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Philly Raves and "Whats?"

EarlyBird Oct 19, 2009 08:57 AM

I just got back from Philadelphia. Armed with the best Chowhound info, I set out to eat the best that Philly had to offer. Here are some raves and some "whats?" as in, "What's so special about this?"

Raves:

Fish 'n' chips: I know this isn't "Philly" food, but at Tavern 17, a typical high end bar/restaurant in the Raddisson Warwick lobby (near Rittenhouse Square), I was surprised by some of the best, most authentic fish 'n' chips I've ever had. The fish was exceptionally moist, perfectly cooked, protected by a crunchy golden crust that was perfectly seasoned and not greasy. The fries were crunchy, perfectly cooked. I had it with their house salad which was a perfect green counter point to the meal.

Burger at the Royal Tavern: Yes, this deserves all the raves. "Gourmet" burgers usually outsmart themselves, but this one, with its melted gruyere and chipotle mayo and perfectly cooked bacon does not lose sight of its roots. This was one of the best burgers I've ever had in my life, anywhere. Put on a firm brioche bun (I think) it was cooked medium as I like it but remained exceptionally juicy, with a nice char to the meat. Beefy, filling, and the chipotle mayo was a perfect accompaniment. Their house salad with pears and greens was outstanding. The service and ambience was also exceptional. Very good waitress at the bar and on Saturday it was busy with a lot of hipsters but not so noisy you couldn't hear yourself. A very cozy place.

Whats?:

Jim's Steaks: On a Wednesday night I had the cheesesteak with provolone and onions. I apparently forgot to order it with "flavor" because there was none. I had a cold, bready bun loaded with absolutely tasteless meat, some provolone buried somewhere under there. The onions were the only thing I could taste, and not much since they were very spare with them. And I had to remove some of the skin of the onion. I saw real Philly people hearing angels sing when they bit into their sandwiches, and I was thinking, "What in the world makes this sandwich famous? There is no flavor at all to it." There is almost nothing to dislike. It was as neutral as a glass of water. I am not dissing Jim's: I realize I may just not "get" the cheesesteak. Very disappointed.

Dinic's Roast Pork Sandwich: Great service, and plenty of more flavor than Jim's, but that's not saying much. Very generous heaping of tender roasted pork, and provolone. The broccoli rabe was nice and garlicky, but again, the flavor of the sandwich was so subtle I hardly can know how this is such a famous sandwich. Would I go there again if I was in the very pleasant Reading Terminal Market? Sure. But would not go out of my way. I would take my very simple brisket sandwich any day over Jim's or Dinic's famous sandwiches. Sorry.

Slice Pizza: My biggest disappointment. Went to the one by Rittenhouse Square. Ordered a slice of margherita and pepperoni. The crust was thin but very dense, even hard, at the same time. Very little toppings. Very little moisture or flavor. Truly this was some of the worst pizza I've ever had. I just can not imagine this is truly the best pizza that Philly has to offer, given the huge Italian influence. It must have been an off day, or maybe they are at their best when they serve a whole, fresh pie. But wow, what a dud!

  1. pinstripeprincess Nov 30, 2009 07:10 AM

    i much prefer whiz over provolone for cheesesteaks, again because of the salt but partly for the texture i find it adds to the bread. i've never found the meat to be very beefy at any of the places i've visted (7 of the most mentioned here) so expectations do have to be set a bit.

    if you ever get back, i think the good dog burger is quite excellent and likely a bit more simple than the royal tavern (which based on your description with that salad i will have to try the next time i'm in town) since it's only really stuffed with roquefort and slathered with aioli. perhaps it is a burger town ;) but that's coming from a girl in a town that is deprived of pink in ground meat.

    my own "whats?":
    tinto pork belly with the apple shavings: the hummus does nothing to enhance it, neither does serving it on the bread, but everything else about it was quite good... though i was hoping for apple shavings rather than slices. i split it with a stranger beside me because i didn't need nor was entranced by the second piece and they felt the same.

    steve's prince of steaks: guys... it's thick sliced and rubbery as hell! we got two and i couldn't bite through a piece of meat if my life depended on it. ended up dragging the slices of meat out with my teeth after every bite because there was no way around it. the flavour wasn't even exceptional. there were less than half a dozen people hanging around and everyone had made their order when i showed up so i can't blame it on any busy-ness issues.

    10 Replies
    1. re: pinstripeprincess
      b
      barryg Nov 30, 2009 07:28 AM

      This is not the first time I have heard of visitors not appreciating a sandwich from Steve's Prince. On a couple of ocassions I took out of town guests here and they weren't especially impressed, but locals love this place and I put it at the same level as John's.

      This is not a knock on the tastes of pinstripepricess or anyone else (at all, I love your write ups pinstripe, even if I think you're crazy for not liking capogiro), but I think that Steve's is a sandwich for the cheesesteak connoisseur, someone that has had all the good, bad, and average steaks around town. Eating a Steve's for me (I order with "both cheeses") is a truly sublime experience.

      1. re: barryg
        pinstripeprincess Nov 30, 2009 07:48 AM

        no worries and thanks for the compliments :) i just thought i'd bring up the main reason i didn't get it.. which was a very difficult to eat texture. it was just, odd... if i can manage another cheesesteak tour the next time i'm in town then i'll make sure steve's gets on the list one way or another.

        1. re: pinstripeprincess
          p
          Philly Ray Nov 30, 2009 09:49 AM

          If you can't handle a "sliced" cheesesteak, most places will chop the meat up if you ask when you order. Personally, I rank Steve's among the top cheesesteaks in Philly.

          1. re: pinstripeprincess
            Delucacheesemonger Dec 2, 2009 04:02 PM

            While l am currently in Tokyo, had to suggest for lightly chopped style instead of slices, go to my favorite,Chink`s, on your next trip from Toronto.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger
              pinstripeprincess Dec 2, 2009 07:58 PM

              love the chopped style... that is part of the appeal of jim's which is obviously quite contentious and not always satisfying i will admit. there are on days and off ones. thanks!

              1. re: pinstripeprincess
                m
                mitchh Dec 3, 2009 06:31 AM

                Princess, I really have to disagree with you about Jim's and on and off days. As I posted above, I've been going there since the 90's and I can probably count on one hand how many bad sandwiches I've had (and I'm pretty sure that I'd have at least 2 or 3 fingers left).

                I had one this past weekend and it was like going back in time, except that back in the day I would have had 3 or 4 and today I can only manage 1.

                1. re: mitchh
                  pinstripeprincess Dec 3, 2009 06:48 AM

                  i guess i'm basing this on the last time i went... the first handful of times it wasn't very busy at all and so they had time to properly cook the meat and onions in more or less individual portions. the meat browned a little and developed a bit more flavour and i eventually learned to order it with extra whiz because it gave it that moisture it needed. but the last time it was a mad house of tourists and locals and they were just trying to move the line along as quick as possible... meat was cooked in large portions and steamed more. it also felt like the proportions were a bit stingy with the meat.

                  there is no doubt i will go there again because of the great experiences before, but i will do my best to avoid the rush to get an optimal product. with that being said, while i did the sandwich tour before it didn't include chink's at the time and i'm looking forward to sampling that as well since it is of the chopped style which i prefer.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess
                    p
                    phillyjazz Dec 5, 2009 06:38 AM

                    I try NEVER to frequent a steak sandwich joint at prime time (including Jim's D'allesandro's etc.) if they don't make a sandwich to order. I don't mind waiting in line at a place a like John's Roast Pork because they care enough not to steam a 10lb. pile of beef and ruin it.

                    1. re: phillyjazz
                      pinstripeprincess Dec 5, 2009 07:34 AM

                      and that's absolutely fair.. but when you're from out of town and travelling by foot, sometimes you can't control timing as much as one would like.

                      1. re: phillyjazz
                        m
                        mitchh Dec 5, 2009 11:30 AM

                        Jazz,

                        That's one way of looking at it. The other way is that places ike Jim's, etc don't want their patrons to wait 15 minutes plus for a sandwich during peak hours.

        2. p
          phillyjazz Nov 29, 2009 02:13 PM

          Don't order provolone on a cheesesteak. Roast Pork is usually a pretty subtle sammy (and this is where sharp provolone is a nice contrast. Some roast pork, like John's or T.L. is pretty robustly seasoned though.

          I don't know if Wed. is a bad roll night at Jim's or not. Getting a steak the day the rolls are delivered can make a big difference. Anyway, Jim's is probably more about memories than current execution. They are not what they used to be, but still not a BAD steak, especially with Whiz.

          1. c
            coolgeek Nov 29, 2009 12:21 PM

            That Jim's Steaks is the "worst in the city" is flat out ridiculous. Not only are there hundreds of trucks and pizza joints serving poorly executed, frozen slabs of crap, but Jim's is vastly superior to Pat's and Geno's.

            The problem, as Ericandblueboy's response noted, is that most steak sandwiches are cooked without seasoning (salt and pepper), unless specifically requested. The salty character of whiz compensates for that, though my preference is to add salt and pepper to a steak with onions and provolone.

            Roast pork, on the other hand, is possessed of inherently subtle flavor. The flavor on a porchetta-style (as opposed to braised and pulled) roast pork sandwich comes from the additions - jus, cheese, greens and, to my preference, all of the above plus onions and horseradish.

            One other thing - lotus186 - I've been going to Jim's steaks for 25 years and I've never heard of anyone asking for or being served hot oil. Would you elaborate, please?

            1 Reply
            1. re: coolgeek
              b
              barryg Nov 29, 2009 12:57 PM

              This hot oil thing is really interesting. I have never heard of it either. I did a quick Google, and came up with this little piece about the Jim's in West Philly which offers a "mud sauce" that sounds like it could be the same thing.
              http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Re...
              It sort of sounds like the cherry pepper relish (sometimes called "hoagie spread," I think) that you can get on hoagies and in a jar at the market. Never heard of this on a cheesesteak or been to Jim's in West Philly but it sounds like it could be really good. I will need to investigate.

            2. l
              lotus186 Nov 28, 2009 09:32 PM

              jim's steak is famous because it is not the traditional pat's /geno's. the reason people go there is for the hot oil. you get a prov with onions and ask for a cup of hot oil. dump the cup of hot oil on the sandwich, smash it up, and enjoy. make sure you have a cold can of beer to go with it. the second half of the sandwich is usually consumed on the newspaper machine outside of the establishment while waiting to hail a cab and negotiating with friends over whether to get a few slices at lorenzo's. after that, if you do make it to lorenzo's to get a few slices, you and party will drop them in the street.

              3 Replies
              1. re: lotus186
                b
                brightman Dec 2, 2009 06:07 AM

                I never heard anyone order a "cup of hot oil" with a cheesesteak. not at Jim's, or anyplace else.

                1. re: brightman
                  b
                  Bob Loblaw Dec 2, 2009 10:47 AM

                  I'm not sure I've heard anyone order a cup of hot oil anywhere - with a cheesesteak, without a cheesesteak, doesn't matter. I've seen recipes where you start with a cup of room-temperature oil and heat it, but that's as close as it gets.

                  1. re: Bob Loblaw
                    m
                    mitchh Dec 2, 2009 11:11 AM

                    I've been going to Jim's since the 90's and I have NEVER heard anyone order a cup of hot oil, so I'm unsure of lotus186's claim that people go to Jim's for the hot oil.

                    That said of the "tourist" cheesesteak places Jim's is my choice head and shoulders above the rest. My preference is with extra Whiz and a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry soda (had one just Saturday night after a very unsatisfying dinner somewhere else).

              2. b
                Bob Loblaw Nov 28, 2009 05:04 PM

                I'm w/you on DiNIc's. I just don't think it's all that tasty. It's a fine sandwich, but not among the top 10 things I would get at RTM.

                1. m
                  MichaelStover Nov 28, 2009 01:12 PM

                  Jim's is really bad - the worst the city has to offer. No idea why anyone ever mentions it as good. Steve's Prince of Steak is the best, bar none.
                  Pizza - Taconnelli's.
                  Next time try Tony Luke's Roast Pork Italian. I like Dinic's - I like Tony Luke's better.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MichaelStover
                    d
                    dashrashi Nov 30, 2009 06:55 PM

                    Steve is my cousin, and I STILL prefer Jim's. The key is Whiz, though. Provolone does make it tasteless. Whiz makes it taste like the world's most decadent carnival-meets-your-first-McDonald's-experience food.

                  2. e
                    Ericandblueboy Oct 19, 2009 02:07 PM

                    Jim's Steaks: On a Wednesday night I had the cheesesteak with provolone and onions.
                    *******
                    That was my impression when I first ate a cheesesteak with provolone, then I tried it with cheese whiz. It makes a world of difference. Yes, salt in the whiz makes a huge difference.

                    1. b
                      Buckethead Oct 19, 2009 09:05 AM

                      RE: Slice: "I just can not imagine this is truly the best pizza that Philly has to offer"

                      It isn't. Slice is better than your average takeout pizza (at least the ones I've had from their original South Philly location, never been to the Rittenhouse one), but if you want to have the city's best pizza, you need to go to Osteria.

                      I don't get cheesesteaks either. The only one I've ever had that I could say I'd eat again was at Steve's in the northeast. Pat's, Geno's, and Jim's all suck.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Buckethead
                        j
                        jujuthomas Oct 19, 2009 11:27 AM

                        Best cheesesteak we've ever had was at Pudge's in Blue Bell, second best at Phil's tavern in Broadaxe.

                        1. re: Buckethead
                          coookie Dec 1, 2009 09:23 AM

                          Osteria is terrific but, with regards to their respective philosophies of pizza, wouldn't you say that the better apples-to-apples comparator for Slice is Tacconelli's?

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