring to. The Steve's I mentioned, which won Best of Philly last year, is at
                          7200 Bustleton Ave.
                          Philadelphia, PA 19149

                2. re: aburkavage

                  For the record, JRP does chip their onions in with the steak.

                  1. re: aburkavage

                    The traditional DC area steak and cheese is indeed a very tasty sub. And it's not an attempt to copy any other sandwich.

                    1. re: EatOrGoToYourRoom

                      Mayo, lettuce, and tomato on a steak and cheese? Gross. Maybe they should have tried to copy Philly's version!

                      1. re: aburkavage

                        The Washington, D. C. and Baltimore area steak and cheese subs are a DIFFERENT sandwich/sub from what is served in the Philadelphia area and South Jersey. It's been made the same way at most places here for at least 75 years just as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sandwiches have there.

                        And that way is different.

                        1. The "local" sub is typically made with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, mayonnaise and sometimes hot peppers. Cheese is usually provolone or American. You rarely will find these on a Philly cheesesteak.

                        2. Having eaten subs here since my first one at the original Jerry's on University Boulevard in Wheaton in the mid '50's (again, totally different from what exists today) I have never seen CheeseWhiz on a D. C. or Baltimore area sandwich. At least not until about 20+ years ago when somebody put up a sign saying "Philly Cheesesteaks" and introduced them here, importing Amoroso's rolls.

                        3. Typically onions are grilled separate from the thin steak slices here while it is chipped with the beef in the Philadelphia area. Murray's steaks was enormously successful in the '50's, '60's and '70's selling this kind of "local" beef for steak and cheese subs.

                        4. The definitive Philly cheesesteak uses Amoroso's rolls. Dating back to the '50's most D. C. area subs used Ottenberg's which, unless grilled for several minutes, is not as tasty of a roll. If properly grilled it will hold its own.

                        Cheesesteak is the name of a Philadelphia sub that has spread across the U. S. Around the country a lot of people (I think Al's included) have taken their local version of a beef sandwich and stuck the Philly name on to it in an effort to capitalize on the national popularity of the cheesesteak.

                        Still, at it's best, a Baltimore/D. C. area steak and cheese for a native born Washingtonian such as myself-AT IT'S BEST SUCH AS AT THE BROILER is EVERY BIT AS GOOD AS ANY PHILLY CHEESESTEAK.

                        In truth these are just two hometown variations of a kind of beef sandwich. Buffalo has its own beef on weck, Chicago an Italian beef (Johnny's on West North Avenue in Elmwood Park is the best beef sandwich of any kind that I have ever had anywhere, by the way), New Orleans has roast beef (w/ debris like at Mother's) and so on.

                        And, the best cheesesteak I've ever had was not in Philadelphia; it was in Atlantic City at the White House where Rando's and the Atlantic City Bakery make their own french bread and deliver it hot from the over every few hours. In the early '80's Philadelphia magazine actually named the White House as the home of the best cheesesteak. I remember this causing a real uproar and they never mentioned it again in any "best of."

                        I'm just really tired of people taking a truly long standing D. C. and Baltimore icon and tradition and trying to call it something else. A great steak and cheese is a great steak and cheese. I have as much pride in a good one as a Philadelphian does in their cheesesteak.

                        Which, by the way, the first time I had one at Pat's I mistakenly asked for a steak and cheese with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo and hot peppers. I still remember the look the counterman gave me but this is what I grew up with.

                        I no longer order a sub like that there.

                        1. re: Joe H

                          Long before I knew anything about the Philadelphia tradition, I assumed that anyone who put mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes on a hot steak sub was just "sandwich-making" by rote, without giving any thought to whether they were anywhere close to the ideal accompaniments.

                          1. re: Joe H

                            Joe, nice summation, I have only lived here in VA for 20 years and I sometimes wondered what the differences were. I have had Genos and Pats cheese steaks and they were good, but I have to admit, the Broiler on Col Pike and the Marios on Wilson actually taste better with the mayo and lettuce, not to mention the onion, hots and mushrooms. But if I ever get back up to Philly, I know I won't have the courage to order it that way...
                            I had a steak and cheese at Als, and it was good, but it wasn't as good as either the Broiler or Marios.

                            1. re: Ziv

                              I'm suddenly having a realization... Mario's is the old school pizza joint near VA Square on WIlson, right?

                              So what's the purple place on Rte 1 by Potomac Yard. Isn't that also Mario's? I'm actually not unhappy with their steak & cheese w/ hots, onions, and mushrooms, but I've never tried one at the place on Wilson, and am now wondering if I should. Am I hallucinating that the place on Rte 1 is also Mario's, and if not, are the two connected?

                              1. re: sweth

                                The purple joint on Route 1 is Marino's with an "n". They're actually better with their Ledo's-style cracker-crust square pizza. Not 2 Amy's but greasy and good nonetheless.

                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  There may have been a connection - or not. Mario's was the original, and the current name for the place on Wilson Boulevard. For a number of years, it became Marino's, and switched back to Mario's a few years ago.

                                  I don't know about the place near Potomac Yard and if there was ever any connection with the one near Clarendon.

                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    if i remember correctly, out on georgia avenue, there is a storefront that is the remnants of another marios.

                                  2. re: monkeyrotica

                                    I believe the Marino's locations were an attempt by the Mario's folks to franchise their business. I think they found it easier to trademark "Marino's" than their original name, "Mario's" (there already being a number of pizza places around the country named Mario's), so that explains the name difference. I even recall a location at Rehoboth Beach. Don't know whether these places were owned by the owners of Mario's or whether they were franchises owned by others, and also not sure if there is any remaining connection between the original and those locations that survived.

                              2. re: Joe H

                                Well, I don't like mayo or tomatoes on my sandwiches. Am I hopeless?

                                1. re: Joe H

                                  You are SO right on all counts. My "first time" was at the long gone Eddie Leonard's. Now THAT was a sandwich shoppe. Not to start another thread, but the White House makes the definitive Italian sub. Not that there aren't credible local versions, (think Vace, the Italian store), but theirs I think, is made by the bread as much as the ingredients.

                            2. re: aburkavage

                              I grew up in Philly and the only major difference I see is that the Steak and Cheese is a sub with lettuce and tomatoes added. A true Philly Cheesesteak would not dare to put those condiments on their sandwich. Also, the Philly rolls are usually much better than those found here. People here also usually do not use Whiz, which is either good or bad, depending on your perspective.

                            3. I will have to try The Broiler. Sounds delicious! Joe, find your information about the steak and cheese fascinating. I never knew its history etc. I always just thought that the steak and cheese was a Philly rip-off and bristled at the fact that it comes with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Although--this is NOT uncommon in Philly. As I mentioned somewhere before, it is the same exact thing as a cheesesteak hoagie-which I have enjoyed back home in Philly on occasion as an alternative to the cheeseteak.
                              I have come to really love and respect the steak and cheese here and think it's a great idea to debate who has the best.
                              BTW...Al's cheesesteak is fine. Not great. Fine.

                              1. Well, a visit to the Broiler solves a riddle for me: Why are none of the Philadelphia joints quite like my beloved Gus and Gus Place on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach? Because Gus and Gus serves a Broiler-style steak and cheese, not a Philly cheesesteak. (And, indeed, everyone but me gets lettuce-tomato-mayonnaise at Gus and Gus.) There's a pleasant greasiness to these steak-and-cheese subs; by contrast, my first true Philly sandwich, at Jim's, seemed like lean and dry health food.

                                The Broiler's sub is the best steak and cheese I've had in the area (much better than Al's) and easily the closest to the Gus and Gus version. I did try the standard toppings, and it was better than I expected. But I'll go with hot peppers and ketchup next time.

                                Too bad the fries at the Broiler are frozen crinkles and not boardwalk-style as at Gus and Gus.