Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Pennsylvania >
Dec 27, 2009 09:05 AM

cheesesteak styles

Sorry for another thread on this perennial topic, but I'm clueless enough (as a visitor now to Philly) to be unsure what to make of my first cheesesteak last night. I got into the hotel a bit late, and thought I'd walk toward Chinatown to try something. Ended up going in the wrong direction in the rain, and all I saw was a place called Jake's Pizza, I think (somewhere around Race and North Watts). I asked what's good there, and was told cheesesteaks and pizza. This place is not on my "to do" list, but what the hell. I order a steak, was asked if I want Mayo and Kethcup on it, onions, peppers, etc. Experience can't be my guide, so I said give me the basic one you like, but no peppers, use whiz (which I normally never use on anything).

The people were nice, and the steak was made right then. While I can't say what I got was "bad" tasting, I certainly didn't like it. Whiz and ketchup sat atop the meat, rather than being mixed in it. The meat didn't appear to have onions, but maybe they were chopped fine. Meat tasted nothing much, the ketchup and whiz oozed all over (I can't imagine people eating this thing in their car, like I hear some do). Basically it was nothing I'd want to try again. But is this what cheesesteaks are basically like (except that I assume some places must have tastier meat)? I'm afraid to go out of my way to try another!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Since your cheesesteak karma led you to a joint frequented by the medical staff at Hahnemann Hospital who will eat anything, why would you want to venture another try?

    1. I've never heard of a steak place asking if you want mayo on it, are you from western PA? Sounds like you went to a mediocre steak place do some more research next time or put the condiments on yourself if its too messy. I like Steve's in the northeast or geno's in south philly. Also its a matter of preference but I recommend staying away from cheese whiz.

      2 Replies
      1. re: phillybeer32

        Thanks. Actually I've read almost all the stuff here about cheesesteaks and have noted a half dozen places I was meaning to pick from. This was just a matter of late arrival to the hotel, tired, wet from rain, and literally nothing else in sight. One thing I wondered: do most places make more effort to integrate cheese into the meat? This had chopped meat on the bottom and a layer of whiz and ketchup on the top, like a hot dog.

        1. re: phillybeer32

          oy. among the trucks and generic pizza joints, it's pretty common to be asked if you want mayo on your steak. I believe that the mayo-preferring population leans African American, so you're more likely to be asked in areas where they're a majority of the population - North/West/SW Philly - or in the workday melting pots that are CC and UC, as opposed to South Philly and the Northeast

          Personally, I'd refuse to eat a steak with mayo or ketchup

        2. You found an average to poor cheesesteak place. Asking for mayo and bell peppers peppers (hots/sweets is ok) is a red flag for sure. Maybe they sensed you were not from around here, though, so that is why.

          While whiz is considered traditional by some, I find that it is actually only good on certain styles of steak. Putting it on top of the meat is wrong. American cheese is typically a better order for the run-of-the-mill pizza shop steak and I suspect that if you had that gotten that it would have been much better.

          Most cheesesteaks actually have pretty bland meat; some places don't even salt the meat. They vary in quality of preparation and quality of bread. A good cheesesteak is greater than the sum of it's parts.

          It is definitely worth trying another, but I suspect you will be underwhelmed unless you go to an elite spot like John's Roast Pork. Cheesesteaks are good, but you should also try to get a hoagie or roast pork sandwich, both of which are just as "Philly" as a cheesesteak and will have a lot more flavor.

          1. That's just a bit of bad luck right there. I used to live not even a block from jake's, just off of 13th and race. In short, that place is pretty awful for anything they cook. It benefits from a good location on broad street that will inevitably snare some people wandering from the convention center, city hall, hanneman hospital, etc. I can appreciate wandering around a a new place, looking for a bite, but knowing the area, you were pretty much slated for cheese steak mediocrity (at best). Now that rick's is gone from the reading terminal market, the closest proper cheese steak shop I can think of off the top of my head is Jim's on south street (i'm sure i've overlooked something).

            That said, what you ate is an approximation at best. You kind of get the idea, but the details are all wrong. No mayonaise. Ever. Debating the particulars of cheese steaks is kind of a past time around here. The roll (Hard or soft) , the cut of beef (and whether it's chopped or no)t, and cheese ( provolone vs. american vs. whiz) are the three basic components. Onions are kind of argument 3-b. At any rate, those 3 or 4 things are all you need. Most steak joints have a variety briny peppers for condiments, a nice foil for all the fattiness in the sammich. I'd say those are more classic in terms of condiments. Ketchup isn't uncommon and it's not really taboo, but I find that people who put ketchup on their steaks would also put it on lucky charms.

            1. This sounds like a visitor to New York going to Times Square and asking for one of their "Famous New York Pizza Pies" , getting some defrosted plastic slice that's been sitting in the sun all day and then wondering what all the fuss was about.

              I'm guessing the meat was sitting in a fridge precooked and thrown on the grill to reheat with the cheese. My first cheesesteak was some crappy roll from Sammy's(? the place next to Campo's on Market) and I spent weeks complaining that cheese steaks were just over rated tasteless meat sandwiches. Then i had a revelation:

              John's Roast Pork.

              3 Replies
              1. re: AgentRed

                I got my chance (and willpower) to try a proper cheesesteak today--Cosmi's--and I'm now persuaded they're a good thing! Just onions, this time, so no gross-out mess of whiz and ketchup. And now that I've had a better one than the first, I'm seeing that the first place really didn't mix the cheese and meat together at all.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  Cosmi's is good. Did you get it on the seeded roll? They do a really good job with that; their style is actually pretty similar to John's Roast Pork.

                  1. re: barryg

                    I don't recall if the roll was seeded. I didn't specify anything about the roll when ordering. Cosmi's did a good job and generally impressed me as a very solid small deli. I wish these things were not so rare in Indiana. Luckily, we have a couple good Italian delis here in South Bend--enough to get by.